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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Steeler Problems Go Above the Field

For years, Pittsburgh was considered top 10 among the "drunkest" cities in America. In the 2013 list, the Steel City doesn't even make an appearance in the top 25.

No worries. If the Pittsburgh Steelers keep up their current level of play, Pittsburghers will have their city pushing back to the top. In fact, considering the scattering of the Steeler fan base, a few other cities might make a push as well.

Everyone wants to know, "What's wrong with Pittsburgh?" The short answer is:  A lot.

Make no mistake that the Steelers are spiraling towards the Teddy Bridgewater/Jadeveon Clowney Sweepstakes. Why has this franchise, a portrait of stability and excellence for the majority of the time since 1972, suddenly looking like more like the '76 Buccaneers? (Minus the pumpkin jerseys of course).

Of all the reasons for this unprecedented turn of events, there are a lot of "not onlys" to be identified:  Todd Haley, Big Ben, injuries, running backs (i.e. lack thereof), and no James Harrison, to name a few.

A lot of these "not onlys" lead back to a source well above the football field:  The Pittsburgh Steelers' front office. The lack of direction, mismanagement of free agency, and less-than-mediocre drafts are at the heart of the Steeler decline, and that's a management problem.

Perhaps President Art Rooney II and GM Kevin Colbert have a plan. It sure would be nice if they would explain that plan to the rest of us.

The Steelers replaced Ben Roethlisberger's "BFF", Bruce Arians, with Todd Haley as offensive coordinator. Other than riding the Kurt Warner/Larry Fitzgerald wave into Super Bowl XVIII, Haley has done nothing to earn that position in a storied franchise. Head Coach Mike Tomlin didn't want him, Ben Roethlisberger didn't want him, and they apparently were not asked.

The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, brought Jay Cutler in to interview head coaches to replace Lovie Smith. One would think that a franchise QB who is much more decorated than Cutler might deserve to be a part of the conversation on who his coordinator will be.

Then there is Kevin Colbert and the draft. He has hit a lot of home runs, but his strikeouts are starting to mount.

There is no point in discussing free agency because the Steelers are non-existent in the market. They are constantly up against the salary cap because they tend to reward as many players as possible with long-term deals. That kind of loyalty to veterans means that they have to strike gold in the draft, and they're not even close.

Take a look at five years ago. NONE of the seven draft picks from 2008 are still on the team; and only Rashard Mendenhall truly earned a job as a starter.

Of the Steelers' last 51 draft picks, only 21 remain on the roster in any capacity. It could be argued that only five of those players have contributed significantly, and those would be the only players that might be coveted by any other NFL teams. The rest of the league is more than happy to let the Steelers keep the scraps.

I have no idea how those numbers compare to other teams, but that doesn't really matter. The Steelers inactivity in free agency means that they have to succeed in the draft, and they just are not making impact picks to replace the players that they have lost due to age and/or salary.

Take the curious case of James Harrison, who looks completely lost as the newest member of the Cincinnati Bengals' 4-3 defense. He refused to take a pay cut and allegedly took less money to go to a division rival. As usual, Colbert had the "answer" in the form of two OLBs and two defensive ends that would help pressure the quarterback.

Instead of Harrison's 64 career sacks, the Steelers now have Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Cameron Heyward, and Ziggy Hood to press the pocket. All are 1st or 2nd round picks. They have a collective career sack total of 10.5.

And in 2013, without Harrison? They have combined for exactly zero sacks. As in none, never, not at all. (Okay, Jones is a rookie, but still...)

Then there is the fact that Colbert let CB Keenan Lewis sign with New Orleans for a Happy Meal and a bus pass. Take this with the fact that the he has not drafted a defensive back higher than round 3 since 2005 and you have a drastic lack of turnovers from the secondary.

He also drafted two offensive tackles in the second round that look incapable of even managing the job, much less thriving in it. Haley's bland style of offense requires tackles that can handle a defender 1-on-1, and neither Mike Adams nor Marcus Gilbert have offered much hope that they can do that.

And that's the other problem with Colbert's strategy. There is no depth on the roster anywhere and no one to push the mediocre starters that he has acquired.

The Steelers can hire or fire or blame any number of people for their 2013 demise, and there is plenty of blame to go around. The organization seems to endure a crisis every few years until they create some cap room and make some bold draft moves. But there are a lot of questions right now about the ability of Colbert and the front office to get this done.

If they hope to rebuild, the Steelers might have to get rid of the guys in suits instead of the guys on the sidelines.

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