ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha recently weighed in on the Pittsburgh Steelers prospects for 2013, and Steelers Nation will not like his conclusions. In a nut shell Chadiha says that the Steelers are destined for a downswing on the level that epic franchises such as the Redskins, Cowboys, and 49ers experienced.
Chadiha projects the Steelers as a third in the AFC North with 8-8 likely their best possible outcome. Chadiha’s overall argument has some merit. He could in fact be right. But the Watch Tower is more interested in deconstructing how Chadiha builds his argument.
ESPN’s Chadiha on What Ails the Steelers – Offense
The base of Chadiha’s argument for the demise of the Steelers can be summed up in two sentences:
The offense has quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a ton of questions. The defense is old and missing key performers from a unit that led the league in total yards allowed in 2012.
Right off the bat, the Watch Tower finds bones to pick with Chadiha’s methodology. Taken at face value, his breakdown of the offense appears to be correct, on defense, not so much.
- So just what are those questions the Steelers face on offense in Chadiha’s eyes?
The first two specifics that Chadiha’s cites are these:
It has been years since Roethlisberger has taken snaps behind an offensive line that could be described as sturdy and it’s anybody’s guess as to how well he’ll coexist with offensive coordinator Todd Haley this season.
On the issue of the offensive line, Chadiha is right. The last time Ben Roethlisberger had a quality offensive line in front of him was 2007…
…And while Steel Curtain Rising has been beating the drum, the fact is that the Steelers have done quite well instead of offensive line deficiencies, particularly in Super Bowl XLIII.
- This is the first instance of Chadiha being (potentially) right, but through no fault of his own.
Offensive line remains an issue. The issue however is more one of health and depth rather than quality. Chadiha fails make that argument, and ignores the fact that the Steelers have invested heavily in building a high quality offensive line in the form of Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams.
Chadiha is on firmer ground when it comes to the Ben Rothlisberger-Todd Haley relationship but only slightly. As the Watch Tower pointed out, the press saw lots of smoke there in 2012, only to have Ben and Haley say all the right things, which worked fine until Bob Labriola of the Steelers Digest outed them after the season.
- But Chadiha ignores what have to be at least a dozen stories detailing how Haley worked constructively with his coaches and players to open up the offense.
It would seem that any argument for the Steelers demise that’s based on the Roethlisberger-Haley relationship would have to take those developments into account. Chadiha doesn’t.
- Again, these are potential issues, but he also ignores potential remedies.
As Steel Curtain Rising has argued, the performance of the Steelers running game in 2012 was directly proportional to the health of the offensive line. In this respect Chadiha’s in good company – everyone else is also missing this.
Mike Wallace will be missed, but Chadiha ignores the fact that Wallace’s attitude has been at issue, and that he’s largely developed into a home run or bust type player.
Furthermore, there are other arguments Chadiha could use in his favor but fails to do so. The Steelers will open the season with David Paulson as their number 1 tight end. Emmanuel Sanders has a lot of potential, but his health has been suspect.
As for losing Plaxico Burress, Burress could have contributed, but he was projected to be a 4th or 5th receiver at best, and was no lock to make the team.
Deconstructing ESPN’s Chadiha on What Ails the Steelers – Defense
The bulk of Chadiha’s argument on the defensive side lies in the perceived age of the defense. Its as if Warren Saap’s “Old, slow and done” pronouncement has been recited enough to somehow take on an air of truth – facts be dammed.
In this respect, Chadiha focuses on the age of the Steelers secondary and ignores tendencies elsewhere. As Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review pointed out in may, the average age of the Steelers starting defense is projected to be at 29.3 years, almost two years younger than its 2011 predecessor.
- And such analysis doesn’t factor in likely increased playing time from younger players such as Cameron Heyward, Jarvis Jones, Shamarko Thomas, Al Woods and possible Marshall McFadden.
Perhaps the biggest potential liability facing the Steelers defense is how they’re going to compensate for the absence of James Harrison’s run stopping ability is one that Chadiha leaves untouched.
Deconstructing Jeffri Chadiha ESPN — National Media’s Failure to Understand the Steelers
All of these flaw’s in Chadiha’s methodology lead to one larger, and more fatal, flaw in his overall approach. Chadiha just doesn’t get how the Steelers operate. After detailing the franchise’s legendary stability and success he goes on to observe:
That level of success is the major reason it’s so hard to envision their impending demise now. They’ve always beaten the odds. They’ve rarely stayed down for long. Just when it seems they’ve lost one too many key performers, another unheralded contributor steps up his game. This team seemingly can do no wrong at finding players to fit most pressing needs.
The Steelers have been so good in this department that they’ve never had to go on a spending spree in free agency. The coaches simply waited for their draft picks to grow up, step in and live up to expectations. But that formula will not be as reliable this coming fall. There are too many holes for the Steelers to fill. It’s hard to believe they can be that fortunate at every position requiring an upgrade.
This team actually needs to get back to its roots before it ever can become championship-caliber again… [Emphasis added.]
There are a couple of issues here.
Have the Steelers always beaten the odds? Well, they’ve been better than many, but what about 1980’s? Sure, they never quite hit bottom the way say the ’88-’89 Cowboys did, but the period doesn’t exactly serve as an example of Steelers excellence (Steel Curtain Rising’s beloved 1989 Steelers not with standing.)
Indeed, one of the issues weighing down the Steelers in ‘80’s was their unwillingness to part ways with aging veterans and an inability to keep drafting and scouting aligned.
- Note, these Steelers have taken pains to avoid that.
Indeed, it wasn’t until Dan Rooney fired his brother Art Rooney Jr. that the Steelers drafting improved. (If you think that is a stretch, the firing occurred in late ’86 – Chuck Noll drafted Rod Woodson in 1987 and Dermontti Dawson in 1988 in addition to players like Hardy Nickerson, Merril Hoge, and Greg Lloyd.)
The other issue is Chadiha’s interpretation of the Steelers attitude towards free agency. He claims “[the Steelers] never had to go on a spending spree in free agency.”
Really? The Steelers had multiple times when they could have opted for wholesale rebuilding via free agency in the mid and late ‘90’s, the ‘00’s, and even in this decade.
- They never have gone on a free agency spending binge because it goes against the philosophy of the franchise.
The fact that Chadiha simply misses or doesn’t get this really cuts into his credibility as a commentator on the team.
One final criticism of Chadiha. He ends his piece saying that the Steelers need to get back to their roots, implying that it is not something in the offing, when a large part of the Steelers offensive plan going into 2013 is to take advantage of the tendency to build defenses to protect against the pass by running on them.
- Now the Steelers aren’t exactly announcing this strategic shift on their home page, but if a blogger in Buenos Aires with no direct access to sources can learn this, so should a reporter from a network with a billion dollar contract to cover the NFL.
In the final analysis, Chadiha’s predictions for gloom and doom in Pittsburgh in 2013 could turn out to be right. The Steelers have little to zero margin for injury on the offensive line and perhaps the secondary. A number of other things must work exactly as planned.
But Chadiha’s methodology and understanding of the franchise is so flawed that if he is right, the Watch Tower will say he is right be accident, and will award no bragging rights.