January 12, 2012
It doesn't really feel like there's a lot to say about the Steelers. They were one of the league's best teams, again, as they always are, and that will probably be the case next year, too. They were just done in by their own hobbled quarterback, and an opposing quarterback who just happens to play better with nail-sized holes in his hands and feet.
What is it about the Steelers' 2011 season that one could look at and say was disappointing? Aside from losing in the first round of the playoffs, is there anything?
Maybe Rashard Mendenhall has yet to turn into the dominant back the Steelers wanted, but he wasn't terrible, either. Ben Roethlisberger was fine until late in the season when his ankle was gimped up. The young corps of receivers has gotten even deeper, and once again, the offensive line fought through some major issues early in the season and eventually stabilized.
Defensively, despite some injuries and suspensions, they still finished as the best in the league, giving up just 271.8 yards and 14.2 points per game, both best in the league. No problems there, obviously.
So why are we sitting here mourning the Steelers in the first half of January? What held this team back?
What if the answer is "nothing"? What if, sometimes, you're a very good team, and you just happen to be unlucky with the timing of some injuries, and you lose a game you normally win? Is it OK for an answer to be that simple?
Because that's all I really see. I know some Steelers fans aren't in love with how Bruce Arians runs the offense, and everyone would've liked to see more depth on the offensive line, but this was still a very, very good team. They had just four losses ‒ all of them to teams that are still playing.
What happened in Denver was more of a perfect storm type of situation: Ben Roethlisberger was not himself, and hadn't been in weeks. The interior of the offensive line was a mess. Ryan Clark couldn't play. The Steelers went into the game daring Tim Tebow to beat them with his arm, and to that point, there was nothing to indicate that Tim Tebow was capable of that.
But he did it, and the Steelers lost in overtime, and that's just the way the cookie crumbled. Sometimes, you get a bad result even when you do things right.
Looking ahead to the offseason, the questions for the Steelers will be the same as they've been for the past few years ‒ patching up the offensive line and maybe getting a little more help in the secondary. This year, throw in the question about what to do with an aging Hines Ward.
But the strengths will be the same, too. It will be a strong team that returns, and it will be well-coached and have a dominant defense, just as it did this year. Maybe things will turn out better.
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