Despite Heartbreaking Playoff Loss At Home, Pittsburgh Steelers Moving In The Right Direction


I’ve followed the Pittsburgh Steelers since I was eight years old.  As a little diehard Steelers fan, I would cry when they were eliminated from the playoffs.  To me, the Steelers were supposed to win it all every season.

I still recall the memorable 2005-2006 season where the Steelers were a hot 6 seed that ran over the (3) Bengals, (1) Colts, (2) Broncos, and (1) Seahawks with a young Ben Roethlisberger and a tenacious defense that sent Jerome Bettis home with a Lombardi.  It was the first Super Bowl victory for my Steelers that I was able to be a part of.

Sometimes I have to tell myself that other NFL fans have gone their whole lives without their team winning a Super Bowl.

I was fortunate enough to also witness the miraculous 2009 season, capped off by a Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes TD to win Super Bowl 43.  That play, as well as James Harrison’s TD run at the end of the first half, will never be forgotten.

We Steelers fans have seen the good and bad, including a Super Bowl 45 loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.  Yes, it was heartbreaking, but wow was it fun for SteelersNation.

As Steelers fans, we have been really fortunate, and all good things must come to an end, right?

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In the past few seasons, we’ve watched our favorite players on defense age and begin to lose a step.  Playmakers on offense, like Mike Wallace, decided to take a big paycheck elsewhere.

The idea of the Steelers being a mediocre team is tough to accept, and it has been really hard watching a Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith, and Casey Hampton run out of gas over the years.

I finally made it to my first Steelers playoff game at Heinz Field on Saturday night, and I cannot express how excited I was, as my brother and I drove to Pittsburgh.  I was ready to shake off that Tim Tebow nightmare game-winning TD pass to Demaryius Thomas in overtime a few years back

Unfortunately, in the fourth quarter I began to get the same sick feeling in my stomach that I experienced when I was at PNC Park for the Wildcard game for the Pirates against the San Francisco Giants.

The Steelers defense could not get off the field on 3rd down, the offensive and defensive lines were dominated in the trenches, and the 2nd ranked Steelers offense could not capitalize, settling for field goals.  We missed Bell so much.

It seemed like every time the Steelers were on the verge of making a key defensive stop, tight end Owen Daniels would catch a pass and convert a critical third down.

As disappointed as it was for me, I could imagine how bummed the leaders on defense were. James Harrison, Ike Taylor, Brett Keisel, and Troy Polamalu are some of the last to have won a Super Bowl for Pittsburgh.

This may be the end of the road for those guys, though I believe Polamalu still has potential to help the Steelers to a seventh Super Bowl.

Yes, it really stung watching Baltimore defeat Pittsburgh, but I think the Steelers are quickly moving in the right direction, and the seventh Super Bowl may not be as far away as some may think.

Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) prepares to throw the ball against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half in the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Heinz Field. The Ravens won 30-17. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with the offense. 

The offense finally began to “click” with often criticized offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s gameplan, finishing ranked 2nd only behind the New Orleans Saints.  The Steelers may have the best trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell, all of whom made the Pro Bowl and had record-breaking seasons in multiple ways.  Ben will likely sign his final deal with the Steelers, and our leader at quarterback will be aiming for another Super Bowl next season.

Youngsters Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are quickly becoming some of the most dynamic players in the NFL and are already difficult to contain.  I can guarantee you that Baltimore was ecstatic that Bell could not play Saturday, and Steelers fans are left with “what-if?”

We’ll never know, but many of the young guys got their first taste of playoff football and disappointment.

As for the rest of the offense, this season showed promise with the offensive line, as injuries did not mount and coach Mike Munchak did a great job with the unit.  All-Pro Maurkice Pouncey has been a staple at center, and former first round pick David DeCastro made great strides.  Tight end Heath Miller has been reliable as usual, and young wide receivers Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant will only get better with experience.

This offensive unit is exciting, and hopefully the Steelers can bring in a reliable backup running back.  LeGarrette Blount was a great backup to Bell, but it was unfortunate that he walked away from the team.  I wouldn’t mind giving Ben Tate a chance as backup next season, but we’ll see what the Steelers want to do.  I haven’t been impressed with third round pick Dri Archer, but maybe he’ll improve next season.

As for the defense, this is where issues arise.

Who would ever think that the defensive unit would struggle and the offense would be a juggernaut?

Defense has some critical holes, as certain pieces of the unit have aged and lost some speed.  On the defensive line, former first round pick Cameron Heyward has become an important piece, and Steve McClendon has played well at nose tackle when healthy.  Newly acquired Cameron Thomas may have been a bust, but last year’s draft picks Daniel McCullers and Stephon Tuitt have much potential to bolster the defensive line.

At linebacker, I expect Ryan Shazier to break out next season.  I hope the Steelers allow Jarvis Jones to break out as well.  Injuries certainly hampered these two this season. Reliable Pro-Bowler Lawrence Timmons will be the leader on defense next season.   I wouldn’t mind having James Harrison as a backup next season, but I think Jason Worilds has seen his last days as a Steeler.  He’ll command too much, and he simply didn’t perform enough, making $10 million this season.

Secondary is the biggest issue of all, and the Steelers should address this in the NFL Draft.  Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen disappointed this season, and William Gay was often targeted by quarterbacks.  This forced Brice McCain and Antwon Blake into action, and they surprisingly played ok at times.  As for safety, Troy Polamalu is aging and Mike Mitchell struggled throughout the season.  Will Allen played well as a backup, and I would like to see Shamarko Thomas given an opportunity to play more.

Polamalu is a one-of-a-kind special player, and I am really disappointed about how many fans are blaming him for the secondary issues.  His style of play is something we have never seen, and I feel lucky to have had him on my favorite team his entire career.

The biggest mistake was letting Keenan Lewis sign with the New Orleans Saints.  He would have been the Steelers shut-down corner this season.  I would like to see Polamalu and Mitchell try to improve next season, as both were hampered by injuries.  Regardless, I believe the Steelers should draft cornerbacks and safeties as their first two picks in the upcoming draft.

Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu (43) sits on the bench with teammates during the second half against the Baltimore Ravens in the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Heinz Field. The Ravens won 30-17. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If Pittsburgh can bolster the secondary with some young talent, and the young defensive line and linebackers take form, the Steelers could once again have a dangerous defense to complement a high-powered offense.

The Steelers have been rebuilding using the draft, and I like the direction they are heading.  Next schedule will be a tough one, but the Steelers tend to play better against the better NFL teams.

I think this team is 1 to 3 years away from securing Super Bowl number 7, and I promise that I will find a way to attend the big game.

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