Monthly Archives: January 2018

5 Smoldering Questions, For Real (or, Getting Real)

photo via Steelers.com

By Hombre de Acero

While the Steelers 2018 off-season has reached its second week, much of the discussion in Steelers Nation is still on looking back as opposed to focusing on how the franchise can pick upself up off the slag heap that is 2017.

With that in mind, we give you our 5 Smoldering Should Be in the Super Bowl But Not Questions on the Steelers.

1. Mike Tomlin led the AFC to a last minute 24-23 come back over the NFC in the Pro Bowl, and by doing so he improved the modern era Steelers head coaches Pro Bowl record to a perfect 8-0, as streak which includes wins over 4 Super Bowl winning coaches (Buddy Parker was the lone loser in 1957, for those who MUST know.)

Does this factoid:
a) Validate the legacy of coaching excellence the Steelers have enjoyed, given the size of the sample, time span considered, the quality of the opposing coaches and the relative equality of talent between the AFC and NFC Pro Bowl rosters?

Or:
b) Or is it something that will only prove useful should you make it to Final Jeopardy and the category is “Steelers in the Pro Bowl”?

Make a choice and defend it as if it were one of Johnny Mitchell’s lineman tasked with defense of one of Mike Tomlin’s proverbial blades of grass.

2. Irrespective of your answer to question number one, the Pro Bowl gave Steelers Nation its first glimpse of a Randy Fichtner-coordinated offense, NFL.com’s Jeremy Bergman observed:

It was especially sad to watch Randy Fichtner ring in his first game as Steelers offensive coordinator in the Pro Bowl, calling double reverses for Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and simple routes for Ben Roethlisberger to underthrow.

It’s fair to wonder how much will change next season in the Steel City. Will Bell leave in free agency? Will Roethlisberger hint at retirement again? Will Fichtner force Big Ben to run a sneak? On Sunday, we got an answer to at least one of these quandaries. On third-and-1 from the NFC 39 with Roethlisberger under center, Fichtner called … a dive to Roosevelt Nix. Some things don’t change.

Do you agree with Jeremy Bergman’s observation and is it a legitimate cause for concern?

3. In diagnosing the post-Shazier decline of the Steelers’ 2017 defense, a number of commentators pointed to the fact that his back up, Tyler Matakevich, also got injured against Cincinnati. Do you think a healthy Tyler Matakevich would have made a difference down the stretch?

4. By the time we get to our free agency edition of the 5 Smoldering Questions, the Le’Veon Bell situation will likely have clarified itself. So let’s jump the gun and cut right to the chase. Should the Steelers:

a. Try to sign Bell before the Franchise tag is due?
b. Use the franchise tag if signing him is not possible?
c. Let him test the market but be ready to make a competitive offer?
d. Simply let him walk and attempt to reload via the draft or going with the current backs on the roster.

There are arguments for and against all four options, and each choice carries significant risk as well as opportunity costs for the Steelers. What should they do?

5. The loss to the Jaguars was devastating to fans, as no one saw it coming. Yet, Jim Wexell insisted a few days after that the arrow on the Steelers was still pointing up. That prompted me to observe that, for as bad as the loss was, it didn’t have type of “era ending” feel that say the Tebowing in Denver did a few years ago….

…But on second thought, the 1997 AFC Championship loss to Denver didn’t seem to signal the end of the Cowher-Donahoe Steelers status as contenders, but it did.

The reasons for that of course were tied to decisions made after that fateful AFC Championship loss, and not the game itself.

With that in mind, knowing that Ben Roethlisberger is coming back, what other decisions must the Steelers make to keep their Super Bowl window open for 2018?

This will be the final 5 Smoldering’s edition for the Steelers 2017 season. As in past season we’ll have future edition for the draft and free agency and/or as events warrant.

Until then thanks go out to everyone who took time to contribute to the conversations, and a big Thank You to Rebecca and everyone else who helped construct questions during times when travel prevented me from coming up with my own. Thank You.

Conspiracy Theories

Barry Reeger/ PennLive

We all love conspiracy theories. They are a great way to deflect some of the deep disappointment one feels when, just to take a for-instance, the team we all thought was ripe for a Super Bowl win instead is playing in the Pro Bowl. So was the problem a misjudgment on our own part as to the actual quality of the team, a blindness on our part as to the manifest and obvious flaws, or [cue sinister music] Is The Whole Thing Rigged?

Furthermore, I don’t know about y’all, but it’s difficult not to feel that if a 13-3 team can’t even make it to the semi-finals, I may never see another Super Bowl game in which my beloved Steelers are a combatant. Read more

5 Nearly-Extinguished Questions, In Honor of the Pro Bowl

img_2278Photo via Steelers.com  Tomlin is, apparently, not impressed by my questions…

I am going to be stealing questions from wherever I can find them this week, because it doesn’t seem  appropriate to try very hard, the week of the Pro Bowl. Feel free to leave equally lame answers…

1. Jim Wexell’s latest column for Steel City Insider has the following subtitle: “Do the Steelers need a disciplinarian? Not as much as they need an inside linebacker.” He makes the point that it isn’t unusual for star players to get special treatment. He makes many other interesting points, too, so read it if you can get past the paywall. In the meantime, agree or disagree?

2. Wexell also noted this tweet by one of the writers of Football Outsiders, as follows:

 

Wexell doesn’t buy into a conspiracy theory, more that there is an unconscious bias on the part of the refs, assuming that the Pats are doing things correctly. Your take?

Cold Old Steelers Fan helpfully wrote most of the rest of this column. So thanks, COSF, and here goes:

3. This is a great one – really more appropriate for Full Smoulder: “How will the Ben/Fitchner era look? Will Ben be calling all the plays or will Fitchner? Will there be conflict?”

4. And next: “Will Tomlin continue with the role of defensive play calling? Is that a good idea?” Interesting question, especially in light of the Haley hire in Cleveland apparently signalling the end of the Hue Jackson offensive play-calling era there.

Of course, it assumes a level of involvement in the defense that I’m not sure is quite correct. So bonus sub-question—how much do you think Tomlin was involved in the actual defensive play-calling this past season?

And finally, I’ll contribute:

5. If you could change one coaching decision (can be an in-game decision, or an overall philosophy decision), what would it be, and how would you expect it to affect the final outcome?

The Problem With Haley: Ivan’s View

By Ivan Cole

From a 2011 interview with Steelers super scout Bill Nunn:

Ivan Cole: I have been looking at what the Steelers have been able to do over the past 42 years. After all, Tony Dungy was originally part of the Chuck Noll coaching tree. Tomlin was part of the Dungy tree, meaning we’ve come full circle.

Bill Nunn: And who hired Tomlin? Dungy. The tree is really interesting. [But] Nepotism is becoming a great part of this now. With the salaries, they’re trying to get their kids into it.

Read more

The Todd Haley Question: Point/Counterpoint, Part 1

A7E66198-FE43-4516-B882-F530411F6299.jpegPhoto via USA Today Sports

Or so I suspect. Ivan commented in his responses to the 5 Smoldering Questions yesterday that he had too many thoughts to share in a comment format and that he would be writing them up. The reason I say “Point/Counterpoint” is that I expect our viewpoints are somewhat different.

But before I share my own thoughts, here are some from a commentor by the name of Wes Lee who left this on our Facebook page: Read more

5 Smoldering Questions on the 2017 Playoff Ruins

A132FC3E-BC23-42BC-BBE5-C4A2C17488A2.jpegPhoto via Steelers.com

By Hombre de Acero

If ever there was a week when circumstances would match the title of this column, it is this week. The Jacksonville Jaguars came into Heinz Field and embarrassed the Steelers to the tune of a 45-42, eliminating them from the playoffs and rendering their 2017 season a smoking ruin.

With that introduction, here are this week’s 5 Smoldering Questions on the Steelers 2017 Division Playoff loss.

1. A year ago the Steelers were without Cam Heyward, had Eli Rogers and DeMarcus Ayers as their number 2 and 3 receivers, played Ross Cockrell and William Gay as their number 2 and number 3 corners, yet made it to the AFC Championship. This year, save for Ryan Shazier, they were at full strength, with a 1st round bye, yet gave up 45 points to an offense that only managed 10 the week before, against the Buffalo Bills. 

What the hell happened?

2. Heads are already rolling on the South Side, with Todd Haley sent packing. Haley, in the tradition of Steelers offensive coordinators was a lightening rod for criticsm during his tenure and if social media is any guide, the vast majority of Steelers Nation is happy to see him go.

Yet, Haley was brought into save Ben from himself, and numbers don’t lie.

FFEEA694-C419-4988-9FCA-1858EFF85E74.png

Do you agree with the decision to part ways with Haley? Defend your choice.

3. Meanwhile, if Gerry Dulac’s reporting is correct, the entire defensive staff that oversaw and effort that tied the franchise record for most points given up in a playoff game will remain intact….

However, Mike Mularkey has been relieved of his duties in Tennessee which could make things interesting.

Assuming the new head coach doesn’t retain the assistants, and assuming Dick LeBeau would even listen to an offer—perhaps neither assumption is correct—but were he to become available, should the Steelers consider bringing back LeBeau in some sort of Assistant Head Coach Defense capacity?

4. It’s been reported on two occasions this season that the Steelers have prohibited Ben Roethlsiberger from making quarterback sneaks for fear of him being “Ear holed.” Do you agree or disagree?

5. You are Art Rooney II. Realistically, what do you say, or perhaps ask, Mike Tomlin in your year-end meeting?

That’s all for now. Depending on which stories develop, we may have another 5 Smoldering’s in the next week or so, if not we’ll certainly be back for free agency and the draft.

Until then, use your number 2 pencils, be sure to look at your neighbors paper, and by all means show your work.

I would like to express my thanks to Hombre for the great questions he comes up with for us, a task which he has to somehow fit into a very busy life with work, family, his own website, and travel. We will look forward to the next set of questions, whenever they hit my inbox : )

The 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers Season: Aristotle Would Be Proud

E93FCEE1-6231-4549-9E8A-48E34FBADCF1.jpegThis isn’t really an analysis or review of the season or anything like that, at least not from a football perspective. It’s simply a commentary, or more possibly an attempt to reach catharsis.

As I tossed on my proverbial couch, because here in Europe the game didn’t end until after bedtime, it occurred to me how much like a Greek tragedy this game was. In some ways it was even a microcosm of the season.

The season itself featured a new dramatic incident each week. Some of them were more dramatic (and serious) than others. All of them revealed some flaw in the character of these men we so admire and whose doings we follow.  These flaws were right in line with something out of a classic tragedy, whether of Aristotle or his more modern decedents such as Shakespeare. Read more

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