Big Lead Sports Bar

1/03/2010

IT'S OVER, BENNY

STEELERS (9-7) 30
DOLPHINS (7-9) 24
ROETHLISBERGER 18/27, 220 YARDS, 3 TD
MENDENHALL 20 CARRIES, 94 YARDS
WALLACE 2 CATCHES, 64 YARDS, 1 TD

And so ends the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers' roller coaster of a title defense. A 6-2 start, with wins over San Diego, Denver, and Minnesota, had visions of a seventh Lombardi Trophy dancing in our heads. A five-game losing streak, featuring losses to Cleveland, Kansas City, and Oakland, saw the team hit rock bottom. A three-game winning streak, with two of the three victories coming against playoff teams, gave a fraction of hope that a postseason invitation was still possible.

But when it was all said and done, all it took to render the Steelers' furious finish useless was a Baltimore Ravens win over the Oakland Raiders. By that point, the Steelers could only watch, helpless to do any more to help their own cause. And when the clock in Oakland hit 0:00, the Steelers' season was officially over. Sigh.

To the game notes....

1. This game had three things I wasn't used to seeing from the 2009 Steelers:

A. More rushing yards (202) than passing (201); that has happened rarely, most recently in the Dennis Dixon-led 20-17 loss in Baltimore on November 29. And the game plan surely wasn't to air it out that night.

B. Not one, not two, but three interceptions from the secondary, including the first two of the season from defensive backs (which I still can't believe). Ike Taylor even hung on to one, which caused me to open the blinds and check to make sure pigs weren't flying.

C. A 91-yard effort from Willie Parker, his most productive game since rushing for 93 yards against Cincinnati in Week 3.

2. Wow, the defense almost did it again. In the span of five minutes, the Steelers' 27-10 lead shrunk to 27-24 in the fourth quarter following Dolphin touchdowns from Brian Hartline and Davone Bess. And when Ben Roethlisberger fumbled on the Steelers' next possession, you could see the vultures circling. Luckily, the opposing quarterback was Tyler Thigpen, the Dolphins' third-stringer, and he quickly gave the ball right back to the Steelers on a poorly-thrown interception.

3. On the topic of backup quarterbacks, that was quite a scary moment when Ike Taylor knocked out Dolphin backup QB Pat White in the third quarter with a helmet-to-helmet hit. If you missed it...


4. Sunday was a quiet end to the season of Dolphin RB and Dave Wannstedt foil Ricky Williams, who was held to just 31 yards rushing on 12 carries. Stepping up for the injured Ronnie Brown, Williams ran for 1,090 yards on 229 carries in 2009 - clearly his best season since rushing for 1,372 yards with Wanny and the 2003 Dolphins.

5. On the other hand, Steeler WR Mike Wallace ended his rookie season with a bang on Sunday, hitting big on a 54-yard touchdown in the first quarter to give the Steelers a 14-7 lead.

I've heard Steeler fans moan and groan about the losses of Larry Foote and Bryant McFadden in free agency, but I have not heard one person long for the departed Nate Washington, and that's totally because of Wallace. He's already won the Steelers' Rookie of the Year award, and he should be in the discussion for the league's award as well, although Percy Harvin has had much more face time.

6. Heath Miller concluded his best season over with five catches for 56 yards, including a 37-yarder, his second-longest of the season behind only a 41-yarder against KC. His final numbers: 76 catches, 789 yards, six touchdowns...and hopefully an appearance in the Pro Bowl, if Dallas Clark or Antonio Gates are unavailable.

7. LaMarr Woodley closed the season with a roar, with two more sacks on Sunday and three hits on Dolphin QBs. Woodley had just two sacks in the first eight games, and 11.5 in the final eight, for a total of a career-high 13.5. He is also on the waiting list for the league's all-star game in Miami.

8. As is the case at the end of every season, we've seen the last of some players in a Steeler uniform. The current list of pending unrestricted free agents going into the 2010 season is as follows:

QB Charlie Batch, LB Rocky Boiman, S Tyrone Carter, S Ryan Clark, DE Nick Eason, NT Casey Hampton, DE Travis Kirschke, RB Willie Parker, K Jeff Reed, CB Deshea Townsend, and WR Joey Galloway.

RFAs (restricted free agents) include these players:

LB Patrick Bailey, OT Willie Colon, RB Carey Davis, DB Willie Gay, P Daniel Sepulveda, TE Matt Spaeth, and G Darnell Stapleton.

9. A bit further down the road, here are your 2011 Steeler free agents, a.k.a. the group that you might start to see negotiating contracts in the near future. These players will enter the 2010 season in the final year of their contracts.

QB Dennis Dixon, G Trai Essex, LB Keyaron Fox, LB Andre Frazier, WR Tyler Grisham, DT Ra'Shon Harris, OT Tony Hills, NT Chris Hoke, WR Santonio Holmes, C Doug Legursky, RB Stefan Logan, DB Anthony Madison, RB Mewelde Moore, S Ryan Mundy, LS Jared Retkofsky, DB Ike Taylor, LS Greg Warren, DB Trae Williams, and LB Lamarr Woodley.

10. It's been a long, exciting year. There were plenty of ups, including the emergence of Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace, the continued maturation of Santonio Holmes, the utilization of Heath Miller, record-setting seasons from Ben Roethlisberger and Stefan Logan, and a strong finish from LaMarr Woodley.

Unfortunately, with the good came lots of bad. Injuries to Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith ravaged the defense. The offensive line missed Chris Kemoeatu and again gave up a ton of sacks. Willie Parker, who holds a special place in Steeler history, was rendered nearly useless. Blown fourth quarter leads led to five of the team's seven losses. The special teams unit was an unmitigated disaster zone for much of the season. Controversy reared its ugly head in the locker room. Jeff Reed got in trouble...again. James Farrior finally looked like he lost a step. Limas Sweed continued to be stuck in neutral, eventually being shut down for the season. Frank "The Tank" Summers was not nearly as exciting in person as he was on YouTube. Mike Tomlin made himself look foolish with the hollow "unleash hell" statement and benchings that never took place. I could go on and on, but as you can see, the bad news paragraph is much longer than the good news paragraph.

Luckily, there are plenty of reasons for optimism in 2010. First of all, when this team was bad, it wasn't that bad, if margin of victory is any indicator. All of their losses were by single digits, the biggest deficit being a touchdown against the Browns. If Troy Polamalu is around, some of those blown leads don't happen, the Steelers are in the playoffs, and the universe is back to normal. So don't take the nearest bridge yet.

The Steelers have one of the most potent offenses in the league, including one of the NFL's elite quarterbacks, a group of wide receivers that collectively rank among the most dangerous, a top-flight tight end, and a young running back who proved himself in 2009. Defensively, there's clearly some work to be done, but a healthy Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, and Aaron Smith is a nice nucleus.

There are clearly some issues to iron out between now and Week One. The offensive line needs an investment by the team. Beyond Polamalu, the secondary needs a facelift. A few decisions must be made on free agents, most notably Casey Hampton. And some assistant coaches should probably be shown the door. But the cupboard is not bare. This should not have to be a Pittsburgh Pirate 17-year-plan type of overhaul. But the Steelers' blueprint does need a little remodeling drawn in, and if any good can come out of missing the playoffs, it's that their flaws will not be masked.

There were some low moments, there were some high moments, there was a lot of excitement. The season is over, but the discussion is just beginning. Let the countdown to kickoff next season officially begin.

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4 comments:

Steve said...

How fitting was it that the Ravens are in simply because they could beat (barely) the same bad team the Steelers couldn't. It would have been a fitting end to the season if the Steelers would have blown it in Miami like they almost did. I guess Miami isn't bad enough a team to have that happen.

It's a shame we can't put the entire secondary (minus Troy), including those who are supposed to support it (Farrior and Timmons) on a little yellow bus and drive it over a cliff. I guess there isn't enough draft picks and FA's to replace them all with.

I think LeBeau will call it a career. As much as the players were bad, you can't come into every game with the same defensive strategy and expect different results. The Steelers will allow him to retire instead of the embarrassment of being fired after a HOF career. Maybe some new blood on the sidelines and a bigger foot in their ass will help this defense discover some of that fire they've been lacking all season.

Single digit losses to the league's bottom feeders is one thing, but when it comes after having double digit leads is quite another. No defense should be that dependant on one or two players no matter how good they are. If that's the case, then the numbers 43 and 91 should be unofficially retired already along with 12 and 75.

I still don't think Mendenhall is the future at RB. With this O-line (which won't be changing anytime soon) a back who can't create/find holes of his own, or break loose from toe tackles isn't the answer. Sadly, I don't think Peterson, or Johnson would fare much better running behind the likes of Colon, Essex, Hartwig, Kemoeatu and Starks either.

BurressWithButterflyWings said...

Well, offensive line and the defensive backfield need to be addressed in the draft as well as depth on the d-line.

I would much rather franchise and/or resign Hampton than Ryan "Wasn't what we did last season good enough for this year?" Clark.

Mendenhall still has improving to do, but has proved to be capable. However, having a good change of pace back like Parker and actually using the run game as something more than just filler in between deep balls, will help a lot.

I also hate to say it, but Farrior needs to be given the chance to retire or go the way of so many before him. He just doesn't have it anymore and unless he was playing hurt, he's not going to be better next season.

All in all, it is disappointing to miss out on the playoffs, especially with 3 losses to some awful teams. But a winning season isn't all that terrible, right Pirates? It showed a lot that the ship was righted and we were able to win 3 straight to close out without having our last 2 opponents LAY DOWN for us to get into the playoffs ( I'm looking at you J-E-T-S fans).

Next year needs to be better and I have a feeling it will be.

Todd said...

I noticed yesterday during the game, and I have to ask today: What is up with Ike Taylor's haircut?

(You can see it starting about 1:28 in the video)

mai wen said...

Sigh, even if they'd made the playoffs, did anyone really believe that we'd get far? Even with Polamalu possibly back, our Defense really isn't crap without Aaron Smith.

Since you're my fave Steelers blog to read, I thought I'd pass on this award that was given to my blog. Thanks for doing such a great job, even in crappy seasons like this, its nice to have a place to follow my fave team. :)

http://maiwen18.blogspot.com/2010/01/hmm-lemonade.html