A Blast from the Past: Mop-Up Duty

via Week 17 Legend a Ryan Clark tackle showing classic form

The December 28 2011 edition of 5 Burning Questions certainly began on a more cheerful note than that of the previous week. A 27-0 shutout, even of a bad team, will do that for you. (In fact, some might argue that the fact the Rams weren’t a very good team made them actually happier, as it showed the Steelers were capable of beating the teams they “should” beat.) But as Hombre said,

…even such a victory as this has left us with plenty of material for this week’s installment of the 5 Burning Questions.

The question which intrigued me the most was this one:

3. Michael Bean spelled out a number of individual milestones that players can reach in the Cleveland game (click here for Michael’s list). All these milestones are understandably important to individuals in question. But which individual milestones, if achieved, will tell you that the team is headed in right direction with the playoffs starting?

So what were those milestones, anyhow? I assume that you, like everyone else in these frenetic times, didn’t actually have the time to click on the link, so I’ve done the heavy lifting for you. They were:

  • Ben Roethlisberger needs 144 passing yards to reach 4,000 for just the second time in his career.
  • Rashard Mendenhall is 110 yards shy of 1,000 for the season following his 116 yard effort against St. Louis this past Saturday.
  • With 76 receiving yards against the Browns, Mike Wallace would break his single-season record (1,257) set in 2010. He currently has 1,182 yards through 15 games.
  • With his four receptions on Christmas Eve day, Hines Ward is now just five shy of 1,000 for his career. At 995 career catches, Ward is comfortably in eighth place in the all-time list, 41 receptions clear of Randy Moss for ninth place, and 52 catches ahead of the next closest active player, Derrick Mason (943).
  • Heath Miller won’t come close to challenging his career high of 76 catches set back in 2009, but with 49 receptions heading into the season finale, Miller looks like a safe bet to surpass 50 receptions for just the second time in his consistently productive seven year career in Pittsburgh.
  • Both LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison will try to get to double-digits in the sacks department in Week 17. With his takedown of Kellen Clemons on Saturday afternoon, James Harrison caught up to LaMarr Woodley for the team lead. Both Harrison and Woodley are aiming for their fourth consecutive double-digit sack season.
  • With a start in Week 17, Polamalu will have started a complete 16-game schedule for the first time in three seasons and just the fourth time in his spectacular career.
  • Ryan Clark appears to be the only likely candidate to finish with 100-plus tackles.

So to answer the question which probably immediately springs to mind, did they manage it? Here’s the answers:

  • Ben Roethlisberger did indeed play in Week 17, and surpassed the 4,000 yard mark (4,077.)
  • Rashard Mendenhall, on the other hand, didn’t make up the difference—he garnered only 38 yards in Week 17, for a total of 928 yards. His best season thereafter was 2013, when he ran for 687 yards for the Arizona Cardinals.
  • Mike Wallace didn’t make it either. He ended up with 1,193 yards, and hasn’t gotten close since. His best year post-Steelers was 930 yards in his first year with Miami.
  • Hines, on the other hand, did. Exactly. This was a subject fraught with controversy at the time—see Hombre’s question below…
  • Heath did indeed surpass 50 catches, ending with 51 on the season. He came perilously close to the 76-catch mark once more—in 2012 he had 71 catches.
  • Since LaMarr Woodley didn’t play again in 2011, he obviously did not add to his sack total of 9.0. In fact, he never again came close to a double-digit sack total, unless you add up all the sacks he has had since 2011, which is exactly 10.0. James Harrison didn’t manage any more sacks in 2011 either, and the two men ended up tied at 9.0. Harrison’s sack total since 2011? 18.5. 10.5 of those have been in the past two seasons with the Steelers.
  • It may surprise you to hear that not only did Troy play in all 16 games in 2011, he also managed the feat in 2013, which meant that he started all 16 games in half of the seasons in his career. He played 158 regular-season games out of a possible 192.
  • Ryan Clark finished with exactly 100 tackles, for the first time in his career, and in fact finished with over a 100 tackles in each of his three remaining seasons (one with Washington), as follows: 2012: 102; 2013: 104; 2014: 102.

The question about Hines Ward’s catches was as follows:

1. Ed Bouchette has been arguing on PG Plus that the Steelers are not giving Hines Ward a fair shot at getting his 1000 catches and suggests that someone in the Steelers organization “has it in for him.” Do you agree with the erstwhile “Dean of the Steelers press corps.” that Hines Ward isn’t getting a fair shake?

I found this very curious, and would love to know what Bouchette based it upon. Whether he was correct or not, though, obviously the team took care of Ward’s legacy.

As to the individual stats, there has been a fair amount of talk since that time about Antonio Brown’s “streak” of 5 catches/50 yards. (The streak was broken after Ben went down this past season, but had reached an unprecedented 35 consecutive regular-season games. It wasn’t the only thing that ended with the loss to the Ravens, courtesy of Josh Scobee…

The controversy is, of course, whether that was a “real” stat at all, or just something manufactured to sound impressive. I realize it probably seemed silly to a lot of people, but it clearly wasn’t to Brown. And whether you think it was a “real” statistic or not, the fact is that no one else has done anything close to it before or since. And the truth is, people have different ways of motivating themselves. That may have been part of the way Brown pushed himself. As we say, “whatever it takes…”

Here’s what some the denizens of Behind the Steel Curtain thought about the records which were on the line:

SteelersVT said:

3. I think the fact that we may have two 1,000 yd receivers and a 1,000 yd rusher shows how well the offense spreads the ball around.

I liked SteelCityRoller’s answer:

3. My Statistical Choice — 60 (number of minutes Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley, Maurkice Pouncey, James Farrior, Ike Taylor, and Troy Polamalu sit on the bench against the Browns.) I would add Ryan Clark to this list, but depending on the Postseason seedings, Clark may be forced to sit, if we have to travel to Denver. He can catch his breather that week.

Although BrooklynSteelersFan was answering No. 1, there was some overlap:

1. We have it good when one of the biggest criticisms of our coach is that he isn’t sentimental enough. But here’s why Bouchette is wrong: Tomlin is paid to win games. Had Ward had a big drop, the critics would ask why Ward was in the game at that point. Also, this isn’t baseball. Statistics are largely irrelevant in football.

I’m not sure I agree with the latter statement. Statistics may not have the same importance in football, but I get the impression they are pretty important to the individual players… averagejoeblow had a similar take:

3. Individual achievements have very little to do with where a team is headed, that’s why their individual achievements and therefore almost meaningless to a team that focuses on the primary goal.

I’m not sure I agree with that either. Admittedly, if you look at a team like last year’s Texans, J.J. Watt could only do so much by himself, especially when there was very little offense to go along with his defense and few other outstanding defensive players. Still, he only had 1.5 less sacks than the ENTIRE ATLANTA DEFENSE for all of 2015, and Watt had even more sacks in 2014 and 2012. (In 2014 he actually had a half a sack more than Cincinnati (20.5 vs. 20.0), and similarly had a half-sack more than the whole Jacksonville defense in 2012 (also 20.5 vs. 20.0.) I find it difficult to believe the Texans wouldn’t have lost even more games without this “meaningless” stat…

Steelgator opined:

3. Mendenhall getting the 110 yards necessary to break 1,000 would be a very welcome sight. Woodley getting a sack would suggest that he’s back healthy, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean he’s 100%. Otherwise that would be a very good sign for the team as well. It would be interesting to see how many games we’ve had both Wood and James healthy this season – not many. Our defense is a lot scarier with both those guys on the field.

And there I think we have it, folks. While the individual stat might not mean a great deal in the abstract, players playing up to what we expect of them is certainly necessary for the team as a whole to succeed. Whether they are capable of doing so or not is a different question, of course. Whether Antonio Brown’s 5 catches/50 yards matters depends a great deal on whether someone else (or a couple of someone elses) are getting a lot of catches and yards because Brown is being triple-teamed, or because the quarterback has no chemistry with the receivers because he got thrown into a game a few weeks after being signed by the team (see Vick, Michael.) It doesn’t matter whether James Harrison is getting a lot of sacks/QB hits/etc., as long as somebody is getting them.

But do players play better because they are looking for those individual accolades? Some do, some don’t, I suspect. And considering everything they go through, it’s hard to say a guy shouldn’t bother about such things if they mean a lot to him. Part of the whole concept of “team” which we tend to forget is that a team is made up of individuals with differing needs and desires. A good coach will find a way to, within the bounds of what it takes to win, give them what they need.

That said, I’ll wrap up, like Ryan Clark does in the picture, with ColdOldSteelersFan:

3) The only milestone that really matters is to get rings for everyone on the team and they need to be SB rings.

One comment

  • Ed Bouchette was talking bout a couple of things. First, he clearly got Hines Ward on the record explaining that he had never been told that he’d been benched. Later, someone in the press, I think it was Bouchette or Dulac (although it could have been Jim Wexell) said that Bruce Arians did not like Ward, and had wanted him off the team after the 2009 season.

    (Good thing he didn’t get his way, because had the Steelers comeback to win Super Bowl XLV, Ward probably would have been the MVP.)

    To be clear, Bouchette also reported that Art Rooney II had more or less told Tomlin to make sure Ward got his 1,000 catches as long as it didn’t interfere with winning games.


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