College Football

Monday, January 15, 2018

Substance > Swagger

By: Joe Smeltzer
Photo creds to The Morning Call

In 60 minutes, the Jacksonville Jaguars unmasked everything wrong with the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past five years. Good god, there are a lot of angles I could take with this one.

I could talk about the Steelers defense, which allowed 38 points on a cold January afternoon to an offense that scored just 10 the week before in freaking Florida.

I could discuss the offense turning the simple task of converting a 4th-and-1 into open heart surgery.

I could ponder if defensive coordinator, Keith Butler and offensive coordinator, Tequila Cowboy, should or will keep their jobs. But what I'll discuss is that although we love our Steelers, the arrogance that this team showed over the past few months, from front to back, and not being able to back it up, makes it hard to have sympathy.

Everyone in Pittsburgh was looking towards an AFC championship rematch with the Big Bad Patriots, which is understandable. The Steelers and Pats were the two best teams in the AFC, and arguably the NFL, in the regular season. But it was one thing for fans like myself and whoever is reading this blog to look ahead to a date Foxborough. For the Steelers' players, and even their head coach to look ahead, is a whole different animal.

As Mike Mitchell's comments and Le'veon Bell's tweet showed, at least some of the Steelers knew that they were going to the AFC championship. Because of this, they probably prepared for a game that didn't exist yet more than handling a Jacksonville team that although was inferior on paper, still beat these cocky bunch of Steelers by three touchdowns not too long ago. While no one outside of the locker room knows exactly how much this arrogance had to do with Pittsburgh crashing out, I don't think it's unfair to say that Bell and Mitchell weren't alone in focusing on Bill Belichick's team more than Doug Marrone's.

Mike Tomlin has received a lot of criticism over the past decade, some unwarranted, some understandable. Among many things that were exposed Sunday is one of the most justified criticisms of Tomlin and perhaps his most significant flaw as a head coach- not only has he not done a quality job keeping his players from making dumb comments, he has personally contributed to the problem. When Tomlin made it clear in an interview that aired before Sunday Night Football Nov. 26 that he felt the December meeting with New England wouldn't be the last time the two teams would meet this season, it should have been a red flag. But the Steelers were 8-2 at the time and won five of their last six regular season contests, so it's logical that all the success hid Tomlin's flaws. But come this past Sunday, there was no hiding, for Tomlin or anybody else, and in my opinion, it sums up so much about what the Steelers of the 2010s represent.

It's indisputable that this team has had a lot of success over the past four years. It's also undeniable that some players tend to act at best immature, at worst like showboating clowns. While I've never had too big a problem with any of the Steelers on-field celebrations, Facebook live fiascos etc., it's time for that image to change. While Sunday's loss wasn't the first playoff disappointment Pittsburgh has had in recent years, it was the most disheartening, and if there were ever a time for a wakeup call, it would be now.

Assuming that Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell are back in 2018, the Steelers will be Super Bowl contenders. Pittsburgh has had championship talent for the past four years, especially the last two, and I don't expect that to be different in 2018. The Steelers embarrassment of depth-chart riches won't change anytime soon, but the way this team carries itself, and how their head coach seems to condone it, has to.

One could argue that a coaching overhaul isn't necessary. Obviously, Tomlin isn't going anywhere, and you could make a case for Butler and Haley keeping their jobs as well. But one thing that is indisputable is that the Steelers have a swagger that they have not earned. So cut the BS. No more fun and games. It's time to win a Super Bowl, and doing that would require preparing for games that exist.

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