The Conference Championships are at hand and the Pittsburgh Steelers are where they’ve been throughout the playoffs – at home. This is true despite the fact Steelers victories over:
- the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants,
- current AFC Championship contender Baltimore Ravens,
- NFC East Champion Washington Redskins,
If the Steelers were good enough to beat these teams, why did they finish mired in mediocrity at 8-8?
Some seasons this question has been a hard one to untangle. However the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers season review boils down to four words: Inconsistency, Injury, Inopportunity, and Irony.
Inconsistency and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers
Inconsistency in pro football takes many forms. Sometimes the performance of individual units or players varies wildly from week to week – that happened in Pittsburgh this year.
At other times a team might start games strong only to finish weakly, or vice-a-versa — again this happened in Pittsburgh in 2012 with startling frequency.
And yet there are other times when teams have a chronic in ability to stay or even get on the same page – this was by far the 2012 Steelers biggest consistency issue.
Mike Tomlin loves talking about “situational football.” Teams that play well in situational football see individual units executing the plays necessary to win.
The 2008 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers excelled at situational football. The defense played to historic proportions all year long, while the offense often struggled.
- But when the game was in the line, the offense found a way to make the plays time necessary to win, time and time again.
The 2012 Steelers suffered a chronic inability to play good situational football. Vs. the Broncos, Raiders, and Titans the Steelers offense established leads in the 4th quarter, only to watch the defense squander those away.
Later in the season, the Steelers defense played almost picture perfect in two key AFC North games, only for the offense to struggle in utter futility.
In diagnosing what went wrong in 2012, saying “when the offense was on track, the defense wasn’t up to scratch and when the defense was dominant the offense was inept might sound overly simplistic – but it’s accurate.”
Now, understanding why the Steelers were inconsistent requires delving into the impact of injury in inopportunity….
Injury and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers
Steel Curtain Rising opened the 2012 season suggesting that Mike Tomlin’s credo “The Standard is the Standard” would be put to the test.
- Tested “The Standard is the Standard” was.
Counts vary, but Steelers President Art Rooney II asserted that the Steelers lost 78 starter games to injury. The Dallas Morning News has calculated the Steelers injury count differently, but the Steelers finished the year with five healthy lineman, and 2 healthy corners. Clearly injures were an issue.
- But if we can accept the premise that “injuries will not be an excuse” we can still ask if they were a factor.
Analysis brings back mixed results.
- At Baltimore the short-handed offensive line played multiple players out of position, yet turned in winning performance
- But vs. Dallas and Cincinnati, the same injury plagued offensive line gave up multiple sacks at critical times
The situation was similar in the secondary.
- Philip Rivers used and abused an injury ravaged secondary in route to the Chargers only victory in Pittsburgh
- Steelers Nation watched Tony Romo did the same – for a half – only to see the secondary rebound strongly enough that their performance would have been a winning one were it not for other factors.
And of course one of those to final healthy corners accounted for 3 decisive turnovers in the season finale vs. Cleveland.
Early in the season the absence of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison hampered the defense. Ben Roethlisberger got hurt at an inopportune time. Ultimately the Steelers couldn’t do enough to compensate, and injuries took their toll on the Steelers throughout 2012.
Inopportunity and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers
- But injuries were inopportune for the 2012 Steelers, perhaps none more than Willie Colon’s.
Colon took time to settle in at guard, but when he did the Steelers offensive line began broaching the Road Grading dominance imagined in the offseason. Colon’s injury set the offensive line back quantitatively and qualitatively hampering both run and pass blocking.
That was beyond the Black and Gold’s control, but the same cannot be said for myriad other inopportune events. Consider:
- The Steelers defense held an opponent to 67 yards on 20 carries, not bad save for the 46 yard touchdown on an additional carry…
- Then, a 72 yard punt return for a touchdown got called back on a penalty, followed by an 13 yard drive, and then a shanked punt…
- The defense would hold to 3 and out, but a penalty would leave the Steelers to start at their 8…
- Jonathan Dwyer promptly fumbled the ball away…
- The defense would waste a remarkable goal line stand with a penalty after (phantom) penalty hold on on 4th and 2, followed by a touchdown…
…And this is only recounting the Raiders game.
Week in and week out the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers excelled at discovering novel ways to slip on banana peels.
- Gerald Warren’s errant long snap cost the Steelers 3 points in a must win divisional game vs. Cincinnati that they ultimately three
- Antonio Brown fumbled in Dallas during a long punt return just as the Steelers were taking control
- The Steelers offense turned over the ball 8 times in Cleveland on a day when the defense was smothering the Browns
Strategy in pro football is about creating opportunity as much as anything else. The 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers created opportunity after opportunity at critical moments in crucial game – for their opponents
Irony and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers
“Isn’t it ironic?” – Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill
Sometimes reality can be so surreal that even the most creative minds couldn’t have imagined it that way. And so it was for the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers.
After playing 2008 and 2009 with make shift offensive lines built on the “patch and plug” philosophy the Steelers braintrust went out and drafted:
They didn’t stop there. Critics (including yours truly) unfairly blamed Bruce Arians for a lot of things, but Arians openly said he wouldn’t mess with Ben Roethlisberger holding on to the ball too long.
Art Rooney II took note and opted not to welcome Arians back, and Mike Tomlin hired Todd Haley to make a change.
- In the end, none of it mattered
David DeCastro got hurt in preseason, Marcus Gilbert fell early in the season followed by Mike Adams and, despite Haley’s success in allowing Ben to be Ben while protecting him better, Roethlisberger got hurt anyway.
And that’s only the tip of the iceberg:
- “Young Money” was supposed to compensate for Hines Ward’s retirement, yet the group regressed…
- Lack of turnovers and sacks plagued an otherwise solid defense – until the end of the year when offense failed to take advantage…
- The Steelers only draft day deal brought Alameda Ta’mau, who didn’t look to dress even before his drunken rampage on the South Side
As the 2013 off season begins, irony continues to haunt the 2012 Steelers. One of the lone bright spots on special teams was Chris Rainey, whom Steelers cut after an arrest for domestic violence.
Onward to 2013’s Tough Choices
Sometimes it was the Hand of Fate, other times wounds were self-inflicted, but no matter how you slice it, inconsistency, injury, and inopportunity relegated the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers to an uneven 8-8.
One thing is certain — irony was never in short supply for the 2012 Steelers.
All that counts for little as an aging roster and looming salary cap crunch spell an off season of difficult choices for the Pittsburgh Steelers.