5 Smoldering Questions, Off-Season Edition

via kdvr

by Hombre de Acero

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 off season is underway, but aside from a slew of “futures contract signings” things have been pretty quiet on the South Side. And while the last edition of this column promised not to look back, circumstances have conspired transform that pledge into a little bit of a white lie. We trust that you will not object as we wrestle with these 5 Smoldering Questions on the Steelers.

1. How, if at all, does the fact that the mighty New England Patriots never led vs. the Broncos in the AFC Championship impact your assessment of the Steelers’ performance against them the previous week?

2. ESPN wrote an interesting article on how the “Manning Brothers Keep Patriots Dynasty in Check.” No argument there. However…. In the fall of 2008 yours truly took exception when Michael Wilbon, a writer whom I greatly respect, declared the Patriots and Broncos as “The best two teams of the decade,” with the beef being that Steelers, like the Colts, also had a Lombardi and several AFC Conference Championship game trips.

Since then, the Steelers, unlike Manning, have added another Lombardi (and another Lamar Hunt Trophy) but unlike the Steelers, Manning can boast of several playoff wins over the Patriots. Is the Steelers legacy tarnished by a lack of a post-season wins over the Patriots?

3. A year ago, factions in Steelers Nation were alternatively cheering or jeering Mike Tomlin’s decision to fire Dick LeBeau. In his first year as defensive coordinator, Keith Bulter has seen the Steelers drop 3 notches in yards allowed, but has improved 7 spots in points allowed, while dramatically improving the Steelers turnover and sack numbers.

Would these improvements have been possible had Dick LeBeau stayed in Pittsburgh?

4. In looking towards the Steelers 2016 off season Jim Wexell made this observation:

“For all of the positive plays made by Jarvis Jones on Sunday, I found myself wishing for Harrison to be on the field every snap of the second half. Letting him go, or not talking him into staying another year, would be a mistake by the team. But I know they want to get Jones on the full-time fast track so I have my doubts about watching Harrison play another game.”

So, assuming he wants to come back, do the benefits that James Harrison brings, on and off the field, outweigh the opportunity cost of developmental delays for Jarvis Jones and/or Bud Dupree?

5. We plan to discuss the nuts in bolts of both free agency and the draft as they become relevant, but looking at the big picture, what is the biggest off season priority for the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers?


  • 1) I think it demonstrates that the Steelers were a better team than the Patriots in 2015. Even playing the Broncos without Antonio Brown they came perilously close to winning the game.

    2) I would have a better chance to answer this if I knew for certain the Steelers were competing with the Patriots on a level playing field, if you see what I mean… And no, I think there are teams that just are a more difficult matchup for some reason, a reason that may even not include skulduggery…

    3) This is one of those “we’ll never know for sure” questions, but my instinct is to say no. I think that Mike Tomlin was gently trying to guide the Steelers D approach in a somewhat different direction, as shown by the players they were drafting, and Dick LeBeau felt more comfortable with the system he had always run.

    4) That’s a really tough question. If Harrison wants to come back, I think it is very difficult to say no thanks. Tomlin’s response to the question at last Wednesday’s press conference is all you need to hear. (When asked by one of the assembled media whether he was planning to have an exit interview with Harrison, Tomlin burst out laughing. He said it would go something like this: “Hello, James.” “Hi, Coach.” “Glad we could talk. Bye…”

    5) Figuring out how to deal with Vontaze Burfict. And I’m not even kidding…


    • #5: Very, very true. I don’t see us playing CIN until some time after week 4, and Burfict will be more than ready to go for some legal knockout blows as much as he can against us.


  • 1. I know that we’re supposed to just say that injuries are part of the game, but it really does make you sick thinking about a Steelers/Panthers Super Bowl Bell, Brown, Pouncey, etc. on board. What a shame.

    2. I think in the end, Spygate will do to the Patriots legacy what juicing did to Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and others. Not exactly redemption for the Steelers, but the decade will be tarnished, forever an asterick in spirit, if not in fact. Even now the predominant sentiment was not so much that people were rooting for the Broncos, but against the Pats. That’s not going away soon.

    3. Maybe. But it would involve a commitment to a system and personnel for years, probably beyond the tenure of LeBeau. It would almost certainly meant the loss of Butler as well. And let’s not forget that Tomlin is a pretty defensive mind himself who had smartly deferred to LeBeau, but is now rebuilding the defense more in his own image. It will most likely take a least another season to see what the full potential might be, but I have a feeling this question won’t be coming up next year at this time.

    4. If we have learned nothing else this year it is the value of depth. Say goodbye to Harrison, Jones goes down injured, then where are you? The question is whether the team is as impatient with Jones as are fans and the media. You have to balance the need to see Jones take a big step forward with the very real possibility of a Lombardi next season. Does anybody believe that Harrison couldn’t help both on the field and in the locker room? Depth is also important with the linebackers because we currently don’t have much on the defensive line. Until then I would stand pat with the understanding that the first rounders (Jones, Shazier and Dupree) could all take significant leaps. Hopefully you see Harrison’s reps ease down as the season goes on and he makes a dignified exit with a third ring.

    5. I’m with Rebecca on this one.


  • 1 – It doesn’t affect it, imo. Every week is different and there are no transitive properties in football when it comes to wins. If Denver and Pittsburgh played again, it could go completely differently

    2 – No. There are no asterisks involved when a team has a losing record against another team. Honestly, we are on the closing chapters of one of the great eras in the NFL. These last 15 years have included 4-5 of the best led and quarterbacked teams in NFL history at the same time. Brady and the Pats, Manning and the Colts/Broncos, BB and the Steelers, Rodgers and the Pack all at the same time?? I don’t believe that any of them lose points for losing games to the others.

    3 – One can never tell. It seems obvious that scheme changes had something to do with production. We will see if it holds up next season. Teams will now know that Butler is different than LeBeau and plan accordingly. If Butler’s system works, then the other team’s plans won’t matter.

    4 – You bring in the player that helps your team the most. If that is Jones, then so be it. If Harrison can still pull the weight, then let the man do it. It isn’t like Jones isn’t getting reps and is riding pine all day.

    5 – Making fans feel better about the secondary


  • 1) It doesn’t tell me anything.

    2) Oh, hell yeah. You can’t be the best team if some other team keeps beating you and they win championships when you don’t.

    3) Butler varied the DL schemes, taking greater advantage of the athleticism of both Heyward and Tuitt. Not only did the front three score more sacks, but this led to more organized chaos and more turnovers. Tuitt really came into his own towards the end of his second year. I don’t know if Coach Dad would have taken advantage – like Butler did – of the synergy of Heyward and Tuitt. My thought is he was certainly smart enough to do so, but we’ll never know.

    4) Great heavenly days. Harrison is absolute gold = in the clubhouse, in the training room, and on the field. You give him off the month of July and thru August 15th, and have him ready to be in the linebacker rotation by opening day. There is no way Jones and Dupree can match his strength and run support ability. You need him, even if he doesn’t see much action early. Football, as MikeyT tells us, is a game of attrition. When things begin to attrit, it’s good to have Deebo around to help the other side attrit even more.

    5) The hope here is that we read about Burfict on a Sunday or Monday morning, in an off-season news story that includes the words, “police say.” And that the next league Vontaze DeLeon Burfict Jr plays in will be California Penal. He’ll be all-league there. Assuming that will happen, the biggest priority is to find a SAFETY who’s big enough and tall enough to have a fighting chance against big, tall receivers. Or a CB who is bigger than 3’6″ and able to play decent pass defense without giving a seven yard cushion when it’s 3rd and 4.


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