It’s been a rocky year for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team that holds the most Super Bowl titles in NFL history. From a 0-4 start to an embarrassing loss to the Raiders, and a blowout defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots things just haven’t felt right in Steel Town. Perhaps that’s why Head Coach Mike Tomlin’s gaffe last Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens didn’t come as such a shock, neither did his ensuing punishment. The Tomlin fine was yet another blow to the Steelers during a lost season.
The NFL came down hard on Tomlin for interfering with Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return on Thanksgiving night by fining him $100,000. This ties Tomlin with Mike Tice and Wade Wilson for the second largest fine ever levied against an NFL coach (Bill Belichick has the record at $500,000 for his role in the Spygate scandal). While the money certainly isn’t chump change to Tomlin it isn’t what will hurt the team the most in the long run. The league said that it will also consider the forfeiture of draft picks on the Steelers part because Tomlin’s conduct affected the play on the field. The speculation will now begin regarding what kind of pick, if any, the Steelers could be losing. Realistically it wouldn’t be something on the first draft day, maybe fourth round or higher, but at this point the Steelers can’t afford to be losing any draft picks.
There was a sense of hope coming into 2013 for the Steelers. The much maligned offensive line was looking like it was on track to improve the run game, Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley appeared like they were finally on the same page, and most importantly their division rival Ravens were gutted in free agency following their Super Bowl run leaving the division up for grabs. However the offseason hype has failed to translate to regular season success.
Things have gone downhill since the opening weekend. The offensive line took a massive hit in week 1 when guard David DeCastro dove onto center Maurkice Pouncey’s leg while attempting to help him with a block and ended up tearing Pouncey’s right ACL and MCL effectively ending the Pro Bowl center’s season. Many Steeler fans would say that the week 1 incident has been the only notable thing the former first round pick from Stanford has done since joining the team in 2012. The injuries up front have only gotten worse since then. Pouncey’s replacement Fernando Velasco found his way onto the IR along with starting left tackle Levi Brown, leaving the Steelers with yet another patchwork offensive line. A shaky offensive line has been an unfortunate staple for them since their last Super Bowl run. The injuries have added up to an anemic running game for the Steelers, they’re currently ranked 26th in the league as a run blocking offensive line according to Football Outsiders. Usually a team’s failures would fall on the head coach, but Tomlin avoided much backlash until his steps on the field last week and his fine, which may very well be the lasting image of the Steelers lost 2013 season. The blame for the run game throughout the year not only managed to bypass Tomlin, but the offensive line’s injuries as well and landed directly on the head of Todd Haley.
Surprising Haley didn’t have any issues with his offensive linemen or Roethlisberger early in the season, it was a receiver who first caught his ire. Antonio Brown struck up a heated argument with the second year offensive coordinator on the sidelines during their week 3 loss to the Bengals. Brown was upset with the lack of plays being called his way and spat with Haley over it. To be fair to Haley, wide receivers and play callers get in fights about this all the time and it goes unnoticed, but Haley already had a bullseye on his chest from the Pittsburgh fans and media so it wasn’t forgotten about like it would’ve been in Jacksonville or Tennessee. The two men eventually made nice with each other later in the week, but it’s something that’s been seen all too often by the Pittsburgh faithful since Haley’s arrival. Rumours with him and Roethlisberger having their differences began swirling once again in October and continue to be a facet of the Pittsburgh sports scene up to today. They peaked in mid-November when several sources were reporting that Roelisberger had demanded a trade. He staunchly denied the rumours and the idea that Haley was the reason he would want to leave the team. Whether Big Ben’s claims are true or not it hasn’t changed the team’s lackluster performance on the field.
If there is hope or a possible highlight remaining for this season, it’s that there is still a chance at the final playoff spot in the AFC. If they can find a way to beat the 6-6 Miami Dolphins this weekend they’ll be right back in the hunt. Some good news is in store for the Steelers after all the tough losses and now the Tomlin fine which dealt the team yet another blow during the lost season of 2013. Of course a win this week won’t remedy the injuries or the problems with their offensive coordinator, but it will begin the healing process of Mike Tomlin’s reputation and with that, the reputation of the Steelers.
By James Hadley