Ed Bouchette not only declared the season dead, but also declared his era of Steelers football to be dead.
Get Out Your Geritol
It is a grim conclusion, and one that tempts the reader to say, “isn’t he going too far.” Yet, Bouchette marshals good, if somewhat exaggerated, evidence to support his cause.
Here are the ages next year of some starting defenders: Casey Hampton, 33; Brett Keisel, 32; Aaron Smith, 34; James Farrior, 35; James Harrison, 32; Ike Taylor, 30; Ryan Clark, 31. And the ages of their top replacements: Tyrone Carter, 34; Deshea Townsend, 35; Travis Kirschke, 36; Chris Hoke, 34; Nick Eason, 30.That is ancient in football terms.
While generally accurate, the Steelers do have an age problem on defense, the portrait of a gerontocracy in the making on the Steelers line is a little exaggerated. Casey Hampton, Ryan Clark, and Deshea Townsend are all free agents who will probably find other homes next season.
Bouchette is likewise on to something in highlighting that Steelers lack of quality depth on defense. But he is too quick to dismiss Joe Burnett and Kennan Lewis, and he ignores other up and coming promising up and comers such as Keyron Fox, Patrick Bailey and Sunny Harris who show varying degrees of promise.
But Steel Curtain Rising does not wish to quibble too much with Bouchette’s description of the task that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin now face.
His assessment of the offensive line is excellent. At mid-season, when commentators were praising this group as one of the better units in the league, the decision to invest in the current personnel looked like a stroke of genius. After the 8 sack fiasco in Cleveland, it now looks like the Steelers braintrust have married themselves to mediocrity.
Quantifying the Quit Watch
Over at the Tribune-Review, Joe Starkey’s focus was more immediate, asking whether the Steelers will fight to the end or simply choose to mail it in. Starkey quotes Jerome Bettis, who criticizes the players for quitting Thursday night, and insists that attiude starts at the top.
No qualms with that. But Starkey, like Bouchette, exaggerates to make his point:
Bettis fondly remembered the 2000 season, when the Steelers started 5-6. The playoffs were gone, but, unlike the previous two seasons, the Steelers finished with some fight, winning four of five. One game was especially memorable - a come-from-behind, 21-20 victory over a very good Oakland Raiders team.
The Steelers battled like crazy that day. Quarterback Kordell Stewart won over the locker room by playing through an injury. That would lead to his MVP-caliber campaign of 2001, when the Steelers finished 13-3.
That's what can happen during a stretch of so-called meaningless games.
I remember that game, and that season fondly. The Steeles did fight like cornered animals. It was one of Cowher’s most impressive coaching jobs, as the team started 0-3, but never, ever quit.
Remembering The Good Old Days
But Starkey misses a key point. The Steelers indeed started 5-6, but they were not eliminated from the playoffs at that point, in fact, their playoff hopes were alive right up until the final weekend.
In fact, had the Minnesota Vikings knocked off the Indianapolis Colts – something they looked poised to do until Bubby Brister came in for an injured Dante Culpepper, the Steelers would have made the playoffs.
- The point being that the Steelers last five games of the 2000 season, including the Oakland game -- which was one for the ages -- were very far from meaningless.
Starkey also recounts the 2003 and 2006 season, seasons where Steelers fought to the bitter end despite no having playoff hopes.
Excellent examples which speak directly to Bill Cowher’s prowess as head coach. But Starkey also ignores the meltdowns of 1998 and 1999, two seasons where the Steelers rank and file did quit and quit badly, while the playoffs remained a possibility.
None of this is to meant to defend Tomlin.
All of the evidence indicates that Mike Tomlin has lost this group of players and the possibility of an 6-10 eight game losing streak is just real, but likely.
But in framing the present Starkey seems to want to embellish the past, if just a little. The Good Old days were indeed good, but not quite as good as Starkey would perhaps have us remember.
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