View Full Version : Remedies to turn Steelers around

12-14-2009, 02:52 PM
Mike Tomlin has tried the nice-guy approach. He's tried the fire-and-brimstone speeches. He's even threatened and made - at least minor - changes.
Nothing has pulled the Pittsburgh Steelers out of their current five-game losing streak, the longest by a defending Super Bowl champion in a non-strike season.

"He's the head coach. It's his job," said wide receiver Santonio Holmes of Tomlin's different approaches.

"And it's our job to go out and perform the way he wants us to. If we don't go out and perform, it's almost like he's got to go out and eat those words."

Lately, Tomlin's been eating so many words, he's likely skipped a lot of meals.
The question is simple: How do you turn around the Steelers?

At 6-7, the playoffs are only a dream, a situation that didn't seem possible after a 6-2 start. With just three games remaining, there's not a lot Tomlin and the front office can do to initiate change. The final three games will be used to assess who stays and who goes after this season.

"We still have the same makeup of the team from last year, and people are going to question what happened," said wide receiver Hines Ward. "I don't know. I really can't say. But you're going to find out these last three games who wants to quit and who wants to fight their tail off."

The Steelers aren't dead in the AFC playoff race. If they can win their final three games, they'll have a shot at sneaking into the postseason. Given the recent slide, there's no reason to believe that will happen.

So what has happened? How could a team that beat San Diego, Minnesota and Denver, who have a combined record of 27-9 heading into this week, lose to Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland, three teams with a combined 9-27 record?

Let us count the ways?

Bruce Arians' offensive game plan has gained plenty of yardage, but the main offensive statistic - scoring - hasn't followed suit.

Despite being fourth in the NFL in total offense at 362.5 yards per game, the Steelers are 15th in scoring, averaging 21.4 points per game.

And the offense has been incredibly spotty. After scoring 27 or more points in every game during a five-game winning streak, the Steelers haven't reached that level once in its five-game losing streak. The Steelers have been held under 20 points in six of their 13 games.

Turnovers have played a part in that, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 11 interceptions. Entering the weekend, only seven quarterbacks had thrown more.

More important, however, the performance in the red zone offense is bad. The Steelers are tied for 18th in the league in touchdown percentage inside the 20, getting into the end zone on just 50 percent of those trips.

Add to that the NFL-record eight consecutive games in which the Steelers allowed a touchdown on a return - four on kickoffs, two on interceptions and two on fumbles - and you have a defense that has repeatedly been put in difficult situations.

That added pressure on an aging defense has led to giving up fourth-quarter leads five times.

The Steelers have given up 99 fourth quarter points. That's more than they've allowed in the first half.

Injuries have been a factor. Defensive end Aaron Smith, one of the key's to the run defense, has missed the past eight games. Strong safety Troy Polamalu has been limited to five games.

The Steelers have had injuries in the past and succeeded. Smith's primary backup, 35-year-old Travis Kirschke, has missed four games with a calf injury. Polamalu's backup, Tyrone Carter, is OK as a spot player, but the more he plays, the more his lack of playmaking ability is exposed.

The defense has not forced turnovers. No cornerback has an interception. Polamalu leads the team with three interceptions. Only Cleveland - with six - has fewer than Pittsburgh's eight interceptions.

The cornerbacks are allowing receivers to get behind them. The Steelers have allowed 10 passing plays of 25 yards or more, seven of which have come in their current losing streak. Opponents know that without Polamalu, there's little to fear in Pittsburgh's secondary.

Then, there are the special teams.

Tomlin released fullback Carey Davis and cornerback Anthony Madison - two of the best special teams players in 2008 - in training camp.

Davis was re-signed by the end of September and Madison - after stops in Cleveland and Indianapolis - was brought back two weeks ago.

But it's too late. Pittsburgh ranks 31st in kickoff return average at 25.4 yards - its highest since the 1970 NFL merger - and 23rd in punt return average allowed.

So where do the Steelers go from here?

Changes are coming regardless of what happens in the final three games.

The first will probably come on the coaching staff as Arians, special teams coach Bob Ligashesky, offensive line coach Larry Zierlein and defensive backs coach Ray Horton could be replaced after the season.

A host of veterans could also be playing their final games here. Nose tackle Casey Hampton, safeties Ryan Clark and Carter, defensive ends Nick Eason and Kirschke, running back Willie Parker, cornerback Deshea Townsend and placekicker Jeff Reed will be unrestricted free agents at end of the season. Right tackle Willie Colon, cornerback William Gay, punter Daniel Sepulveda and tight end Matt Spaeth will be restricted free agents.

Of the unrestricted free agents, a strong pitch will be made to keep Hampton, though others could be brought back after testing the market.

Some other veterans, most notably inside linebacker James Farrior, could see reduced roles in 2010. At 34, Farrior has lost a step and though neither Lawrence Timmons nor Keyaron Fox would be considered thumpers in the middle of the defense, that duo might be paired at times next season.

If Clark and Carter leave, acquiring a veteran safety to play next to Polamalu will be a necessity.

The Steelers also will take long looks at rookie cornerbacks Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis now to get a better idea if either has the potential to push Gay and Ike Taylor out of the starting lineup next season or whether a cornerback needs to be drafted or signed.

The Steelers made a big deal of having largely the same roster from 2008 back for 2009. And many of those players were key contributors during the 2005 Super Bowl run.

But change can be good, and we'll definitely see some with the Steelers next year.

With cornerstone players such as Roethlisberger, Polamalu, running back Rashard Mendenhall and linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley in place, the Steelers don't need to make wholesale changes.

A subtle makeover will do.

http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/loc ... e-Steelers (http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/localsports/12-14-Fixing-the-Steelers)

12-14-2009, 03:14 PM
Change is good and it should be coming in the off season. No area should be exempted from evaluation and no player.

Some veterans needs to go. Postponing the inevitable rarely makes it easier. This team needs to become a younger and hungrier team. We took the risk that a veteran laden starting 22 could repeat. It didn't happen.

Mel Blount's G
12-14-2009, 04:09 PM
Remedies to turn Steelers around
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