A Blast from the Past: RIP 2011 Steelers

Matthew Emmons, USA Today Sports

Hombre’s epitaph was short and to the point:

As disappointing as the Pittsburgh Steelers playoff loss was, I concur with Dale Lolley that Pittsburgh’s latest loss on the road against the Broncos Mile High represents a microcosm of the Steelers 2011 season. Pittsburgh had all of the elements of greatness, but just couldn’t muster them at the right time.

So be it.

Both of the linked articles are good reads, if a bit depressing.

Hombre continued:

The Steelers face a lot of tough decisions in the off season, and there’s no better way to get the debate surrounding those decisions started than with the 2011 season’s final Five Burning Questions “Down But Not Defeated” Edition.

This question was interesting, since we know the end of the story:

3. After the Cleveland game Peter King called out Mike Wallace for lax blocking on plays in which he was not involved. Wallace started the year gang busters, but his production slipped during the second half of the year. Compared to Antonio Brown, Wallace’s ability to finish catches and fight for contested balls lags behind Brown’s. Wallace is a restricted free agent. With Emmanuel Sanders and Brown behind him, do you offer Mike Wallace a long-term, big money deal?

Even at the time I’m not sure a lot of people thought the Steelers made a mistake in quickly offering AB the money Wallace reportedly turned down, or part of it, anyhow. In retrospect the only odd thing is that the Steelers even bothered to negotiate with Wallace.

But what would be interesting would be if there were some way to re-run the experiment and find out whether Wallace would have remained the downfield threat he represented had the Steelers managed to retain him. In other words, how much was nature and how much was nurture in his case?

But to re-run the experiment you first have to change Wallace into the sort of person who would stay in Pittsburgh for the sort of money the Steelers were offering, when he could clearly get a lot more elsewhere. And really, no one can blame him for that. I just wonder if he thinks the money was worth it in the end…

It still “gives me a sad,” if you will, to read the following question:

2. Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke, Casey Hampton, Hines Ward, James Farrior, Max Starks, Bryant McFadden, Larry Foote, Willie Colon, Trai Essex, Charlie Batch have all been mentioned as two Super Bowl ring owners whose time with the Steelers is ending either because of age, salary cap value, injury, diminishing or skills or a combination of the three? Who do you think comes back, no questions asked, who should come back at the veteran minimum, and who should begin what Chuck Noll termed his “life’s work?”

Taking them in order, here’s where these guys ended up, because I don’t know about you all, but I get a bit fuzzy on when everyone left:

Aaron Smith: Released, retired as a Steeler. The mounting injuries indicated it was time. A highly under-appreciated Steeler, except (perhaps) by Steeler Nation.

Chris Hoke: Retired early 2012. Nobody could do a Russian dance like Hoke, a UDFA in 2000 who carved out a nice career in Pittsburgh.

Casey Hampton: Quoted in 2000 as saying “The way I see it, you never know when your last play is going to be,” Hampton went on to play 16 more games for the Steelers before retiring after the 2012 season.

Another fabulous Big Snack quote: Once, when asked about the complicated Pittsburgh play book, he said “I have three plays, straight, right, and left.” When he was younger he really made those three plays count.

Hines Ward: Released, decided to retire soon thereafter. Ward was at that point the only remaining player who played with the Steelers prior to 2000. A legendary figure in Pittsburgh sports history.

James Farrior: Released, retired a few months later. One of my all-time favorite Steelers.

Max Starks: His on-again off-again affair with the Steelers continued through the 2012 season. He then signed with the Chargers and then the Rams in 2013 and had a brief (off-season) flirtation with the Cardinals. He officially retired in January 2015.

Bryant McFadden: Released, retired. McFadden is perhaps one of the most critical pieces in the current offensive success, as the Steelers traded the fifth-round pick they received from the Jets for Santonio Holmes in 2010 to the Cardinals, where McFadden had played in 2009, for McFadden and a sixth-round draft pick, which the Steelers then used to draft Antonio Brown.

Larry Foote: Foote would play another two seasons with the Steelers before being released. He then signed with Pittsburgh West and played very well for them for a year. They retained him for their coaching staff.

Willie Colon: The oft-injured Colon had just signed a 5-year deal with the Steelers the previous summer. He tore a triceps muscle in the first game of 2012, and that was the end of his Steelers career. The Steelers released him in 2013 and he signed with the Jets.

Trai Essex: A third-round draft pick, Essex was somewhat of a disappointment, as he eventually lost the left guard job to the undrafted Ramon Foster. He was released at the end of the 2012 training camp, and signed with the Colts. He played a year with them, and never after that, although he is still listed as a “free agent.”

Charlie Batch: Played another year, and was cut after the Steelers drafted Landry Jones. You have to wonder if that was the right decision, although admittedly last season he would have been about 187 years old, in NFL years…

So of this list of 11 men, only five of them returned for 2012, and only four of them actually played. That year definitely had the feeling of the end of an era…

Hombre’s final question of the 2011 season:

5. First, choose whether you want to be either Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, or even Art Rooney II. You get one “do over” decision from the past year. What is the one thing that you do differently?

Here are some of my favorite answers:

BlueLoneWolf said:

5. Y’all could probably see this coming, but if I’m Kevin Colbert, I’d commit myself to an insane asylum for not working harder to improve that OL. I’m going to get my franchise quarterback killed. If he’s going to hold onto the ball like a numbskull, I damn well better give him as much time to do it as possible. Either that or get him hopped up on caffeine before the game and hope that makes it better. I know that’s a series of things and not one thing but ‘Fix the OL’ is the first priority now after ‘Get under the cap’.

I don’t know if Kevin Colbert read this, but certainly the Steelers started drafting (even “highly drafting”) offensive linemen around then, and look at the line we have now.

Which just goes to show you, be careful what you wish for. Not that I think it was a mistake—quite the contrary, although it looks as if Mike Adams (who put a whole new spin on the concept of “highly drafted”) may have been a mistake. But you can only spend money on so many things. cough cough Secondary cough cough

This one, by tc26steelers, is pretty funny in retrospect:

5) Probably be Colbert and work on the kicking game. If Suisham showed any promise, Tomlin would’ve sent him in for the 47 yarded vs Baltimore round 2. He also missed badly in the Texans game and 49ers game

All kickers miss on occasion. But this reminds us that the confidence we have rightly placed in Suisham the past few years had not quite yet been earned at that point…

steelers57 suggested:

5 I’d be Mike Tomlin and I’d say “Hey 51, call heads!!!

I’m guessing Potsie called “tails” on the OT coin toss, thus setting up The Legend of Tim Tebow and the One-Play Overtime Victory…

steelbit didn’t mince words:

5. Mike Tomlin going back 4 weeks ago and sitting Ben for SF , St. Louis, and cleveland and if its still not good sit him for the Denver Game….it does no good if he would have broke his leg and never played again ie…….. Thiesman(because he cannot avoid a pass rush. (grow some cajones and sit your franchise player so he can play again

bfrank opined:

5. The do-over. Its easy to look back and say this now but at 10-3, give Ben and Pouncey 3 weeks off. Since they sat Ben for the rams, worst case they go 11-5 but I’m thinking they go 12-4 anyway. When I saw Ben go down in the clev game my first thought, like most, was we just saw the end of the season. It did turn out that way but I’m not sure it had to. It became time to praise Ben’s toughness and let him dictate what he wants to do. This team’s success at playing this style was based on a mobile and accurate Ben. Without that part, they adjust. and can play well enough to beat inferior teams with a run game, Batch and talented receivers. Was it really Tomlin’s first choice to send the immobile Ben out there? And what’s with Dixon? He looked so promising in 2010 preseason then he disappears. Again its easy in hindsight but would’ve been fun to roll the dice like this. Sit Ben final 3 weeks, if he’s not 90% in practice sit him against Denver. If they beat Denver then play him against the Patriots but keep his status quiet. Keep this team in the underdog role and give the superbowl run the best chance with a healthier Ben. The super bowl aspirations ended vs clev so there was nothing to lose play it this way in my opinion.

Still that’s not to end the post with sour grapes. Forever loyal Steelers fan looking forward to pick 24 of the draft. I expect they will continue to play top 5 defense, hopefully improving against the run next year. But what’s got me excited is that this offense could easily be among the NFL’s best if they can improve their offensive line. They’ve got some age on D but this season gave me confidence that they’ve got some players ready to step in.

Pick 24 was, IIRC, David DeCastro. Homer J. got a pony…

twault voiced a common complaint:

5: Mike Tomlin. I take a course in clock management. Seems like that was one of his biggest weaknesses this season.

I wrote a whole post in answer to this sort of criticism. Is Tomlin perfect? No one can know that, because you don’t get do-overs.

And finally, steeler–chris–5 voiced a popular opinion:

5. Art Rooney II- I would have made Coach Tomlin sit Big Ben after the comeback versus the Browns and I would told Tomlin and Roethlisberger that Arians would not be back for 2012.

That’s it for 2011, folks. I hope you enjoy this feature, because there will be more of them from time to time…

One comment

  • Toronto Steeler Fan

    Casey Hampton, in my opinion, is one of the more underrated defensive players to have played in the NFL. He’s probably the best pure run-stuffing zero-technique defensive tackle to have ever played the game and he was a five-time Pro Bowl selection. The Dick LeBeau defense of the 2000’s looks a heck of a lot different if he doesn’t have Casey Hampton as his NT stopping the run on 1st down. There’s a case to be made that he was the MVP of that era of Steelers defense, and not Polamalu or Harrison or anyone else.

    Sadly, my guess is that he never gets into the HOF because he played a position with few if any statistical measures of achievement, and because the position is now being deprecated in a pass-happy league.

    Liked by 1 person

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