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.

8 comments

  • 1. The Pro Bowl is “football light” and IMO wins and losses have little to do with coaching. Most of the players haven’t played together and view the game more as a family vacation than a competitive game. The difference in pay for winners vs losers is nothing when compared to their salaries. It is a couple of unsportsmanlike penalties worth of fines. The Steelers’ pro bowl coaching record is a fun stat to add to the organization’s overall legacy but means little, so my answer would be B.

    2. No it is not a legitimate concern. See my answer above.

    3. Yes I think Tyler Matakevich would have been a big upgrade over Sean Spence in the run game.

    4. I love what Bell has done for the Steelers but I don’t think he’s worth the contract he is seeking. I would try to sign him to a reasonable, affordable deal that does not handicap the team’s cap situation for the next decade but if that is not possible, then use the non exclusive tag on him to see if someone wants him bad enough to give up the picks.

    5. They need to fix this defense and I think it will take a combination of shrewd free agent signings and at least one drafted player that can help us right away. I can’t recall a Steelers defense this weak against the run. The fact we put up 42 points against one of the best defenses in the league shows that the offense can hold its own without a lot of changes.

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  • First, thanks Hombre. You had a great season yourself. Your questions are always thought provoking, and stimulate a lot of fruitful conversation.

    1 and 2. There was a time when the Pro Bowl was a more meaningful event. Pay levels were much lower, for example, and the fees for winning meant more to players who usually had to work at other jobs during the off season in order to make ends meet. Today, based on how many contracts are structured, merely making a Pro Bowl team is more financially beneficial than anything earned because of performance in the game. Because of factors like free agency and off season training programs, many of the players are as close to competitors from the other team as they are with some of their teammates. And then there is the need to avoid injury. Bottom line, what was on display was more akin to a pick up game at a 4th of July picnic then anything. To try to read anything about the quality of coaching in such a setting is a bit of a stretch. In this light, hard to take Jeremy Bergman’s take seriously. We can start with why Fichtner would show anything he intended to do next season in such a venue, and go from there.

    3. Not enough has been made of this IMO. Last season the inside linebackers were Lawrence Timmons, Shazier, Vince Williams and Matakevich. There was a stretch during the Jaguar game when none of those players were on the field (Williams was going thru concussion protocol). As a practical matter, there is limit to how far you can take the next-man-up, standard-is-the-standard mantra, particular in a playoff game against one of the best running attacks in the league. There is a reason that Sean Spence was sitting on his couch for most of the season, and L.T. was being yo-yoed on and off the roster. For a young, not so deep defense it was a bridge too far.

    4. I always find myself a little nauseated at the tendency of so many fans to completely dismiss the bird in hand in favor fancied potential of those who may (or may not) be in the bush. There is only two legitimate reasons I would see for not signing Bell to a long term contract: They can’t afford him, or he has some devastating physical or character issue of which we are not privy to now.

    5. I think it was Joe Gibbs that said that if you let the outcome of a game hinge on one play then perhaps you deserve to lose, or words to that effect. That being said, that Jesse James catch was a touchdown, full stop. Let’s not allow ourselves to be gaslighted about this. And that event changed everything that occurred afterward. I think history will bear this out, and when it does, the outcome of this season will legitimately have a tinge of tragedy.

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    • Let me provide some back story for my question.

      I watched my first Pro Bowl this weekend (with HEAVY doses of fast forward) since 1995, I think. And while intensity of the Pro Bowl has never matched even that of preseason, the Pro Bowl in its current form is something between true tackle football, and the contact flag football I played in college and grad school. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

      But there’s no way Bill Cowher could run a Pro Bowl offense that sees Marshall Faulk running for 180 yards AND Chris Warren running for 120 as he did in 1995.

      With that said, coaches are competitive by nature and are trying to win. Talent rosters are fairly even as well. And we have a large sample taken across multiple eras.

      In some ways you could argue that the Pro Bowl offers a sort of hermetically sealed opportunity to evaluate pure in-game or single game coaching. IF that’s the case, then I don’t wonder doesn’t tell us something about coaching ability. Hence the question.

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  • 1. Doesn’t mean much, but it is an interesting factoid. I’d be more interested in if players from other teams walk away wishing they played for our coaches.

    2. He got Rosie the ball, that was great. If he risked Ben by sneaking in the Pro Bowl I’d want his head. How dumb would that be?

    3. Probably would have. We went from a top 10 defense against runs up the middle to 30th. Dirty Red isn’t an athlete, but he doesn’t get pushed around like Fort and Spence.

    4. I’d tag and trade him, try to get a third or fourth round pick for him. Honestly right now I think a veteran RB that comes 8 million cheaper than the tag and a defensive upgrade to either Burns or Mitchell would be worth it.

    5. Losing to the Jags honestly reminds me of when the Steelers stomped the Buccaneers the year they won the Super Bowl. If we had faced them in the playoffs we would have done it again. They were built to destroy offenses that were fast and spread the field. We were a power run team and we pushed them around.

    We have a defense we have re-designed to defend the Patriots quick pass spread offense that uses small quick RBs as runners and receivers. We weren’t able to handle Fournette.

    That Steelers team would have beaten the Bucs again could we have faced them in the playoffs. Being more talented doesn’t trump a scheme mismatch.

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  • 1. No one cares about the Pro Bowl anymore. Neither should you.
    2. See #1 above.
    3. There would have been a clear dropoff, because Matekevich lacks sideline to sideline speed. But he has the strength to set the edge and the football instinct to be around the football. They would have been nowhere near as bad with Dirty Red in there.
    4. Try like hell to sign him, and remember he’s Ben’s insurance policy. Bell is not a good blocker, he’s a great one in pass pro, in addition to being an elite receiver. Do everything you can to sign him, even though he often acts like a selfish butthead.
    5. Add a really, really strong and physical ILB, and a safety. If there is an elite DB coach, that might be helpful, because nothing closes your Super Bowl window more than “miscommunications” in the defensive backfield, or, as Homer calls them, “blown assignments.” You either need at least one new defensive back or a new DB coach next year. What you had was unacceptable, and there must be accountability, even if you play in Haiti.

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  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    1) Pro Bowl = paid vacation for all-stars. It is one of the most meaningless games in sports.
    2) Less than a week to install an offence for a bunch of guys who would rather being partying? Meaningless.
    3) Matakevich might have made enough of a difference… but possibly not.
    4) I would like to see Bell stay and I think the Steelers would like Bell to stay but it doesn’t matter what the Steelers or I want. It is what Bell wants. I don’t think the Steelers can afford that so it is a question of getting the best value for him possible. I don’t know that is achieved but I will assume Colbert does.
    5) I am somewhat disappointed the Ben is coming back. I worry about his long term health and how much abuse he has taken thus far. Another concern is the possibility of him changing his mind (yeah, I know this contradicts the previous sentence) because although I am sure he means it, once the excitement of the playoffs wears off, I wonder if the pull of his family and their wants and needs will keep him from committing to another season once he has had time to reflect. The worst case will be for him to get a few games into the season only to realize he should have retired because the Steelers will have planned their season with the idea of him being at the helm instead of pouring some resources into finding his replacement.

    Bonus bit of information: Tonight’s final for the Tournament of Hearts* features two Manitoba teams (the WC team was from Manitoba as was Team Canada). World class women’s curling for a great evening… it goes well with scotch, beer, wine and a bit to nibble.

    * Name for Canada’s national women’s championship… also the name of the following song by The Weakerthans

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  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    For any that were interested, the Jennifer Jones’ Manitoba team won in the 10th end, iirc, putting her into a tie for winning the most Canadian Women’s Curling Championships. This will go nicely with the gold medal she won last Olympics. She, and her team, will now represent Canada in the World Championships.

    In other news, I hear there was a football game and someone won it.

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