5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 18

140220-colbert-300by Hombre de Acero

The Steelers 2015 season came to an end in Denver as the Steelers lost to the Broncos 23-16 in yet another Mile High heartbreaker. A long off-season awaits, with critical decisions facing the Steelers’ brain trust on free agency, coaching contracts, and of course the draft. But before moving into the 2016 season, this corner of Steelers Nation must first struggle with 5 Smoldering Questions on the Steelers.

1. Both the press and the Steelers themselves were at great pains to say that Ben Roethlisberger’s shoulder injury did not impact his game. Do you agree or disagree? Support your case.

2. In two straight playoff games, the Steelers held the lead most if not all of the game, only to see it slip away in the 4th quarter. Is your view of the glass that is the Steelers defense ¾’s full or ¾’s empty?

3. What, if any, changes should Mike Tomlin should make to his coaching staff this off season?

4. The date is January 20th of 2015 and you are Kevin Colbert. You’re suddenly armed with complete knowledge of everything which will happen in the year to come. You get ONE personnel do-over. What is it?

5. Finally, looking back at the last year, who is the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers’ Unsung Hero? By “Unsung Hero” we mean the person whose contribution was most important, yet overlooked.

This should help get us started on the “If I were the GM” game we love to play! Don’t forget to show your work…


  • 1 – I disagree. Certainly missing AB was a bigger factor, but you could see that Big Ben wasn’t going to throw the ball as deep as he normally could. That first play call was the deepest pass of the day, and it was not attempted again. Perhaps it did not have as much practical impact in that an acceptable game plan was created around his limitations, but that guy was not at 100%.

    2 – 3/4s full for me. I don’t agree with the ‘let slip away’ narrative. It is as if the other team doesn’t play or that a 1 point lead is somehow insurmountable. This wasn’t Carolina almost choking up 31 points. The thing about team with injuries is that they can keep up for a little while, but they will get worn down as the normal depth doesn’t exist. Nevermind the obvious issues at RB with the injuries, but Moats went down in this game early which shortened the LB rotation. The team didn’t have all cylinders available to begin with, there were going to be misfires.

    3 – None unless he needs to replace someone who got promoted by another team.

    4 – Draft Q Rollins instead of Golson.

    5 – Boswell. You don’t realize how important piece of mind concerning the kicker position is until you don’t have it.


  • 1. It’s hard to say how much, but I certainly think it had an effect. We don’t know what Ben couldn’t do, what throws he couldn’t make, especially since AB wasn’t available. I would re would have been more deep balls though Denver may have taken them away.

    2. 3/4 full. I never though the D would get as good as it did this year. We need some DBs and a DE to spell Tuitt and Cam so they are stronger in the second half. This is not a criticism of these two, but they would have to be fresher if they got a series or two off during the game.

    3. I would consider another special teams coach, but Danny is way better than most we’ve had, so I’m nitpicking. If Deebo retires, I would hire him as strength and conditioning coach.

    4. Bring in Boz the second Sweet Cheeks went down. If I get two, I bring in an experienced back up QB who can give you a chance to win rather than Vick.

    5. Boz or Villenueva. Boz needs no explanation. AV played way better than anyone had a right to expect. This could have been a train wreck, crushing our entire season. Incredible job ar a difficult and vital position.


    • Could not agree with your #4 and 5 answers more. Boswell would have been the ultimate hindsight move. AV played his damn mid out in my opinion. He didn’t bend with his knees at times, but I can forgive a 6’9″ fellow for that.


  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    1) There likely is a reason the Steelers ran three running plays in a row when they were deep in a hole in the fourth quarter. The fact that he took a sack instead of forcing a pass when the coverage was good makes me suspect he didn’t trust his arm to hit small windows. I suspect Ben gave everything he had if not a bit more by the time the game was over.

    2) 3/4 full. The defence just ran out of steam by the end of the game. Even one more solid d-lineman to spell the starters would have made a difference. As it is I think some of the outside lbs where playing DE more than lb at times.

    3) Tough one. Were the issues on ST Danny Smith’s fault or due to personnel issues caused by the next man up/injury situation? If Tomlin’s thinks it was Smith’s fault then he goes, otherwise he stays.

    4) You make certain Josh Scobee never gets on your roster.

    5) ILB coach, Jerry Olsavsky. Shazier didn’t get that smart all on his own.


  • 1. I tend to agree after listening to post game comments that Denver was setting the back of their defense twenty yards deep to prevent the deep pass. I think the team smartly took what was given to them without taking the risks that might have led to more turnovers. For their part the Broncos may have taken a page out of the Steelers’ defensive handbook by giving up a lot of yards, but not so many points.

    2. 3/4 full definitely. First of all, how can you say in today’s NFL that giving up less than three touchdowns is a defensive failure. The highly ranked Seahawk defense gave up 24 in a half. Carolina did their part in the second half. Close games are always a dangerous proposition if for no other reason it allows offenses their full range of options. Defenses in reactive mode fatigue more rapidly. Add high altitude in the case of Denver. In the end, when the disappointment dies down I think we will look at this divisional game as a well coached masterpiece on both sides where the home field advantage of the Broncos prevailed over a mortally depleted Pittsburgh offense.

    3. Getting a little annoyed at the notion that change/fire someone is the solution of choice for all difficulties. Please take the fantasy mentality and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Given the circumstances coaching was one of the bright shining positives of this season. Across the board. For example, those who are calling for Danny Smith’s head understand that because of the moves necessitated by injuries there was disruption created with special teams (Antwon Blake whose best role was on special teams effected by started responsibilities on defense, Hey-Bey, Markus Wheaton called on to field punts for the first time in a playoff game, Terence Garvin injured for weeks). Maybe they will make changes, but I don’t see why.

    4. Retain Brice McCain

    5. I’m having two problems. One with ‘overlooked’, the other with just one. For example, in terms of important contribution I would say Alejandro Villanueva, but in terms of being overlooked I would say Marcus Gilbert. I also wouldn’t complain if the vote went to Ross Cockrell, Will Allen, Cody Wallace or Robert Golden.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Always well put Ivan, and you bring up a great point with Brice McCain. I wonder how he did in Miami. Funny thing is, despite all of the sound and fury over his departure, you never heard people mention him during the season.


  • Toronto Steeler Fan

    1. Frankly I found it hard to tell. He made two long throws that I can remember (the first one and then the long completion to DHB). I think the wind was a huge factor that masked the visible impact of the injury.

    2. 3/4 full. I am more concerned by the fact that they couldn’t run up the score early when they had the chance (both games) and that they’ve had trouble converting on 3rd downs for the last 4 or 5 games.

    3. I think the coaching staff is better now than it has been for a long time. If anything, one should review the DB coaching position, or maybe hire a specialist assistant to teach tackling (LBs and secondary) and blocking (to special teams).

    4. Get Boswell when Sushi goes down. We wasted a lot of money and a draft pick on everything between Sushi and Boz, and it cost us at least one game, maybe two.

    5. Winner of the 2015 Isaac Redman Award, Roosevelt Nix!


    • You know something funny? A friend of mine who isn’t a Steelers fan commented on “how good the Steelers tackling is.”


  • I agree, as usual, with everything Ivan said. But anyway….

    1) The crosswind had more effect on Ben (and Manning) than his injury. Ben, smartly, threw lots of stuff underneath in the middle. Those were also least affected by the wind. I still can’t figure out how much his injury affected his play, but he was simply terrific with 337 yards and no interceptions, taking just about everything Denver gave him.

    2) 3/4 full. They ran out of gas in both games, with the offense running out of horses. This team is absolutely on the edge of greatness, when the old hands and superstars recover and return. Remember, they’re not the first team to run out of gas in the mile high city in the fourth quarter.

    3) Fight to hold on to everyone, and replace only those who leave thru retirement or take another job somewhere else. As far as special teams, the spate of injuries forced Smith to rejuggle and reconfigure his unit on a weekly basis. Next year is the year you put Smith under a microscope, because special teams have been a weakness for years….especially kickoff returns.

    4) Getting Boz when Sushi goes down. Close second is either keeping McCain or drafting a CB who doesn’t get hurt.

    5) If we’re talking about unsung, probably Marcus Gilbert. We didn’t hear his name week after week, and he did a solid job. When Beachum went down, we heard plenty about the task that faced AV, and Captain America responded. Villanueva and Boswell may have saved the season, but plenty of people sang their praises. Gilbert did a great job, and nobody knew his name.

    Again, this team is on the verge of greatness….the window in 2016 and 2017 is wide open….one or two defensive backs will make all the difference in the world.


    • The issue of the defense running out of gas is legit. IT seems like with Keith Butler, the defensive line rotation that Johnny Mitchell has used since 1993 hasn’t been used. Tomlin was asked about it at the press conference today.

      Tend to agree on Smith. Special teams has not been a liability under him and they have had flashes, but still have not been very special. (Of course the Steelers inability to find a kick returner is not Smith’s fault.)


      • cold_old_steelers_fan

        I know Cam Thomas was on the field during the Cincy game but I never noticed him against Denver. Ditto for McCullers.


  • 1) I think the comments by Ben et al were technically correct but misleading. In other words, it didn’t impact his game so much as it impacted the game plan. Ben clearly had a few deep throws in him, but I expect they were strictly limited. He threw exactly five passes on Friday, the first day he even attempted to do so—one of each kind. I do think the absence of AB impacted Ben’s game as well. He was terrific, but if he AB out there I think he would have looked even more terrific.

    I do agree that the wind was an unexpected but annoying factor. Much was being made of dropped passes on the Broncos side, but many of them were thought to be balls which went astray in the wind because Manning can’t throw a really strong pass anymore. There were also drops on the PIT side, and it is a credit to Ben and the receivers that there weren’t more if the wind was really that much of a factor. It probably also accounts, at least partially, for Wheaton’s abysmal showing in the return game. The Denver kicker said it was the worst he’d ever had to deal with.

    2) I am incredibly excited to see what the 2016 defense looks like. I think with the development of the youngsters and an infusion of DB talent, either via the draft or the guys we’ve got healing and developing (or more likely both) it is going to be a major factor in next year’s Super Bowl victory. (Does that make my glass 3/4s full, or 7/8s?)

    3) I would totally agree with Homer, except that we never know what goes on behind the closed doors of the Southside facility. I remember the year everybody (including, strangely, Bob Labriola of steelers.com) was talking about how great a job Jack Bicknell Jr. had done with the offensive line. He got fired a week later. It could have been entirely non-performance related, of course. Maybe he tweeted a nude photo of himself to Teresa Varley or something. But from the outside it looks like a really solid coaching staff to me, and MT said he didn’t anticipate changes.

    4) ONE. Come on, Hombre, there have to be at least two. One, you bring Boz into training camp to compete with Suisham, grabbing him before the Giants do, and he’s already there when Sushi gets hurt. Two, you pick up one of the quarterbacks off the trash heap who play like All-Pros when they play the Steelers. Well, that’s maybe going too far, but if you knew that Gradkowski was going down, that Landry Jones would mostly play like you thought he would, and Ben would be hurt a considerable amount of time, you maybe cut your losses with Jones and try someone else. Who, I don’t know. I would have to study harder to be able to give a complete answer to that question.

    And actually there needs to be at least three. Knowing that Vontaze Burfict is going to decimate your roster if you don’t figure out something, you infiltrate his rehab facility and have oxytocin or one of the nurturing hormone pills relabeled and presented to him as a highly effective, little-known, yet legal performance-enhancing supplement. Then you hope he keeps taking them. If you find out he’s been watching rom-coms you can breathe a lot more easily…

    5) I think Roosevelt Nix is a good option. The trouble is, so many of the quiet contributors have been ‘sung’ on this site…


  • I had not realized that Bob Labriola had published something praising Jack Bicknell Jr.. At any rate, shortly after he was fired, Gerry Dulac published an article that essentially said that Bicknell was not responsible for the line’s turn around in the second half of 2013.


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