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Monday Morning Vomit

After the Super Bowl loss last year I had a bad feeling that the Steelers might be a team on the decline going forward. I sort of disregarded that thought with the promise of a new season, the overall talent still on the team, the recent successes, etc. And then I saw the debacle yesterday. Of course, this game was just one of 16 that the Steelers will play this year, no need to panic, right? Well, I’m actually not so sure. There’s a good chance that in a couple months we can all laugh about these observations, but for now let’s take a cynical look at the state of the Steelers going forward.

For starters, I’m actually a little concerned about some of the recent drafts the Steelers have had. Yes, Pouncey was a great pick but the Steelers other two recent 1st round picks are still big question marks, DE Ziggy Hood, who was drafted 3 years ago, still hasn’t cracked the starting lineup and when he has played he hasn’t looked overly impressive. Heyward, this year’s 1st round DE pick, looks like he could be a great pick, but I’m not sold on him yet. The Steelers seem to be missing more than hitting in recent drafts outside of the 1st round. Strangely, the one area where the team seems to have hit paydirt past the 1st round is at the WR position, with Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Manny Sanders being drafted. But aside from those players, who do we have in recent years in the draft? The O-line, outside of Pouncey, continues to be a revolving door each season. Gilbert looks like he could be a keeper, but right now we really have no idea. No other real prospects in this area of the team. The young LB’s and CB’s taken in recent years have barely contributed. Who knows how good they are?

Everyone has concerns about the age of the team. The Steelers insistence on holding onto veteran players and playing them over inexperienced younger players is a two edge sword. On one hand, you have players that know the system and know how to handle pressure situations. It’s the safe way to go. It builds continuity which has been key in the Steeler’s success of late. It’s generally the Steelers way. But on the other hand, when you have players that are getting past their prime (Larry Foote, Aaron Smith, James Farrior) or veterans that simply aren’t that good (Ryan Clark, Willie Colon, Bryant McFadden) there comes a point where it simply becomes a detriment to the team. Is this the year that it happens? Is yesterday the first sign of things to come for what is currently the oldest team in the NFL?

I think there comes a point (which is arguably now) that the coaching staff needs to start getting out of their comfort zone and start making some tough decisions with the personnel on this team. It’s no secret that Lebeau in particular has a strong bond with the vets on the defensive side of the ball. That is actually a cool thing, but it’s also a bad thing when it, once again, becomes a detriment to the team. For example, would Larry Foote or James Farrior even see much playing time with most teams in the NFL? I don’t think so. When a youngster with potential like Stevenson Sylvester is sitting on the bench while Larry Foote gets playing time, there is something wrong. Another concern is the secondary is EXACTLY the same as it was last year, a secondary that repeatedly got torched by the elite (and not so elite) QB’s last year. There are some young, promising CB’s on the team but who knows how much playing time they will get this year. And why hasn’t Ziggy Hood gotten more playing time?

In the NFL you are either getting better or you are getting worse. I think the coaches are hoping that saying isn’t true and I think the case could be made that what we saw yesterday was a Steelers team that may be getting worse due to holding onto aging (or mediocre) players. Maybe the most concerning thing about this team’s future is it’s four best players – Big Ben, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu and James Harrison probably won’t be playing in another few years. These four players are THE four biggest reasons the Steelers have gone to 3 Super Bowls in the past 10 years. Without one of these guys on the team it’s very doubtful the Steelers make it to all three Super Bowls. Ward and Harrison definitely won’t be playing in all likelihood in another few years and Troy already mentioned that he will be retiring when his new contract expires (2014). Ben made recent comments in an interview that he doesn’t want to play past his prime (ie, pull a Favre). Those will be some HUGE shoes to fill for the Steelers obviously (Ward’s spot is arguably already filled) and the time to do so is fast approaching.

Finally, even if the Steelers have some great future starting material waiting on the bench – can the coaches develop the players into reaching that potential? This is a very serious concern, especially given Tomlin’s “hands off” approach. Under Tomlin, I haven’t seen any more than a couple players truly developed into good starters (Woodley and Timmons). Any secondary guys? Nope. Ziggy Hood? Not really seeing it. Anyone on the offensive side of the ball? Pouncey, Wallace and Brown all contributed their rookie year. In other words, they relied on pure talent to crack the starting lineup. I believe the coaching staff needs to do a much better job of developing the players instead of relying on veteran presence and pure talent to get by. Most notably, the O-line, the youngsters coming up on the D-line and secondary are all going to need better development. How well the FO drafts and the coaches develop the talent in these areas will determine how much longer the Steelers are a successful team.

Other Thoughts

– Ben. He had simply a horrible game. The problem here is Ben is in his 8th season and honestly he still has the issues he had when he first started for the Steelers. Bad mechanics at times, locking onto WR’s, not going for a checkdown. And I simply do not believe that Ben is studying gamefilm or working on his mechanics as much as other NFL QB’s. Sorry, not buying it. And he’s had a lot of success despite that, but it’s pretty clear he needs some coaches that will kick his butt and install a system that is more consistent. I really think some of the Steeler offensive coaches need to turn in part of their paychecks because they’re clearly not completely doing their jobs. Instead they routinely sit back and let Ben bail them out.

– You know what’s baffling to me? The secondary issues this team continues to have. Part of the problem is Lebeau’s system, but what’s strange is Tomlin’s background is in the secondary as a coach and yet we have a revolving door of CB draft picks that either don’t make the team or are doomed to sit on the bench in some sort of player limbo. And when/if they do play it seems like they never develop into good CB’s.

– I don’t understand why the Steelers base offense isn’t a 3 WR, TE, RB set. Wallace, Brown, Ward/Sanders, Miller, Mendenhall. Looks good to me. It plays to the strengths of the offense, spreads out the defense, which would help the run game, help the passing game. It’s so obvious and yet we continue to see 2 TE sets to start drives which normally results in minimal or no yardage.

– The 5 wide set. Unless the Steelers are going to commit to quicker passes or dumpoffs, there is absolutely no reason to throw this look into the offense. I personally hate it. It’s a drive killer as it makes Ben a sitting duck back in the pocket as he sits there waiting for WR’s to get open behind a mediocre O-line. The defense KNOWS it’s a pass and can pin it’s ears back going after Ben. It is truly an idiotic set for the offense all things considered and the less that it is shown the better. The only time I want to see this is when the Steelers are running a no-huddle offense.

– I know it’s best not to get into panic mode after one game, but I’m still amazed how poorly prepared the Steelers were against the Ravens. This team actually has a history of not showing up for games and “turning it on” whenever the time truly calls for it, but yesterday seemed a little bit different. The defensed did indeed seem old, but it was also the outdated schemes and lack of any sort of adjustments (I mean, how complicated is it to truly gameplan for the Ravens offense? A team the Steelers are obviously familiar with). Lebeau truly called one of his worst games of his career. I’m sure every Steeler fan is anxious to see how the team responds.

Around The NFL

– There were a lot of blowouts in Week 1 and surprisingly a lot of kickoff returns for TD’s. I think most coverage teams weren’t prepared due to teams simply opting for touchbacks in the preseason due to the new kickoff rule.

– What’s the deal with Bob Costas on “Sunday Night Football” on NBC? It seems like he pops up out of nowhere for about 5 seconds and says something like “And the game is coming up” and then goes away. It’s like a bad nightmare. Must be nice to pick up a nice paycheck for basically doing nothing at all.

– The Jets offense is like an “all- star mercenary” squad outside of Sanchez. WR’s Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes (Both former 1st round Steeler picks), Derrick Mason (Titan), RB LaDanian Tomlinson (Yes, he’s still playing and kicking ass), It’s pretty amazing actually.

– I loved that the refs kept their flags in their pockets during the crazy finish to the Jets-Cowboys game. No PI penalties, I couldn’t believe it. And what a choke by the Cowboys and Romo, nothing new there.

– I hate to say it but the Pats are without a doubt the team to beat in the AFC once again. I know, I know, they haven’t won a playoff game in 4 years, but they will definitely be a force in the regular season at the very least. It’s early but I’ll be surprised if they are not the #1 seed by the end of the year. Their offense is like the “anti-Steelers offense”, it has a plan, has a purpose, it attacks, it is a machine.

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