As the Pittsburgh Steelers kickoff their 2015 season vs. the New England Patriots, the faithful in Steelers Nation would do well to remember one of Chuck Noll’s few, but golden quotables:
“Life is a journey in which you never arrive.”
For Noll, the consummate teacher, football was always about the process, not the end result. This philosophy might have been cerebral and a tad bit esoteric, but he harnessed it effectively enough to keep an incredibly talented group of superstars focused enough to win 4 Super Bowls in 6 years.
- Its relevance to Mike Tomlin and the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers is filled with irony.
Life may indeed be a journey in which you never arrive, but 2015 finds Pittsburgh Steelers at a perplexing cross roads.
2015 Steelers Journey Began with Tebowing in Denver
In Pittsburgh, football teams may take journeys in which they never arrive, but those journeys certainly have a beginning. And the Steelers journey began in Denver the moment Tim Tebow ended their 2011 playoff run.
Since then, the Steelers have said goodbye to James Farrior, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, Hines Ward, Larry Foote, Deshea Townsend, and Bryant McFadden, men who formed the very backbone of the Steelers Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII victories.
- The Steelers journey has taken them through two very different 8-8 campaigns.
The Steelers began 2012 unevenly, flashed promise in October and November only to squander it in December. The unmitigated disaster of a 0-4 and then 2-6 began 2013, but the Steeler upended their season and finished one blow call away from the playoffs.
The 2014 leg of the journey ended on a high note, as the Steelers delivered a decisive December that led to an 11-5 finish and their first AFC North crown in since 2010.
Ravens Loss Signals Rougher Terrain for Steelers
Although it was simply of the same season, the Steelers entered a new phase of their journey in January 2015. An 11-5 record gets you an invitation to the dance. But getting in it and winning it are different things, and the playoff loss to the Ravens signaled the Steelers had entered rougher terrain.
- Despite the Steelers 2014 progress, pessimism abounds in Pittsburgh.
And not without reason. Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant, who comprised close to 50% of the Steelers 2014 offense begin the season suspended. All pro center Maurkice Pouncey is out for the first half of the year if not longer. And although objectively speaking, the Steelers defense should be stronger (click here for reasons why), preseason previewed plenty of reasons to worry.
These are all objective facts. Just don’t tell them to Mike Tomlin or Kevin Colbert.
2015 Pittsburgh Steelers Preview – The Future Is Now
One pre-requisite for a Super Bowl Championship in today’s NFL is a franchise quarterback. Fortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers have one in Ben Roethlisberger. But Ben Roethlisberger’s biological clock is ticking. Roethlisberger is 33 this year. Barring major injury, he likely has a few seasons of prime play left him.
- But the best that an NFL player over 30 can hope to do is to stay a half step ahead of father time.
Because sooner or later, father time will win the footrace. The approach that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have taken to building the Steelers 2015 roster shows that they know their Super Bowl window is open, but are equally aware that it will not stay that way for long.
- Hence, the team has already traded away 2016’s 5th and 6th round picks to get cornerback Brandon Boykin and Josh Scobee.
A longer term view towards player development might see the Steelers take a “Now or never” approach to players like Shamarko Thomas and Cortez Allen. Yet, Will Allen will start, and if rumors are correct, so will Antwon Blake. Draft picks such as Doran Grant and Anthony Chickillo’s roster spots have been sacrificed to make way for two players whom Colbert and Tomin think can help the Steelers now.
Mike Tomlin has no interest in developing players to help him in next fall, he is starting players who will help the Steelers win now.
- Can the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers weather a September that will see their offense bereft of 3 their top 5 players?
- Can the Steelers defense defy the doubters and at least stake a claim to respectability?
Time will tell. But this stage of the Steelers journey finds Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert doing what they always do. They refuse to base personnel decisions on fear or sentimentality, and Mike Tomlin gives every indication that he’s in it to win it.
- And in Pittsburgh “winning it” means winning bringing home a Lombardi Trophy.
Can the 2015 Steelers do it? That will be determined over the next 17 weeks. But one thing can be certain, Mike Tomlin remains determined to try.