By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Analysis: The Super Bowl Champs Are Down And Out
NORTH CAROLINA — Growing up as a kid in New England, most of my friends, family and classmates were fans of three area teams: The New York Giants, The New York Jets and yes, even the pathetic New England Patriots (at least they were in the 70′s and 80′s).
I was always different. My friends took Spanish in school, I studied French. All the guys pledged to a particular fraternity, I went to pledge at a different one or as the it turned out, didn’t pledge at all. If they went west, I went east, if they went north, I went south, etc.
So naturally when most were cheering for “the traditional area three teams”, I was a fan of the current Super Bowl Champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tough, rough, strong, and powerful. All words seemingly used when describing the Black and Gold.
Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, “Mean” Joe Greene, John Stallworth, Jack Lambert, Rocky Bleier, Chuck Noll and of course the man who change the face of the franchise when he purchased them many decades ago, the late great Art Rooney.
Through the 80′s the Steelers showed some promise but the storied franchise was declining and rebuilding so I spent most of the decade in agony and distress over my beloved Steelers.
Then the decade of the 90′s proved to be a time of promise, rejuvenation and even a Superbowl appearance against the hated team with the star on their helmet.
After years of heartache and disappointments, I finally felt MY TEAM would when their first Superbowl since the 1979-80 season, but thanks to Neil O’Donnell, the Cowgirls beat my Steelers, leaving me to cry in my car (yes, a grown man crying in his car because he is a die-hard Steeler fan) and wondering what if after another season without a championship.
Then last year the improbable happens. In a year where the Steelers look like they were not only not making it to the Superbowl, the chances of making the playoffs looked very slim.
Then Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, “Big Ben” Roethlisberger, Joey Porter, Hines Ward and the rest of the team of warriors battled the second half of the second season, winning the games they needed to win and narrowly getting into the playoffs.
Did you say playoffs? After a comeback win against Cincinnati, a dominating performance against the Colts that saw them almost fumble the game away and a impressive victory in Denver, the Steelers were off to the Super Bowl to play the upstart Seattle Seahawks for football supremacy.
Solid defense, trick plays and big plays led the Steelers to their fifth world championships in six trips to the big bowl and all was well and restored in the land of BLACK AND GOLD. As for me, I was in the proverbial “football heaven” and was on “cloud ten”, forget “cloud nine”. Until week 2.
A loss at Jacksonville, followed by a horrible defeat at home to the rival Bengals, set the Steelers on a whirlwind of losses in every which way you can imagine.
At the time of this article, the Steelers are at the mid-way point of the season with a disastrous 2-6 record, with a chance of a defending their title virtually gone and were gearing up to face a surprisingly good New Orleans Saints team.
Many Steeler fans, football fans and media alike have asked the question this year: What’s wrong with the Super Bowl Champions? Some want to blame Ben Roethlisberger, others want to blame the head coach Bill Cowher and many other theories have been discussed but I feel their are some key reasons why the Steelers have struggled this year and I think I know why.
Here are the reasons:
1. Turnovers: The Steelers offense has committed 24 huge turnovers in eight games so far this season including 6 in one game twice this season. It doesn’t matter if you are the Super Bowl Champions or the worst team in the league, it’s extremely difficult to overcome turnovers at home or on the road and expect to win a NFL football game.
Roethlisberger has thrown 14 interceptions including 7 in the last two games at Oakland (two which led to two Raider touchdowns) and at home against Denver in another loss. Strangely, the Steelers offense is ranked in the top 10 in total offense in the league.
2. Poor defense: Of all the reasons for a dismal season, this is the most surprising. The Steelers defense on third down has been abysmal. The inability to get off the field and stop their opponents on third down has continued drives for the opponents and ultimately led to more points and an eventual loss.
The Steelers also only have one fumble recovery on the season which is dead last in the NFL. Lastly, the defense has allowed too many big plays in the passing game which usually occurs on the down they’ve have trouble with-third down.
3. The offense: Although the offense is ranked in the top ten, the Steelers are not efficient on the ground which is what they like to do best. Coming into the Saints game, Willie Parker is ninth in the league in rushing but has put the ball on the ground on numerous occasions leaving the coaches at the University of North Carolina who didn’t play him much in his years there to say “I told you so”. The offense line does a solid job in pass protecting overall but are not getting the job done in opening holes for the running backs which makes the offense predictable and one dimensional.
4. No Jerome Bettis: I know he is only one player, but when you lose a player like Jerome Bettis, who was the heart and soul of the team and was the MAIN drive and purpose for the Steelers to play hard to win a championship, it takes an edge from a team who needs one especially after winning a championship and are trying to defend it.
5. Ben Roethlisberger: Ok, everyone wants to blame the motorcycle injury for the poor play from Roethlisberger but really, “Big Ben’s” struggles began in the Superbowl when he completed only 8 passes. After going 15-1 in his rookie year and eventually leading his team to the big game, Big Ben has struggled to prove he is not only a starter in the NFL but one of the elite quarterbacks and I think that’s caused him to really press and question himself.
The motorcycle injury, a concussion, lack of support from the defense, a running game and a overall lack of confidence has caused this sudden “bundle of blunders” and mistakes leading to losses for the team and a huge weight on his shoulders.
6. Bill Cowher: Most of you who know me and/or have read anything I’ve written about the Steelers knows I am not a big fan of Bill Cowher. Last year’s Super Bowl win was because of a DESIRE (We will get back to that later) the players had to win and great play calling by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. In my opinion, the Steelers won IN SPITE OF COWHER.
Cowher continues to coach not to lose instead of coaching to win. He second guesses himself when he shouldn’t and doesn’t seem to give much thought to things he should. HE TOTALLY BOTCHED THE SITUATION WITH BIG BEN THIS SEASON LIKE HE DID LAST SEASON. When Roethlisberger was injured last season, he started an inept Tommy Maddox instead of Charlie Batch and when Big Ben was questionable at the start of this season and then a few weeks ago, instead of starting Charlie Batch, who is undefeated in the last two years with the Steelers, he started Big Ben instead which turned out to be disastrous and the absolute wrong move.
Although I think Cowher is a solid coach, he lacks the confidence in himself it seems to make the right call in the face of loyalty and stand firm in the midst of controversy. It also seems his mind is not on the team who employs him in Pittsburgh, but the team who seemingly wants him in North Carolina (i.e. his alma mater, N.C. State).
7. Teams on the schedule are playing harder: Anytime you win a championship in any sports, the teams you face the following season will play harder especially when you are on the road because you are the defending champions. The Bengals, Chargers and Broncos all lost to the Steelers last season and the Bengals and Broncos on the way to the Steelers winning the title so the incentive to play harder to win was emphasized.
The Jaguars, Raiders and Falcons all just want to make a statement to the NFL they are a good football team and they are a good football team that defeated the defending champions. It’s amazing how much of the game of football is played because players are looking for an edge or some form of on the field incentive rather than the physical aspect of the game.
8. The lack of desire: How many times have you seen a champion in any sport seem to come out extremely flat in games or a season because the inability to match intensity from their opponent? The Steelers unfortunately fall into that category this season.
The team seems to be out-played, not physical enough and it seems to come from the difficulty in seizing the moment, losing the edge from the previous year because of a championship and no real sense of urgency to win games and win a championship after accomplishing it last season. The desire is lacking in both the players and coaches.
Some Steelers fans will criticize me for criticizing the Steelers and that’s fine and understandable. The truth hurts sometimes and it hurts me to face the facts and write the obvious, HOWEVER these are the 2006-2007 Pittsburgh Steelers. The defenders of last year’s Super Bowl Championship.
It’s going to be a long second half of the season for the Steelers and their fans but their is always next season. When you win a championship, you hope your team comes back the next season utilizing the positive things they accomplished on the field to hopefully win consecutive championships.
Let’s hope for the Steelers and their fans most of everything they didn’t do on the field this season isn’t carried over into next season.