Advertisement

Chris Mueller: Rooney's commitment to stability hinders rather than helps Steelers

Steelers owner Art Rooney II talks at the Podium during the Franco Harris memorial that took place at halftime as the Steelers took on the Las Vegas Raiders at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA on December 24, 2022.
Steelers owner Art Rooney II talks at the Podium during the Franco Harris memorial that took place at halftime as the Steelers took on the Las Vegas Raiders at Acrisure Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA on December 24, 2022.

If you greeted the occasion of Art Rooney’s annual season-ending “State of the Steelers” address with optimism that the owner would perhaps echo frustrations held widely around town about the team’s sixth-straight season without a playoff win, my apologies.

But really, you should have known better.

Rooney hit the same usual notes in his meeting with local media, an affair where the only thing tougher than getting access is getting a revealing answer from the man who answers to no one about the state of his franchise.

There were plenty of quotable remarks, likely none that made a bigger splash nationally than Rooney’s opinion on neutral site conference championship games.

“I hate the idea,” were the first words out of his mouth when asked about the topic. He’s right about that, at least.

Otherwise, most everything Rooney said about his team’s performance this season could have been accompanied by a large neon sign above his head, repeatedly flashing the word “stability” in big, gold letters.

Noncommittal answers about possible additions to the coaching staff don’t really surprise me. Neither do boilerplate responses about things like keeping defensive free agents, something Rooney said was a “concern.”

I’m not even particularly moved by his unwillingness to speak about a potential contract extension for Mike Tomlin. That mostly struck me as a trained lawyer keeping things close to the vest. I’d be genuinely shocked if Tomlin didn’t get another contract extension this offseason.

No, the answer from Rooney that continues to stick with me is what he said about why the Steelers retained Matt Canada.

If you’re someone who has made peace with the idea that Canada is coming back, whether you like it or not, I understand your fatigue at seeing his name yet again. Still, I can’t let this go. And my frustration with Rooney’s reasoning hasn’t dissipated, even two days after I first heard it.

Asked if the Steelers’ second-half surge saved Canada’s job, Rooney said, “Yeah, we like to see that improvement. And we like the relationship [Canada] built with Kenny. If we start over, you could end up in the same situation [we had this year], trying to break in a new coordinator.”

There is some validity to the latter part, if you truly believe that comfort and familiarity behind the scenes were a big part of Pickett’s growth. I’m not going to quibble with that. It’s more that I take issue with the idea that there was some sort of offensive outburst to begin with. The Steelers averaged 20.8 points per game after the bye, up from 15 per game prior to it. That’s a solid enough jump, almost a full six points, but averaging 20.8 over the course of the season would have been good for 19th in the league, more or less in a dead-heat with Baltimore.

One of those good games, against the Carolina Panthers, came with Mitch Trubisky starting. The week prior, Trubisky relieved Pickett and moved the Steelers’ offense well, but turned the ball over three times in a loss to the Ravens. Even the team’s best offensive output of the year, 30 points against the Bengals in a Week 11 loss, comes with a frustrating asterisk; after a 20-point first half, Pickett and the offense only produced three points despite multiple drives that started in good field position, until a late cosmetic touchdown made the final score closer than it really was.

Moreover, Pickett’s best moments were just that ― moments. His consecutive game-winning drives against the Raiders and Ravens were clutch, no doubt, but the Steelers scored 29 points combined in those two games. Getting it done in crunch time matters, of course, but it doesn’t erase the earlier futility (read: when the offensive coordinator is scripting things out more) that necessitated late heroics.

Beyond all of that, the Steelers beat one team with a winning record after the bye week. That would be those Ravens, who were without Lamar Jackson for both meetings. Is it really that impressive to have beaten the Saints, Colts, Falcons, Panthers, Raiders and Browns?

If fans or media want to seize on those performances as reasons for optimism, that’s fine. Maybe it will all be warranted. My problem is when the owner of the team, the man who can facilitate whatever changes he deems necessary, ignores the context surrounding virtually all of those games, and bases crucial decisions about his team’s immediate future on the outcome.

Ask yourself this: If the Steelers had started 7-2 against the same weaker portion of the schedule, then cratered down the stretch, would Rooney have been saying the same things? Probably not. If their strong finish was fueled more by weak opposition than anything else, as I believe it was, then winning all those games isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of Canada.

Art Rooney II thought differently. He prioritized incremental improvement over taking a big risk and potentially netting a big reward. In other words, he chose stability. As a result, unless there’s a shocking change in the coming weeks, the Steelers will enter the 2023 season embracing the status quo.

The state of the Pittsburgh Steelers? Same as it ever was. That’s not a good thing anymore.

This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: Mueller: Rooney's commitment to stability hinders rather than helps Steelers