Updated: Mar 30, 2020
I will try my best to not make this an expletive laden tirade and more of an actual analysis of what is wrong with this team.
Let’s call a spade a spade here: the Pittsburgh Steelers are an underachieving farce. (that’s probably the nicest way I could put it) For the better part of the past decade they have been a team personified by mediocrity and arrogance. Following a 2011 Super Bowl defeat to the Green Bay Packers the Steelers have managed to just win THREE playoff games in the last eight years. They have had 41 Pro bowl players and 12 first-team all pro’s during this post XLV era and nothing to show for it. How does that happen? Well let’s take a look and see.
Fans have been treated to a mirage of high-end talent that simply collapses every year in front of their eyes. Each year ending with the promise that the next will be a bounce back – there’s too much talent to not succeed. Well that is not the case anymore; Pittsburgh’s 2018-19 campaign has perhaps been one of the most disastrous on and off field collapses in NFL history.
For the sake of my own sanity we’ll just talk about this season since it’s a sad culmination of 9 years of a toxic locker room. Don’t worry about getting blown out in the AFC championship to New England or losing to a vastly inferior Jaguars team in the divisional round last year.
Pittsburgh had 6 Pro-Bowl players (second in the league only to the Chargers’ 7) and two who got unquestionably snubbed (JuJu and TJ Watt) AND a hall of fame QB who threw for a career high in passing. So there’s at least 9 VERY good players on this team. That’s 9 of your 22 starters being pro-bowl or pro-bowl caliber players. At one point 7-2-1, Pittsburgh lost four of their last six to miss the playoffs. Fans of the team have watched a super bowl window not only be closed but smashed with a baseball bat by none other than their star players. The “killer B’s” have pulled a Plaxico Burress and shot themselves and their team in the leg.
If this was just a regular collapse I could look past it, but it’s not. I could go and break down how they should have beat Denver and Oakland, how our Pro-Bowl kicker prolapsed all season long. I could rant about how the refs hosed them against the Chargers. (seriously though what was that)
However, that would be naïve, even if they made the playoffs this team is unsustainable and wouldn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t matter that they beat New England, although that was cathartic, this team was an implosion waiting to happen. It’s like filling a pool with gasoline and then chain-smoking a pack of cigarettes inside it. It’s an internal collapse, one that is plaguing the Steelers locker room like a cancer. The trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’veon Bell had been praised as the best QB-WR-RB combo to ever play on the same team. Well they should also be praised as three of the biggest “me-first” players to ever play at each position. Let’s break down why I have lost respect for each of them.
It seemed like Pittsburgh’s season was doomed from the get-go as star running back Le’veon bell decided to rip around on a jet ski and pursue a rapping career instead of accepting what would have been the highest contract for an RB in NFL history. (Gurley’s would have surpassed it shortly after.)
For a guy who's gotten suspended twice for breaking the substance abuse policy and has had two bad knee injuries he's not worth Gurley money and he won't get it this offseason, so good job on passing up 70 million dollars. I’m not going to get into Bell much here because at the end of the day he wasn’t playing. However, Tomlin has noted that he was a massive distraction for the team in the weeks leading up to his witching hour of his contract dispute. But does did that matter? Not really; the team was 6-2-1 and just blew out the Panthers 52-21 the week he had to report. Moreover, one of the bright spots of this team, James Conner, was excelling in his absence. (more on him later)
Then there’s Big Ben, and he’s the most confusing for me to analyze. You can’t force him into retirement, he’s won you two Super Bowls and is a franchise legend. Also you wouldn't want to force him into retirement. He's had a pretty good year and for the most part, leading the league in passing yards, completions and YPG. (also in INT's, however) However every once and a while he does stuff that simply amazes me. Like saying "I have earned the right to throw my teammates under the bus."Well I guess you have, but why would you say that?
I personally believe that he's frustrated with AB and Le'veon, having previously worked with professional HOF players like Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward. Let Big Ben end his career with a respectable team that doesn't throw footballs at him during practice and then worry about the QB position.
Finally there's Antonio Brown, AB, Tony Toe-Tap, whatever you would like to call him. One of the best players in the NFL and debatably one of the best receivers to ever play. Coming off his sixth straight 100 reception season and a career high 15 touchdowns you would think he would be happy with his situation. Just look at his statistics and you can see he’s a first ballot hall of famer. Clearly there is trouble in paradise for Antonio Brown. Throughout his career in Pittsburgh he has been a volatile towards media and teammates and easy to upset. I'll be honest I love watching him play and wish he could stay but it seems like his time is coming to a close.
Former Steeler Ryan Clark claimed that he foresaw this volatility, and that by giving Antonio Brown money would turn him into a monster. Antonio Brown responded by calling him an "uncle tom."which is pretty insane in my opinion.
It seems that AB's tantrums can be traced back to 2011, and have only gotten worse over time. Brown's infamous Facebook live video of Tomlin's post game speech was reason enough to bench him for the following game. However, he was held above the law and wasn't punished. In September of 2018 he threatened and ESPN writer following a story: "Antonio Brown is an Instagram All-Pro. But is that the full picture?" Brown tweeted at him: "wait to I see you bro we gone see what your jaw like." Yeah you read that correctly, he wanted to break and ESPN writers jaw, I wonder what he would do to me if he read this. Weeks later he tweeted "trade me lets find out" in response to an ex-faculty member.
This behavior culminated in a week 17 in-practice fight with Big Ben where he stormed off and refused to respond to anyone, including the owners texts. He was subsequently benched in a must win game to make the playoffs and left at halftime. This guy thinks he's bigger than the team and its sickening. He should be thanking Ben for everything. He should be crying with glasses on at the press conference saying "that's my quarterback".
Tomlin basically stated that he quit on the team in their darkest hour. Following this tantrum he reportedly demanded a trade and has went on a rampage of liking Instagram photos of him in a 49ers uniform.
So what does Pittsburgh do? If they trade him after July 1st they'll have to soak around 7 million in dead cap. They would likely get a 1st round and maybe a 3rd/4th for him. Or they can refuse to trade him, which they probably will. I argue that he has to go, before other players follow in his footsteps. If you remove the cancer from the team they can get on the road to recovery. It's just a shame that a player with so much skill can be blinded by his own ego. Those stats below mean nothing if you don't care about winning.
So why was this able to happen. It’s simple, Mike Tomlin lost the locker room long ago. He was never able to stand up to his star players and created a me-first culture which allowed his star players to receive preferential treatment and distance themselves from team goals. You can throw out any statistics you want about Mike Tomlin. He’s the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, he has a fantastic 123–64–1 (.657) regular season record. (and a less flattering 8-7 post season record, 3-5 since XLV)
He isn’t a bad coach, he may make poor decisions here and there but overall I believe he is technically sound. The difference is that he cannot control a football team, and that is where the line is drawn between a good coach and a great coach. This team is constantly under prepared and constantly distracted, players believe they can just coast on skill to victories, and that's on him.
Tomlin even admitted in a Wednesday press conference that he needs to re-evaluate being a stricter coach and that the locker room is detrimental to the team. He has to go, and I hope he finds success elsewhere with a clean slate, but this toxic relationship must come to an end if this team is going to succeed or compete in the future.
With the removal of Brown and Tomlin Pittsburgh likely won’t be competing for a super bowl in the next year or two. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but success isn’t attainable with this leadership and core, and that’s been proven time and time again.
There is a silver lining to this disaster. The future is bright, the replacements are there, and if Pittsburgh commits to a culture change, they can preserve what they have. Conner and JuJu could serve as talented successors to the disgraced Bell and Brown. Conner is a pro-bowler in his second season with 1470 total yards and 13 TD’s in just 13 games. Smith-Schuster is the youngest player with a 100-reception season in league history. He had 1426 yards and 7 touchdowns to boot, its flat out amazing what he can do. More importantly, they are humble and want to be in Pittsburgh. TJ Watt and a young defense are getting better by the day and with proper drafting should be wrecking havoc soon.
For Pittsburgh to move forward and succeed they have to shed the dead weight and move on.
Or maybe its just the madden cover curse. We should keep AB and resign Le’veon and lets do it again. I’m in. I’m locked in. Feed me my own delusions until I go crazy. SUPERBOWL LIV CHAMPIONS.