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Fixing the Steelers: A To-Do List

Updated on November 4, 2013

The Dagger is In

On a cold fall day in New England, Tom Brady and a host of unheralded offensive players pronounced the Steelers' 2013-2014 season dead. Some words were spoken ("We're all angry and disappointed." -Ben Roethlisberger) and resolutions made ("those people who are lacking effort won't be playing." -Coach Mike Tomlin). But in the end, no one can say they were really surprised. The Patriots uncovered what a lot of Steelers' fans have been thinking for some time now: that the old days of Steelers' football are over.

Steelers Rankings 2008 and Now

2008
2013
Passing offense: 17th (206.3 ypg)
Passing offense: 8th (268.1 ypg)
Rushing offense: 23rd (105.6 ypg)
Rushing offense: 28th (73.6 ypg)
Rushing defense: 2nd (80.2 ypg)
Rushing defense: 31st (131.2 ypg)
Passing defense: 1st (156.9 ypg)
Passing defense: 4th (210.0 ypg)
Side by side comparison of the Steelers five years ago and now. There has been a drop off in every category, except passing (likely because of playing from behind so much and being unable to run the ball). Run stopping has especially crumbled. Stats

The team that has been out there the last two years is a shell of the squad that made three Super Bowl runs with two wins over a 10 year stretch. Just look at the stats (left). Those teams had a defense that opposing offenses were helpless against, and an offense that could overcome a weak offensive line to score just enough to win. Now I see a team that suddenly can't stop teams on defense, can't pressure the quarterback, and doesn't score when they need to most. All this points to the fact that change is needed in this organization, and that change begins at the top: the coaching staff.

Haley has been the focus of many fans' frustrations, and rightfully so.
Haley has been the focus of many fans' frustrations, and rightfully so. | Source

Coordinate the Arrival of New Coordinators

Let's start with the obvious one: Todd Haley needs to go as offensive coordinator. Since his feuding with his quarterback Roethlisberger on day one, Haley has proven to be a match made in hell. Haley's offense is predicated on running the ball and making easy, high percentage throws, neither of which suits the Steelers' personnel. The other problem with the scheme: it is far too conservative. Too often the Steelers have needed a score to swing the momentum in games but have settled for a punt or a field goal. The offense needs an aggressive jolt and the obviously failed Haley experiment should end.

Now for the question of celebrated coordinator Dick Lebeau. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge Lebeau fan, and have seen his scheme completely confound opposing offenses for years. However, the man is not infallible, and the last two years have shown the truth of that. Sure, age and poor personnel decisions are partly to blame (have you seen that D-line and secondary), but this defense has survived without superstars before. I don't think Lebeau should be fired or forced to leave, but it is clear his scheme is not as effective as it once was.

Bell, 21, has brought a bit more explosiveness to the running back position than predecessors Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.
Bell, 21, has brought a bit more explosiveness to the running back position than predecessors Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. | Source

Let the Young Guys Play

With this season almost certainly a bust, the coaching staff has nothing to lose letting their young players get some playing time. The team has already been giving rookie runner Le'Veon Bell the bulk of the carries, which is smart as he has run well and will only get better.

My thoughts here are primarily on defense where I feel a lot of high upside guys have been held back in favor of veterans. At this point, why not give them a shot? They should especially look to get rookie Jarvis Jones the bulk of the snaps at outside linebacker. Jones has looked good when he has played, but has been used mostly as a pass-rush specialist behind Jason Worilds. I say put Jones out there, as he offers much more upside than the veteran. Second, in the secondary this team should move young players Shamarko Thomas, Cortez Allen, and Curtis Brown into more prominent roles. Though Ike Taylor has actually not been terrible, fellow starter William Gay has been a liability. Brown and Allen offer much more upside as a starter. Furthermore, the rookie Thomas could get some time over 34 year old Ryan Clark, who is set to become a free agent next year.

O-Lineman Drafted Since 2008

Player
Year
Round
Tony Hills (T)
2008
4
Kraig Urbik (G)
2009
3
A.Q. Shipley (C)
2009
7
Maurkice Pouncey (C)
2010
1
Chris Scott (G)
2010
5
Marcus Gilbert (T)
2011
2
Keith Williams (T)
2011
6
David DeCastro (G)
2012
1
Mike Adams (T)
2012
2
Kelvin Beachum (T)
2012
7

Get Deeper on the O-Line

The Steelers' offensive line has been a problem that has plagued them for as long as I can remember, and yet it seemingly never gets addressed. Poor drafting can be partly to blame: even with injured pro-bowl center Maurkice Pouncey healthy the line is still just average. The biggest problem in my eyes is the lack of an elite left tackle. Mike Adams wasn't the answer. Levi Brown was lost for the season seemingly as soon as he arrived in the Burgh. That leaves Kelvin Beachum, 3rd year man out of SMU. Beachum has not been horrible this season, but he has by no means been spectacular and has been beat often by good defenses.

The overarching problem with the line is really its lack of overall depth. The Steelers have often used a small group of guys capable of filling in at myriad positions as backups, but such versatility is useless when a player is simply not that talented. Center Fernando Velasco has at least emerged as a competent backup to Pouncey, but I doubt any among the group of Cody Wallace, Mike Adams, and Guy Whimper would start anywhere. ANYWHERE.

Using a high draft pick on an O-lineman may not be the answer with all the team's other holes, but maybe using a mid-rounder on someone who will be at least competent and provide depth wouldn't be a bad idea.

The Sad Reality

These are just a few of my observations about the causes of the Steelers' problems. Years of success and drafting near the bottom of the draft have seemingly caught up with them and left them with too much age in a league increasingly driven by youth. The Patriots game made it incredibly clear that the system that has been working for years no longer works, and when something stops working change is needed. For an organization that has prided itself on continuity, it will not be easy, but embracing change will be the only way to ensure a return to competitiveness.

What do you see as the Steelers' main problem this season?

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