The 2013 Steelers : Chasing Ghosts


Two weeks into the 2013 season and what do we have?

For Starters:

A meeting amongst the few veterans left.

Antonio Brown demanding the ball more.

Brown and OC Todd Haley feuding.

No running game.

A defense that couldn’t create a turnover if they were playing a high school team.

1 Defensive sack.

7 Sacks given up by the offensive line

A grand total of 19 points scored.

Nothing at tight end.

A coach with no clue and no motivational skills whatsoever.

A GM who has done a bad job feeding talent to the team.

Oh, did we mention that the team has already switched out of its blocking scheme to more of an outside zone running attack, switching after just two games. Have we hit crisis mode already?

Who do we play the blame game with?

There isn’t one culprit in this 0-2 (and very possible 0-3) start. GM Kevin Colbert has not exactly  re- stocked the shelves (Mendenhall, Hood, Heyward, etc), although I do like the potential of the 2013 draft class.  However, with one of the messiest cap situations in the NFL, next season is looking a little dicey as well. And Todd Haley has not exactly lit things on fire (except Brown’s temper),  in fact the offense has regressed ever since he was brought on, even though Haley defenders will note the drop in talent on his side of the ball. The Haley selection is a little foggy as to who exactly wanted him. Tomlin? The Rooney’s? Either way I don’t think he lasts the season, although knowing the Steelers, they’ll wait until the season is over to make a change. Heaven forbid we stray from ‘The Steeler Way’.

Yes, we all know the last time the team started 0-2 they ended up making the playoffs. However, that was a different group with a coach that was substance mixed with style. There was a coach in place who could ignite something in his players.  Sadly, current head man Mike Tomlin is proving to be just style. I listen to his post game press conferences and go “huh”? For instance, here are these gems from Monday night:

“We’ve got to remain unwavered collectively”

Come again?

We don’t hide from that, we embrace that. There’s a certain amount of misery that comes with the position we’re in, we don’t like it but we wear it.”


I kept hoping for some sort of translation key for these ridiculous quotes but alas, they are what they are. So Tomlin and team are going to embrace being 0-2 and wear it like some sort of scarlet letter. Rah-rah, I certainly would go to battle for this guy.  There should have been a certain level of anger in his voice, he should not be willing to wear the stigma of being 0-2, he should have said “I’m mad as hell. We’re not playing like a professional football team. I’m not doing a good job preparing this team, nor have my coaches put together a game plan to help us create plays on offense nor create turnovers on defense. Nobody on this team from top to bottom should be happy and we should all be mad as hell and play like it.”  That’s what I would have liked to hear him say, but we know that’s not going to happen.

A few of us have said it and now more people are coming around to the fact that Tomlin’s early success came with players assembled under a different head coach. Hey, I give him credit for winning a Superbowl in his second year, something neither Bill Cowher nor Chuck Noll were able to, but it was a team that was 90% assembled under Cowher. These last two years have been  squarely Tomlin’s teams (and Colbert’s as well), and we know how last year turned out and how this year has started. And yes, Cowher had his issues as well, but he jettisoned a lot of the players from Noll’s last few years and brought in some key free agents. By year two, it was Cowher’s team and he took it and ran with it.

Within three years, Noll had turned his Steelers from a 1-14 outfit to a playoff team. Even by year two, it was Noll’s team, Noll’s players. Year after year they drafted future Hall of Famers: Greene, Blount, Bradshaw, Ham, Harris, Lambert, Swann,Webster. Even in Noll’s lean 80’s years they drafted HOFers Rod Woodson and Dermontti Dawson. Under Cowher, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, Alan Faneca, and Ben Roethlisberger are likely Canton bound. It’s very early to tell yet, but the only Pro Bowlers drafted under Tomlin have been Maurkice Pouncey , Lamar Woodley, and Antonio Brown. Again, I know Colbert is the chief culprit in stocking talent, but Tomlin does have a say in personnel and is chiefly responsible for developing these guys.

So what is the problem?

In between school and work and blogging, I’m reading a book called The Last Headbangers which takes a look at the NFL of the 70’s mainly through the Steelers and Oakland Raiders. It’s a quick read and enjoyable, but it made me realize a key thing about the 2013 Steelers:we are holding them up to the ghosts of past Steeler teams.  Over the last forty years, the Steelers have had only 9 losing seasons and three seasons of 8-8. They have made twenty-six playoff appearances, won six Superbowls in eight tries. They have won their division (both central and north) twenty times. That’s a hell of a history. Few teams can boast that history. And that’s the problem.

The successful switch from Noll to Cowher was evident in Cowher’s first year, same as the transition from Cowher to Tomlin. But with the free agent release or retirements of star players assembled under the previous coach, it’s pretty clear that the 2013 Steelers are fighting history and crumbling under the weight. We know the Steeler way is tough defense and a good running game. Yes, the Steeler way evolved to include a more vertical attack, but it still maintained its well earned reputation.  We’ve seen in key Steeler games, the ghosts of great Steeler teams prowling the sidelines (Harris, Swann, Stallworth,etc), waving their terrible towels. It’s tough to emerge from the ghosts when the ghosts are still visible.

Fans have to stop the mantra that all these ills will simply go away because it’s the Steelers and history won’t allow for the Steelers to fall. But even teams with rich histories like the Cowboys, Giants, and 49ers have fallen on hard times in the past. It happens. Maybe it’s just taken a little longer for it to happen to the black and gold. Even if they beat the Bears, the myriad of issues won’t go away. If Tomlin can find his inner Vince Lombardi and inject some life into this team, great. 2013 may be either the beginning or the middle of the Steeler decline. The best thing for this team to do is forget the Superbowls, the Hall of Famers and forge their own chapter. When the next big Steeler game comes, let Harris, Swann &co. stay home. Don’t trot out the ghosts again. Let this new crop make their own identity. Let’s make a new Steeler way.

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