5 Smoldering Questions:AFC Championship Edition


via Steelers.com

by Hombre de Acero

The Steelers 2016 mystery ride came to a screeching halt to the tune of a 36 to 17 loss to the Patriots in yet another AFC Championship game. The Steelers now face another long off season where they must make decisions on several high-profile free agents.

But before we shift focus to the 2017 off season, this corner of Steelers Nation must first resolve these 5 Smoldering Questions on the 2016 Steelers season.

1. All season long we’ve asked questions about the man in the No. 2 wide receiver spot opposite Antonio Brown. To their credit, Cobi Hamilton and Eli Rogers did well during the regular season and early in the playoffs, but after that Patriots game, Ben Roethlisberger questioned whether they were ready for such a big stage.

Do you agree with Ben’s assessment, and do you think it was appropriate for him to express it so publicly?

2. It’s been clear for quite some time that the Steelers were planning, for better or for worse, to ride Le’Veon Bell as deep has he could take them into the playoffs. Given that he broke back-to-back Steelers playoff records going into the Patriots game, one could hardly dispute such logic.

However, we now know that both Bell and the coaching staff knew he was nursing some sort of a groin injury during the season. With that knowledge in mind, do you think the team’s reliance on Bell was wise?

3. Mike Tomlin has as much admitted that he and his coaches considered adopting a man-coverage scheme but rejected the idea because they didn’t have personnel to execute it. Several of the more intelligent commentators have validated that conclusion.

Given that Tom Brady has thrown 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions against the Steelers in regular season games during the Mike Tomlin era, do you think the Steelers would be wise to adjust their personnel acquisition philosophy with an eye towards beating Brady?

4. Mike Tomlin explained the Steelers’ loss as a failure to execute. The “Fire Everyone” crowd is of course responding by bringing up any number of data points which contradict this, some of which are legit, some of which are not.

Honestly speaking, do you think the Steelers could have done anything on the field or off it to make this game a serious contest?

5. The conventional wisdom that is that Ben Roethlisberger will be back in 2017, despite his statements to the contrary. Still, what does Ben publicly mentioning his private discussions represent, and how should the Steelers react?


  • 1) As a fan, I would accept any answer less than what Roethlisberger gave as being either disingenuous or cliched. I appreciate and respect when leaders of a team don’t take the easy way out and throw teammates under the bus, but Hamilton and Rogers are in the public eye, and whether they like it or not, they didn’t step up when needed, particularly Hamilton.

    2) Wise or not, what choice did they have? Coates has never stepped up to be the threat Brown needs to be effective in his own right. I understand now, upon reflection, why Ben threw deep to Coates on that early game 3rd and 1 situation; had Coates caught the ball, the Pats would then have to reconsider their coverage strategy for the remainder of the game. Until Coates makes such catches, defenses can disregard him as a legitimate threat and focus on taking Brown out of the game. Bell was the only other option available to force the Patriots to thin out their defensive coverage; had he remained in the game, he might not have set any records, but he would have forced the LBs to stay close to the line, allowing Rogers or James better opportunities across the middle.

    3) Closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. How many MORE years of Patriots dominance is it going to take before adjustments are made? Once upon a time, the road to the Super Bowl went through Pittsburgh; teams had to adapt to defeat the Steelers, and the Steelers merely had maintain their expertise at the game plan they adopted, forcing teams to come to them.

    Now I know how Houston Oilers fans felt all those years; frustration bordering on embarrassment. How many more years must we suffer the inevitable, with the road to the Super Bowl now going through New England.

    I’m actually incensed by this whole thing. Is it organizational hubris? Is it a symptom of an organization in its dottering old age, clinging to the past and too hidebound to change? Six years….S.I.X Y.E.A.R.S in a row the Patriots have been in the AFCCG. Has the Steelers organization been strategizing that they’ll depend on some other team to beat the Patriots before the AFCCG so the Steelers have a chance?

    We all laughed and guffawed when the news leaked that the Ravens hired a consultant to guide them towards becoming competitive against the Steelers…but you know what? It worked. If at no other time since the turn of the century than after the Patriots perfect 2007 season, THAT IS WHEN COLBERT AND TOMLIN NEEDED TO BE DESIGNING A DEFENSE TO DEFEAT THE PATRIOTS… not now, two or three years prior to Brady retiring…….sheesh.

    Nine years we’ve known we’d have to face the Patriots at some point, in the playoffs, if in fact the Steelers have striven to be IN the playoffs every year. So what have they been doing all these years drafting the defensive secondary and linebacking players they’ve selected….hoping the Patriots won’t make the playoffs? Tomlin’s admission raises serious, SERIOUS questions about his and the organization’s vision and long term planning.

    Copy the URL below and look at that picture. That is the defense that has been constructed to travel the road to the Super Bowl? Negligence, simply negligence.

    4) On offense; can only play with the players that brung ya. Meaning, Bryant smoked himself out of a year of playing, Bell got injured, and the rest of the WR supporting class either weren’t up to the task, or failed to rise to the occasion.

    On defense, see #3 above. The defense was designed, drafted, coached, trained and played to do what it did; it was like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Don’t blame the knife for failing to be effective, blame the idiots who brought it.

    5) Assuming they won’t be as self-blinding to the realities as they have been on their defense, it means the Steelers need to put plans into place NOW to find Roethlisberger’s replacement. Not necessarily the next “franchise” QB, but one that can take advantage of all of the offensive weapons currently on the roster to at least be competitive until a new franchise QB can be found.


    • Word is Coates FINALLY perked up in practice prior to the Patriots game. I had/have no problem with throwing that pass on 3rd and 1. I’m a little leery of drawing too many conclusions on what ifs* but if Coates catches that pass it could have been a tone setter/game changer.

      As for the Steelers tailoring themselves to beat the Patriots, I understand your line of thinking.

      But I also think that, historically, the franchise has not had a reactionary philosophy when it comes to this type of long term strategy. The Steelers have always been ones to think more for themselves. I don’t argue that it has worked terribly well in terms of the Patriots, but I understand the mindset.

      And remember, reactionary mindset of “lets try to match/beat ‘them'” can get you into trouble.

      Tucked into a LONG Peter King MMQB article in Jan 2011 before the AFC Champonship game was a laudatory discussion of how Rex Ryan and then Jets GM had built the roster, concluding with a quote about how Rex had asked for and gotten what he needed to “Get past the Colts and the Patriots.” Which he of course did, only to lose to the Steelers.

      Let’s be frank, even if the Steelers should have focused on building a roster to beat the Patriots, it is a little late to pivot now. And from what I am gathering (no I don’t have sources, but from reading those who do), the Steelers are focusing salary cap $ more on offense as opposed to defense.

      *(This reticence comes from growing up in DC during the 80’s and listening to Sonny Jurgensen trying to excuse away Redskins playoff losses to the Giants/49ers by pointing to one flimsy play that came early in the tame. As a non-fan, that apologizing sounded incredibly lame….)


  • The photo that PaVa posted above reminds Homer of the menus in the old Chinese restaurants. Brady has his choice of one from
    Column A, one from Column B, and one from Column C. He’s already had time to enjoy his Hot and Sour Soup, and will have plenty of time to sip his tea and nosh on orange slices and fortune cookies. Brady loves to feast on zones, but Steeler zones are his favorites.

    1) Ben was right about the wideouts, but don’t forget Coates’ case of alligator arms.

    2) They could have rested him a little more at the end of the Miami game (he DID come out before Ben, though), but they needed him against KC, where the game wasn’t decided until the last two minutes.

    3) Before you build a secondary that can stop Tom Brady, you first build a secondary that can stop Colt McCoy. The Steelers had nothing back there. They couldn’t stop anybody. They had to totally rebuild the defense. And they did so, adding Burns and Davis in the secondary. With three rookies in the D, they were busy learned the basic defenses. They weren’t ready to attempt a big switch. They may be next year. Adding someone better suited to man coverage would help.

    4) Oh, hell yes. They could have caught some passes, not stepped over the end line, called a run on third and one early and a QB sneak at the goal line. And they could have sent a spy to Foxboro earlier in the week to infect Brady with influenza.

    5) Move now to find his replacement, but don’t panic. The conundrum is this: you are drafting 30th and will have to trade up to draft a top-ranking QB. Next year’s class of QB’s is said to be far better and deeper than this year’s. So you see if it’s possible to package some draft picks and maybe a roster player to move up in round one if you think you can get Ben’s heir this year. If it isn’t – or if the price is too high – you pick up a veteran in free agency. Remember: Pittsburgh is widely considered the best workplace in the League. Guys WILL come here for less. If you get a vet, that means you have to do the package and trade up deal next year, unless next year’s team tanks. But the idea that you can name your time to pick your franchise QB is like saying you can pick your time to win Powerball. You have to be lucky, and you have to keep playing, but the timing is completely out of your hands. Somehow, you need to have a sense of urgency without panicking. Good luck with that.


  • 1. I absolutely agree with Ben, and I understand why a quarterback would call out his receivers to inspire them to pick it up. But…. I think Ben should not have expressed his feelings publicly when the season has ended. In the middle of a season there’s hope that players who are criticized become motivated to not let down their team; how will this affect a couple young guys who will spend the off-season with perhaps bitterness over being called out publicly by a teammate? I think he should have kept these comments & opinions between himself, the players involved, the coaches, and the front office.

    2. Don’t know how any of us could answer this without having inside information re the discussions that went on between Bell, coaches, and doctors.

    3. They need to adjust their personnel acquisition philosophy with an eye towards beating every other team, which means having a secondary that can play in a zone or in man-to-man coverage, depending on the situation. Perhaps a hybrid…. stick someone on Gronk (Hogan) with a zone behind them.

    4. I think the only thing they could have done was to come up with some defensive schemes that N.E., or any other team for that matter, hadn’t seen before. Of course, N.E. does such a great job of adjusting, that they’d have figured it out and the second half would have been……………. the same!

    5a. Kirk Cousins?
    5b. This is an awful draft class at the QB position. It’s difficult to answer this without knowing what Ben will do, but it’s likely that if Ben does return it may only be for 1 more year. I’d try to work some trades (both draft picks & players) to put the team in a position to find a good QB in the 2018 class, which should offer some good opportunities to find a quality player at the position.


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