Before you continue reading, this is not an article making excuses for the Steelers shortcomings. Fuck a moral victory. That’s not what this article is about.
Every NFL team faces adversity. But not every NFL team responds in similar fashion.
But this isn’t about every NFL team. This is about the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers.
I didn’t think about it in the moment of course, but the season from hell actually began with a player most Steelers fans didn’t for. In my honest opinion, Jason Worilds unexpected retirement really hit this team in a big way. Yes, the Steelers decided to let Worilds hit free agency but I really believe they were only letting him test the market so he could get some offers and they could get a feel for his market value. Many of the other top free agent rushers started signing with other teams so it really seemed like Worilds was set to return to Pittsburgh. His retirement left a hole in which the Steelers were able to fill in the draft when Bud Dupree slid down to them.
With their second round pick, the Steelers were able to draft Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson. Unfortunately for Golson he never even made it through training camp, injuring his shoulder and eventually being placed on IR. Bad news comes in 3’s days later against the Green Bay Packers, All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey broke his ankle. He would also miss the entire season despite Tomlin never shutting the door on a possible return. Then days later word got out that Martavis Bryant would be suspended 4 games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. The most disappointing part about the suspension was that it meant it wasn’t his first violation. This would explain why the team drafted Sammie Coates in the 3rd round last year. They knew the suspension was coming. The team also still had to deal with Le’Veon Bell’s 2 game suspension to start the season as well.
Bell returned from suspension Week 3 and unfortunately Ben got hit in he knee during the second half of the game and he would eventually go on to miss the next 4 games. The team managed to go 2-2 in Ben’s absence while playing with Mike Vick mainly thanks to Bell carrying the offense and the defense forcing turnovers and manning up when needed the most.
Despite playing in only 6 games this season, I don’t think Bell’s plan was appreciated enough this season because he only played in those 6 games. He averaged 92.7 rushing yards a game, which over a full 14 games would’ve come out to a little under 1,300 yards.
As we all know of course, Bell was the first player to suffer the wrath of Vontaze Burfict this season when he suffered a torn MCL. I wasn’t necessarily jumping for joy or cursing out the tv when DeAngelo Williams signed with the Steelers mainly because I wondered how much he had left in the tank, but he shut me up and proved me wrong from the opening game of the NFL season.
DeAngelo Williams was the definition of “Next Man Up” in 2015. Williams finished the season with 901 yards on the ground, but in his 10 starts he averaged 80.1 yards. If Williams started a full 16 games he would’ve finished the season about 20 yards short of 1,300 as well.
The last major blow the offense would suffer for a few months was the loss of Kelvin Beachum to a season ending knee injury in October. So this is the point where you realize that Ben, AB, Bell, Bryant and Wheaton only played 14 snaps together in 2015. But somehow the Steelers still managed to finish the season with one of the best offense’s in the NFL.
And for all the talk about the losses on the offensive side of the ball, everything wasn’t perfect on defense. The Steelers defense not only suffered through injuries, but through a lack of talent as well but somehow was still one of the most explosive defense’s in the NFL. Sure they gave up a lot of passing yards, but they shut down the run (opposing offense’s averaged 3.8 YPC, so it’s not like teams were just abandoning the run to throw at Antwon Blake), ranked 3rd in sacks with 48, 3rd in turnovers and 1st in redzone turnovers. Too bad there isn’t a stat for big hits. We all know Mike Mitchell would have to rank high in that category.
But the defense, it could’ve been so much worse. Should’ve been a lot worse. But guys stepped up when needed.
Even though many of us fans are pointing to injuries as the downfall for this season, Mike Tomlin isn’t. Playing the “what if” game will only stress you out. Focus on what really happened. Don’t try to run from it. And as the head coach, that’s Tomlin’s job. It’s his duty to find a way to win no matter what the circumstances might be. That’s probably why he cried after the loss to the Denver Broncos during the divisional round of the AFC playoffs. Actually, I’m positive that’s why he cried. To know that with all the losses the Steelers dealt with, they were that close to the AFC Championship Game without their top WR, top 2 RB’s, top 2 FB’s, LT and C. For all the talk of Tomlin acts too much like a player for showing too much emotion on the sideline, him crying after this loss should let you know how much he really cares about this team. You have to take the good with the bad. This team has taken the indentity of its coach. When we’re happy, we celebrate and act a fool. When our backs are against the wall, we fight til we can’t fight anymore.
“I’m glad I have a coach like that. It hurts even worse, because he’s right in the battle with us.” – Cam Heyward (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
“There was a lot of emotion. I never saw him cry like that,” said wide receiver Martavis Bryant. “I cried, too. It’s just a hurt feeling. It’s just really hard right now. Because of the adversity we faced. It’s a hurtful feeling.” (Pittsburgh Post Gazette)
It’s sad that we are in an era where the only way that you can consider your season successful is if you win the Super Bowl. Of course that’s the goal for all 32 teams each year, but all 32 teams can’t walk away with the Lombardi. This was not a Super Bowl or bust season. Some fans want to win a Super Bowl every year. Oh her fans expect to win one every year. But no matter what, as a fan, you should be proud you watched your team fight no matter what adversity they faced.
It’s not just an excuse, it’s the honest truth.
Look at Baltimore. Look at New Orleans. Look at Cincinnati. Look at Buffalo. You can point to a lot of team who went through similar things the Steelers did, but didn’t have similar results. Only New England and Green Bay are teams that immediately come to mind that faced a lot of shit this year but yet still performed.
While I am very optimistic about next season, I’m not going to promise you a Super Bowl. I do think this team will contend, but all we can do is hope. As close as the players know they are to winning one, they also know that window can close in a heartbeat.
Breathe easy. I understand the disappointment, but there is no need to be angry. I’m not speaking for anyone but myself but I do hope the overall message will resonate with you.
Be ready for the 2016 season