“Lay Me Down and Bleed Awhile”

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Geoff Burke, USAToday Sports

by Homer J

“I am sore wounded but not slain
I will lay me down and bleed a while
And then rise up to fight again.”

The storied words of Sir Andrew Barton seem appropriate in the aftermath of Sunday’s battle at Foxboro. Sore wounded, indeed.

The Steelers were outmatched, outgunned, outcoached, and out-executed by the arch-nemesis New England Patriots. There’s no getting around it.

The defense had no answer for Edelman and Hogan, who together caught 17 passes for 298 yards. Brady sliced and diced the linebackers and secondary like a Veg-a-matic. When the defense put pressure on him, he wisely threw the ball away, and then simply got his first down on the next play. He was the Road Runner. The Steelers D was the coyote. Beep.

While the Steelers were without Bell and Heyward, the Patriots were without Gronkowski – and they dumped Collins on the Browns in mid-season so that they can reload next year with an extra draft pick. And they used Blount largely as a decoy in game planning. Losing players is part of the game, and a constant in a game of attrition.

The Steeler defense had no answers, and the answers on offense were often wrong. The Steelers second-tier receivers dropped critical passes or made mistakes. And Ben’s third-and-one gamble with a long pass early in the game took the wind out of the team’s sails, taking them out of a ball control mode, and forcing them to punt while already trailing in the game.

Everything seemed to go wrong. But even had everything gone right, there’s doubt here that they would have won. They were outmatched by a better team, by a team that lives rent-free in their heads.

So it’s time to lay down and bleed awhile before rising to fight again.

Despite the final game’s outcome, take courage and comfort that this was a very successful season.

The team with a suspect defense started the season 4-and-5 and lost its best defender. But, starting three rookies and several second year men, they matured into an excellent young defense over the course of the year. Burns, Davis, and Hargrave were the first trio of rookie defensive starters in forty years, and each one of them showed All-Pro potential. Dupree came back from injury and quickly began to fulfill all the promise and hope surrounding his first round pick. Others stepped in to fill the void left by Heyward’s injury.

What had been the team’s most glaring weakness, the defense, became an area of strength and promise for the future. When Heyward returns, the thought of his teaming up with Tuitt and Hargrave as the front three is the stuff dreams are made of.

But, before we get ahead of ourselves, remember that the nine game winning streak was achieved against nine quarterbacks statistically in the bottom half of the league. When they went up against Tom Brady, it became clear the defense still has a long way to go.

This year was a step forward. A step, as Ivan says, that they needed to take before they move to the next level.

The offense did well all season, considering the loss of receivers number two, three, four, and five, and the absence of Le’Veon Bell for the first three games of the year.

The offensive line was a source of strength and continuity, and the depth showcased the ability of supercoach Mike Munchak to develop unknowns into trusted cogs in a cohesive line.

Jesse James and Xavier Grimble contributed more than anyone expected at tight end, but we learned that we can’t count on Ladarius Green because of his injury situation.

Bell is, far and away, the best running back in the league, and he showed it down the stretch. He gives the Steelers the chance to possess the football, keep the defense off the field, and wear down the opposition. If you do that, you don’t need 30 points a game to win.

Ben, on the other hand, was Mister Inconsistency. Good Ben is great. Bad Ben can drive you nuts. He’s the franchise quarterback, and we ride with him or die with him. Except in Buffalo, where we rode even though he died out there.

Roethlisberger is a gunslinger, and, while you love to see that in a quarterback, it’s painful to look back at the key third and short situations over the year where he misfired on long passes. When you compare that to the third touchdown drive against Miami in the playoff game, where every touch went to Bell, you begin to ask whether Ben’s nature is overriding the team’s ball control advantage.

The season ended Sunday night, but the process of building a championship team continues, as it did all year. Harrison says he’ll be back. He was probably working out before dawn this morning. The guess here is most everyone else will be as well. And the kids will have a year’s experience under their belts.

The guess here is the Steelers will pick up one or maybe two free agents, and may try to package some draft picks – and maybe a player – to move up in the draft. There’s so much depth at the bottom of the roster now that we don’t need quantity so much as quality at two or three positions.

It’s time to start looking actively for Ben’s heir. It’s better to draft him a year early than to wait a year too long. Anyone who thinks we can pick and choose the time and place to get Ben’s replacement is delusional. Franchise quarterbacks don’t come along every year, especially for teams who draft in the bottom third. If there’s a chance to get him this year, any chance, you move on it. Who dares wins.

So, as the Steelers lay down and bleed awhile, they can also look back at what they accomplished over the season. A defense that combines Steel and Lightning is being assembled. This team is younger, quicker, and stronger and has a much higher ceiling than it did a year ago. The desperate search for cornerbacks is over, at long last. The offense is fine.

Special teams need work, and we probably need a decent back-up long snapper.

So now, it’s time to root for the Falcons and begin looking at the mock drafts and all the options the Steelers have. Homer remembers how they traded up to get Polamalu and Santonio, and hopes they can pull something like that again. For many teams, it’s time to rebuild. But for great franchises – like the Steelers – it’s time to reload.

The draft is coming, and then the OTAs, and then we’ll see you in Latrobe.

They will rise up and fight again.

P.S. The above was written and submitted prior to Ben’s comments Tuesday regarding his future. Some thoughts on that:

Guess we should double down on the idea of finding his heir, and it is certainly possible that he might be ready to call it quits. But the guess here is that he will give it another year and maybe two.

In any case, all those mock drafts will start including QB’s among Steeler possible picks, and for Tomlin and Colbert, this is like a trip to the doctor when he tells you that you have X amount of time to live. It’s time to get your affairs in order. It is time to find – and groom – the next franchise quarterback before Ben retires. There is now greater urgency to put together a package to move up in the first round. The other gamble is to wait a year, when the QB pool is said to be deeper. Either way, you are at the bottom of the first round picks this year, and you have to be creative or damned lucky – or both, to get what you need.

2 comments

  • I think finding Ben’s heir is and should have been high on the list of needs regardless of his comments. Landry is not that person.

    With the way the preseason and beginning of the season looked, I agree that we had a successful season. To win the division and make it to the AFC Championship was beyond my expectations. I was hoping for a wildcard birth and a winning record. The D really stepped up their game, which contributed greatly to the cause. Next year they should be a force to be reckoned with.

    Looking at the pats game, I would put most of defensive blame on the coaches, as it seems everyone else does, though I am not calling for any firings. 20/20 hindsight (even at halftime…10/10 hindsight?) it was obvious the zone D was not working and we needed to switch it up, but that never happened, aside from a play here or there. I do agree with Ben’s assessment that the game may have been too big for some of the younger guys, but that happens.

    I have the utmost optimism for next year with the team we currently have, especially when you consider the possible return of Bryant, and having Bell for a full year (we better have him for a full year, no pot smoking Le’Veon). This of course is predicated on Ben not retiring, which i really doubt he will.

    So overall A good season, almost great. Just waiting for next year. HERE WE GO!

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  • Remember that saying; Old age and treachery defeats youth and skill every time? Not only were the Pats the more experienced team, but sometimes we forget that Belichick has at least 20 years on Tomlin in terms of experience. And, if you think about it, Tom Coughlin had about a decade on Belichick. All other things being equal it may come to be a matter of accumulated experience, which may be the best explanation why the more patient organizations found themselves in play at the end, while those with itchier trigger fingers seem to never get there.

    Like

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