The Steelers and Mike Tomlin may be finished for the season, but they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Pittsburgh was ahead 7-0 five minutes into the second quarter before being run out of Kansas City, as everyone (including their quarterback) predicted. I believed they had a shot because everything this club has accomplished in the last couple of years with a problematic corpse or Mason Rudolph at quarterback defies the laws of contemporary football.
I would’ve been concerned about Patrick Mahomes’ confidence eroding due to Andy Reid osmosis if I hadn’t been watching with a die-hard Kansas City fan who was calm when he should’ve been a bundle of pessimism.
For a handful of reasons, I was on the verge of becoming concerned: 1) Mike Tomlin is a fantastic coach, and 2) the organization runs like Disney; even when a show or film fails to wow, they continue to set records and win. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger has been compared to Boba Fett in the post-Sarlacc Pit era, but their brand/success has cemented their place in the discourse.
It was nice to see a player who, except from the most zealous Steelers supporters, everyone wanted out of the league seem so grossly, overwhelmingly washed out that his career was clearly done. You can read Stephen Knox’s piece about the hero’s sendoff he shouldn’t have had here, if you want to be outraged about it or giggle at NBC’s omission of «accused rapist» from its word cloud graphic.
Despite what Tomlin said about him in the last couple of paragraphs, I’m not going to write about «7.» I’m going to discuss what Pittsburgh does at quarterback in the future, and how their approach and infrastructure will likely lead to a better conclusion than most NFL teams trying to rebuild after losing their star quarterback. (See New York Giants.)
If the experts are correct, and Rudolph is the Steelers’ long-term plan, I’m not here to pass judgment or offer silver linings for next season’s squad. They’ll most likely finish at or near.500, with a chance to sneak into the playoffs with a little luck, as is Tomlin’s basic minimum.
Here’s what he said after the Browns beat them in Week 17 and the team went undefeated for the second straight season (via USA Today):
«This year, our goal is to qualify for [the] single elimination competition and then pit our skills against those of others in that single elimination tournament in the hopes of winning the World Championship.» Every year, we have the same mindset.
«So it’s just specific hardware that you anticipate to pick up along the line with that approach.» You’ll be sorely disappointed if you don’t. That’s just something we anticipate here in Pittsburgh.»
It’s no surprise that the media, his teammates, and Steelers fans all adore him. On top of being one of the best coaches in the game, he has some of the best quotes. I believe him and believe in him if he says they’re going to try Rudolph next year. (That naive faith will be put to the test if they try to improve Dwayne Haskins’ jumper or Charles Barkley’s golf swing, which is an impossible task.)
It’s simple to suggest Pittsburgh should’ve chosen a replacement quarterback sooner, but finding that QB while not pissing off your guy seems like too delicate a balancing act for the organization, so they focused on shoring up faults Roethlisberger had covered for so long.
T.J. Watt and the defense were an enigma this season, as evidenced not only by my inability to start them in fantasy football on the right week, but also by their ability to pressure quarterbacks, stop the pass, and keep teams out of the end zone — they led the NFL in sacks (55), were ninth in passing yards allowed per game, and tied for seventh in TDs allowed — while being abysmal against the run, allowing a league-worst
Minkah Fitzpatrick led the club with 124 tackles, and when your safety leads the team in tackles, it’s usually because running backs are breaking loose in the secondary and going past the front seven on a regular basis. It’s debatable whether the Steelers were tired, bad, or both up front, but being constantly relied on to get stops because your offense can’t score, or having the ball run down your throat because the opposing team is protecting a lead/afraid of your pass rush, are key points that should be made in any defense discussion.
It’s also difficult to assess their offense because, even if JuJu Smith-Schuster isn’t hurt, they were significantly hampered by 7’s failure to get his yards-per-pass-attempt rate beyond 7. (6.2 for the season). Their revamped offensive line was able to open up enough holes for rookie Najee Harris to pile up 1,200 yards, which is encouraging if next year’s squad is similarly pass-happy, as it will most likely be.
I’m not a fan of reaching for a quarterback who isn’t there, and the Steelers should stay away from any of the unimpressive prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft unless they fall to them, like Mac Jones and the Patriots did. Unlike New England, though, Pittsburgh has made do with a quarterback who is, well, older, and they have the experience, coaching, infrastructure, and skill to stay relevant.
As Tomlin indicated earlier, relevance isn’t their aim, but it’s possible they’ll have to settle for it until they find a quarterback solution. This year’s playoff berth and the first quarter and a half versus Kansas City demonstrated that they can hang in there, which bodes well for whoever is chosen, signed, or promoted to lead the attack.
You just hope that whatever that guy is is deserving of a coach like Tomlin, a team like the Steelers, and a city like Pittsburgh.