Pittsburgh Steelers History vs Chicago Bears

The Pittsburgh Steelers history vs the Chicago Bears is long and rather tortured for Pittsburgh, dating back to 1934, with the Steel City suffering a 7-21-1 record against Windy City. The founders of both franchises, Art Rooney Sr. and George Halas are both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While the lopsidedness of the Steelers history vs. the Bears might be due to Pittsburgh’s ineptness during the pre-Chuck Noll era, Pittsburgh’s record in Chicago remains a woeful 1-12.

This chronicle of Steelers history vs the Bears only goes back 31 years that have seen Pittsburgh square off against Chicago 8 times. Indeed, a see-saw dynamic characterizes recent Steelers-Bears history, with the Steelers seem to celebrate glorious victories or agonizing defeats, with very little in between.

Either scroll down or click on the links below to relive key moments in the Pittsburgh Steelers history vs. the Chicago Bears:

Steelers history vs bears, Steelers vs. bears, Antonio Brown, Charles Tillman

Antonio Brown catches a touchdown in front of Charles Tillman of the Bears. Photo Credit: Jason Bridge, USA Today

1986 – Ditka Takes the Wind over the Ball in OT

November 30, 1986 @ Solider Field
Chicago 13, Pittsburgh 10

The 4-8 Steelers gave the defending Super Bowl Champion Bears a run for their money, even though they did not score an offensive touchdown. But that was good enough to force overtime when…

Iron Mike elected to kickoff, trusting in the wind and his defense. The Bear’s defense vindicated their coach, forcing a punt and setting up Kevin Butler’s winning kick.

  • Fun Fact: The Steelers only touchdown came in the third quarter on a fake field goal from Harry Newsome to tight end Preston Gothard.

1989 – Steelers Suffer Third Shut Out of Season

November 11, 1989 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Chicago 20, Pittsburgh 0

Aliquippa native Mike Dikta gave himself a hell of a home coming during the only game he coached at Three Rivers Stadium. His Bears netted 6 turnovers, wracked up 203 rushing yards, and held Pittsburgh to 54 rushing yards during their 20-0 shut out.

1992 – Cowher’s Achilles Heel or Mike Singletary’s Final Game in Chicago?

December 13, 1992 @ Solider Field
Chicago 30, Pittsburgh 6

Rookie head coach Bill Cowher‘s 1992 Pittsburgh Steelers had taken the NFL by storm. They traveled to Chicago with a 10-3 record and a chance to clinch their first AFC Central Title since 1984. Cowher Power had rejuvenated the Steelers.

  • The sky was the limit. Or was it?

The Cowher’s Steelers fell flat on their faces. And then the Bears stomped all over them, to the tune of 30-6. Barry Foster ran 12 times for 25 yards. The Bears sacked Bubby Brister 5 times and picked him off twice. Worst of all, Pittsburgh looked lethargic and unfocused.

NBC commentator Bill Parcells attributed the result to the emotional surge occasioned by Mike Singletary’s final game in Chicago, sharing something to the effect, “I was in the Bear’s locker room prior to the game, and this was a team clearly ready to play.”

  • Cowher’s Admission: During Cowher’s early tenure, over confidence was his Steeler’s chronic Achilles heel. Cowher would perhaps dispute this general observation, but a number of years later he admitted that the 1992 game against the Bears was one of the few times the team had not been mentally prepared to play.
Greg Lloyd, Rashan Salaam, Pittsburgh Steelers history vs Chicago Bears, Steelers vs Bears

Greg Lloyd closes in on the Bears Rashan Salaam in the Steelers 1995 over the Bears. Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images via the Bleacher Report

1995 – Steelers Streak to the Super Bowl, Vol. I – Super Bowl XXX

November 5th, 1995
Pittsburgh 37, Chicago 34

The 1995 Steelers started 3-4, and looked ugly doing it. After a particularly egregious loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Bill Cowher declared it was now a “9 game season.” Having beaten the Jaguars in week 8, they traveled to Chicago to take on the 6-2 Bears.

  • This was one of the most exciting games the Steelers have every played.

The lead changed 5 times and the score was tied 3 times as the Steelers and Bears fought back and forth in this titanic struggle.

Hope faded for the Steelers when Barry Minter returned an interception to put the Bears up 34 to 27 late in the fourth. But Neil O’Donnell rebounded, taking the Steelers the length of the field capping off the drive with a 11 yard strike to Ernie Mills to tie it up just inside the two minute warning.

Cowher seemed ready to gamble it all when he sent in the 2 point conversion unit, forcing the Bears to burn their final time out. The Steelers kicked the extra point instead, and Willie Williams picked off Eric Kramer in OT, to set up Norm Johnson’s game winning field goal.

  • Cowher’s Quote: When asked if such a dramatic victory might have been a character building exercise for his recently struggling Steelers, Cowher’s response was concise and correct – “Games like this do not build character, they display it.”

That character carried the Pittsburgh Steelers to Super Bowl XXX

1998 – Steelers Start season 2-0, But…

September 13, 1998 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 17, Bears 12

The 1997 Steelers had finished 11-5 and only two Kordell Stewart goal line interceptions away from the Super Bowl. They’d beaten the Ravens 20-13 the week before, but had not looked good doing it.

The Steelers defeated the Bears 17-12 on the strength of Jerome Bettis 131 years rushing.

  • Cause for concern: Kordell Stewart went 17-30-1-1. Not bad numbers, but he only threw for 137 yards and was only 4-4 rushing. Whether it was because Ray Sherman didn’t know what he was doing, or a lack confidence, but this was the beginning of a tentative and timid Stewart, as opposed to the swashbuckling Slash that Steelers fans had seen before.

2005 – Steelers Streak to the Super Bowl, Vol. II Super Bowl XL

December 11, 2005 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 21, Chicago 9

The Bears were coming off an 8 game winning streak. Despite their 7-5 record, the Steelers were coming off a 3 game losing streak, and looking at the possibility of needing to run the table to make the playoffs. The Steelers were up to the task, as the Bus led the march that ended with One for the Thumb in Super Bowl XL.

Jerome Bettis, Brian Urlacher, Steelers vs. Bears, '05 Steelers

Jerome Bettis shows Brian Urlacher who is boss

The Steelers totally dominated the Bears in the snow at Heinz Field. Jerome Bettis ripped off 101 yards as he plowed through Brian Urlacher and the Bears defense. Willie Parker was close behind him with 68 yards. Ben Roethlisberger hit seven different receivers, as the Steelers out gained the Bears by almost 100 yards, and dominated time of possession to the tune of 37:19 to 22:41

  • Bettis Final 100 Yard Game: This was Bettis’ 50th 100 yard game with the Steelers, a team record. It was also to be the Bus’ final 100 yard effort, and he gained all but one of them in the second half. He also scored 2 TD’s for the 16th time in his career, which brought him to 4th on the Steelers all-time scoring list.

2009 – Super Bowl Champion Steelers Slip, Signal Things to Come…

September 20th, 2009 @ Solider Field
Chicago 17, Pittsburgh 14

The defending Super Bowl Champions had won their opener doing what they had done during the previous season – snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. But this trip to Solider Field showed that things would not be so easy for the 2009 Steelers.

The Steelers got on the board quickly with a clockwork like opening drive engineered by Ben Roethlisberger. But Roethlisberger threw an interception and he was off after that, overthrowing and underthrowing receivers and throwing balls that were either too low or two high. Ben Roethlisberger had help however,

Despite that, the Steelers hung in and appeared to be set to repeat history – pull out a win at the last moment.

Unfortunately Jeff Reed missed a long field goal, giving Chicago a victory. Unlike their ’08 brethren, this was to be the first of many last minute losses for the ’09 Steelers….

2013 – Bears Pass Rush Overwhelms Steelers en Route to 0-3 Start

September 22, 2013 @ Heinz Field
Chicago 40, Bears 23

Sometimes single tweet says it all. That’s the case with this Dale Lolley gem that still resonates long after the Steelers 2013 loss to Chicago:

  • That might seem like a harsh exaggeration, but rest assured my fellow citizens of Steelers Nation, it is not.

The 2013 Steelers entered the game at 0-2, yet both of those games had some extenuating circumstances (such as losing 3 starters in their opener to the Tennessee Titans.) But this was the height of the Mike Adams experiment on offensive line and, truth be told, the jury was still very much out on Marcus Gilbert at that point.

Ben Roethlisberger barley had time to breath, let along throw that night, as the Steelers signal’s turnovers directly led to two Bear’s touchdowns. Chicago jumped to a 27-3 lead, until a Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown hookup evened the score to 27-10 at the half.

  • The Steelers opened the 2nd half by 13 unanswered points to bring it to 27-23 by the beginning of the 4th quarter.

Alas, a Jay Cutler scramble on 3rd and 10 gave Chicago new life, and set up a score. The Steelers tired to match, but a Roethlsiberger fumble was returned to Pittsburgh’s six yard line and the Steelers started 2013 0-3.

 

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Tomlin Shuffles Steelers Depth Chart, Voluntary and Involuntary…

In dropping games to Baltimore and Cleveland the Pittsburgh Steelers have repeated something they’ve rarely done since Mike Tomlin’s arrival in 2007 – lose back to back games.

In 2007 it was the Anthony Smith game vs. New England followed by a loss to Jacksonville.
And of course in 2009 the Steelers began by losing to the Cincinnati Bengals at home, and did not stop losing until eeking out a last second victory vs. Green Baysix games later.
After the 2009 season, Steelers President Art Rooney IIcited Tomlin’s ability to snap that losing streak – the Steelers won their final three, as part of the reason why he was so comfortable with having Tomlin as his coach.
The 2009 streak was instructive, because Tomlin’s ability to break the losing streak got little discussion in the press. This stands in sharp contrast to Bill Cowher’s ability to snap his Steelers teams out of similar funks. 

 But no one really knows what Mike Tomlin did back in 2009 to get the Steelers to stop losing games.

Steelers Nation does know, however, what didn’t work. Horrendous specials teams were at the root of the Steelers first two losses during that ugly ’07 streak. Tomlin cut special teamers Arnold Harrison, Donavan Woods and reserve corner Keenan Ratliff and brought back Anthony Madison but those moves did not halt the Steelers slide. (Firing Bob Ligashesky would have been a wiser move.)
After a tough overtime loss to the Ravens, Tomlin promised to “Raise Hell in December” only to see the team fall even flatter on its face vs. the Browns in Cleveland. In between he talked big about benching starters, but the only move that materialized was Joe Burnett going in for William Gay on a few series.
Mendenhall Demoted, Mike Wallace Now a “Co-starter”
That was then, however. This is now. Tomlin has made two moves in response to the Steelers latest loss.
Jonathan Dwyer will start for the Steelers vs. the Ravens over Rashard Mendenhall, after Mendenhall fumbled twice, and seemed to shy away from embracing responsibility.
Whether that’s a symbolic move or whether it has more substance behind it remains to be seen, but Mike Wallace has not produced consistently, Emmanuel Sanders has.
Musical Chairs on the Offensive Line, Again
Those won’t be the Steeles only roster moves this Sunday. The Steelers placed Marcus Gilbert on IR, ending his season, and activated first round pick David DeCastro, who has recovered from the knee injury he suffered in preseason.
But Mike Adams is still nursing an ankle injury as is Willie Colon.
So its quite possible that the Steelers offensive line vs. the Ravens will look like this:
This is one of the configurations they’ve been trying, although Tomlin had earlier said that rookie Kelvin Beachum would start at right tackle.
Not exactly the offensive line you want to take into a crucial match up with your division rival Ravens but “The Standard is the Standard.”

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Steelers Lose Frank “The Tank” Summers

Perhaps some things are just not meant to be.

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Frank “The Tank” Summers in the 5th round of the 2009NFL draft to great fanfare.

Summers made the squad despite arguably being out-preformed by 2009’s training camp sensation Isaac “Redzone” Redman. Summers played in two games, starting one as the team’s fullback, but he looked lost.

After the Steelers loss to Chicago, Summers went on IR with what at the time appeared to be a mysterious back injury, but the injury was later corroborated by media reports of surgery.

Summers returned to training camp in 2010, where many suggested that despite his size he was miscast as a full back, that he should have been used as a conventional running.

Regardless, it was Isaac Redman’s chance to turn the tables, as Redman made the team, relegating Summers to the practice squad.

Summers neither attracted interest while on the waiver wire nor while on the Steelers practice squad, but the San Diego Chargers signed Summers, where he’ll get a chance to compete for a slot on their 2011 roster – assuming there is a 2011 season.

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The Decline and Rise of the Steelers Secondary and Ray Horton’s Changing Fortunes

My what a difference a year makes.

A little over a year ago Steelers Nation was still smarting in the aftermath of a 9-7 season. While plenty of blame was to be passed around, one of the main culprits of the Steelers 5 game slide was the secondary.

The once proud unit, albeit in the absence of Troy Polamalu, stood in shell shock. The unit had failed to protect fourth quarter leads in five of the Steelers 7 losses , worst yet, members of the secondary dropped game-saving interceptions on not one but two of those loses.

While no one was ready to label these miscues as secondary coach Ray Horton’s “fault,” few wanted to sing his praises.

Horton did get a job interview for a position at a University in Texas, but Gerry Dulac reported on PG Plus that Horton had been encouraged to “find another job” by Mike Tomlin, and was only kept on the Steelers staff at Dick LeBeau’s urging.

That Was Then, This Is Now

A year later the Steelers are coming off a record trying 8th Super Bowl appearance, and while the secondary might been one of the Steelers short comings in their in ability to defeat Green Bay, the unit as a whole was never a liability to the Steelers in 2010.

Which made Horton a hot coaching commodity.

Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 fire zone-blitz defense was at center stage in Super Bowl XLV, with Dom Capers running his own version, and in this outing, to greater effect.

Dallas was reportedly interested in Ray Horton, but Ken Whisenhunt in the end convinced him to set sail for “Pittsburgh West.”

I do not pretend to know enough to evaluate Horton’s job as Steelers DB’s coach – he did a great job in bringing William Gay and Ryan Mundy along, not so much with Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnette but Lewis’ problems at least seem to be between the ears.

Nor do I pretend to offer predictions on how he’ll do as a defensive coordinator.

Even if I could, all of it would miss the point.

Horton’s transition in one year from cast-away to coordinator just underlines how much of a “what have you done for me lately” league the NFL is.

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Watch Tower: Second Annual Steel Curtain Rising Goofs Column

Everyone likes it when they’re right. To some extent, that is impetus driving the sports blogging and fan website phenomenon – people write on the internet because they think they have something to say that no one else is saying.

That sentiment is fine, as long as it is balanced with a dose of humility.

Today that does of humility comes in the form of Steel Curtain Rising’s second annual goofs column (click here to read last year’s edition.)

Inspired by the example established by the legendary Washington Post reporter/columnist David Broder, I now take a look back at a year’s worth of my work and own up to some of my more egregious errors.

The 2009 Steelers Won’t Succumb to Complacency

Unasked Questions of Camp Tomlin 2009” included this ill-fated observation:

The Steelers may falter in 2009, but don’t bet on compliancy being a cause.

It might be too harsh to condemn the 2009 Steelers for being complacent, but as we observed after the season, they certainly lacked the edge that they enjoyed in 2008.

Tumbling Down the Stairway to Seven

My prognostication skills got no better as the Steelers opened the 2009 regular season.

First I offered this gem:

Curtain’s Call: The Steelers defense can be more dominating.

Maybe of Lawrence Timmons had been more consistent, maybe if Aaron Smith doesn’t go down, maybe if William Gay’s attitude doesn’t get the best of him, maybe if Troy Polamalu doesn’t get hurt. Maybe, maybe, maybe… At the end of the day, the 2009 Steelers defense was a shadow of its former self.

Then came this one about special teams:

If Dan Sepulveda’s preseason performance is any indication, the punting unit should be giving the defense significantly longer fields to work with.

As for the kick return unit? Well, if the return magic that Stefan Logan showed in preseason is no mirage, then Steelers fans could be in for something special.

The Steelers special teams were anything but special, and easily cost the team two games and made a few others closer than they should have been.

Finally, I finished with this:

The road to Lombardi Number 7 is long and difficult…

Curtain’s Call:…But Steel Curtain Rising likes our chances!

Need further comment be made?

Age of Youth on the Defensive Line

In the middle of the 2009 season, Steel Curtain Rising hailed the ascension of youth on the Steelers offensive and defensive lines. It turns out the prediction was only half correct.

The Steelers 2010 opening day roster will include a healthy mix of youth and veterans on the offensive line.

That same mix will be absent on the defensive side of the ball, as both Sunny Harris and Doug Worthington got cut in favor of 30 year old veteran Nick Eason.

The Turning Point that Never Was

The Steelers 8th game of 2009 brought them to Denver and in many respects it was their best game of the season. Despite some early hiccups, it seemed like this was the game when the Steelers would finally get it together.

Afterward, I wrote this:

Bruce Arians accomplished something special with his unit. The 180 degree 2nd half turn around was nice, but you expect that from defending Super Bowl Champions. It was the way Arians turned things around – by finding balance. It has been a long, long time since the Steelers have been able to combine precision, vertical passing in the air, with persistent, punishing power rushing on the ground.

They did that in the second half against Denver last night. They did it against the NFL’s number one defense. And they made it look easy. Repeating that feat over the next eight weeks won’t be easy. Finding balance never is.

But if they can consistently achieve that balance on offense, the Steelers will give themselves a serious shot at making 2009 just as special as 2008.

As we now know, the Steelers then went on to lose the next five straight games, with three of those losses going to NFL bottom dwellers….

Spiraling Out of Control

Following the Steelers loss to Cleveland, Steel Curtain Rising offered this conclusion:

It is difficult for a coach to pull his team out of a total tailspin. Tomlin has clearly not been up to the task.

[I then compared Tomlin’s experience with the ’09 Steelers to the lessons Bill Walsh learned from his own Super Bowl hangover during the 1982 season.]

Hopefully [Tomlin] can learn from this. Perhaps he can follow suit.

But first he needs survive the next three games, which do not look to be pretty.

This is one occasion when you’re glad to be wrong. The Steelers not only fought tooth and nail during their last three games, they won all three of them.

Thankfully, Tomlin was in fact, up to the task.

Thanks Everyone Who Has Lent a Hand

Undoubtedly a thorough review of everything that has been written here in the past year would reveal even more errors and goofs.

And that is not counting typos and other mistakes which in another life would have been dubbed “copy editing errors.” Those have been, and will be plentiful, as editing your own work is never easy.

But on any number of occasions readers have pointed these out via the comment box, and for all of those corrections, in addition to your continued readership, let me extend to all my deepest thanks.

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Confessions of an Arians Agnostic

It is interesting to see how polls evolve.

The current poll rating Steelers offensive coordinators appeared in mid-February, when the article ran commemorating the St. Valentine’s Day Disaster – aka Chuck Noll’s decision to hire Joe Walton. Walton took and held a firm lead in the poll while such a stark reminder of his horrendous ineptitude remained fresh (to read the full article, click here.)

But as the article moved further down the Steel Curtain Rising’s home page, and then into its monthly archives, Bruce Arians and Ray Sherman overtook him and assumed their neck-and-neck contest for worst place. Which leads me directly to the subject of this article…

What to Make of Bruce Arians?

Steel Curtain Rising struggled to come to grips with Bruce Arians throughout the Steelers ill-fated 2009 season. Yours truly had heaped criticism aplenty on Arians in 2008, but took some legitimate comeuppance when Arians’ offensive game planning was one of the master strokes that led to victory in Super Bowl XLIII.

So, as someone who is a Smash Mouth Football Purist but who has nonetheless has argued time and time again that Roethlisberger, notwithstanding his current legal difficulties, deserves respect as one of the elite NFL quarterbacks, I, generally, kept quiet as the Steelers pass-run ratio crept to a historic 60/40.

Part of this reticence came from wanting to give Arians the appropriate respect and part of it was rooted in the fact that I simply hadn’t, and couldn’t, make up my mind.

At mid-season, Behind the Steel Curtain’s “Drinkyourmilkshake” was expressing my view better that I could have myself.

It appears that Drinkyourmilkshake had also worked hard to keep an open mind towards Arains. But one play critical play during the Kansas City game pushed him to the tipping point:

Early in the Kansas City game Rashard Mendenhall runs the ball off right tackle on first down and gains between 7 and 8 yards. Let me explain in advance; it does not matter one bit to me whether Arians passes or runs in this circumstance. Either decision can be easily defended. What Arians did which made no sense to me is that he lined up for the next play in an empty backfield set. The defense would have to respect the presence of a runner in the backfield which would make a play action fake particularly effective…

(To read “Drinkyourmilkshake’s complete article, click here.)

That’s was an excellent analysis, if not outright prophetic, given that it came two games into a five game losing streak.

What Exactly Constitutes a “Balanced” Offense?

Early in 2009 season Arians claimed that he was interested in maintaining the Steelers tradition on offense. However, he indicated that the tradition he was aiming for was not from the 1990’s, but from the late 70’s.

Music to my ears.

As a unit, the Steelers offense has never been as effective as it was during the seasons that led to Super Bowls XIII and XIV

But let’s keep in mind that the 1978 team had a pass-run of 38/62. OK, Noll didn’t really open it up until 1979 you say? The 1979 team had a pass-run ratio of 47/53.

The conclusion is simple. Chuck Noll and Tom Moore knew that they had been blessed with a Hall of Fame quarterback, a Hall of Fame Running Back, and two Hall of Fame Receivers. They weren’t interested in putting up statistics or showing of their genius.

They were interested in winning, and they knew the best way to do that was to design game plans that that made the best use of the gifts of the tremendously talented men they had playing for them.

Does Airans Game to Get the Best Out of the Talent He Has?

Can we say the same of Arians?

The record reflects that Arians followed that example in 2007, when Willie Parker was in his prime, and Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington were still developing; Parker was leading the league in rushing until he got hurt in week 16.

And you can credit him for doing that in 2008. The Steelers suffered ravishing injuries to both the offensive line and the running back corps and, despite complaints here in elsewhere, success for the Steelers in 2008 meant move the ball through the ball.

With the exception of the second half against Denver, Arians struggled to get the entire offense firing on all cylinders in 2009.

  • Sometimes he seemed either disinterested in establishing the run
  • Other times, he seemed too ready to abandon it
  • There were games when Arians appeared too eager to go for the knockout punch
  • Despite passing game’s shock and awe, the Steelers could never score consistently in the Red Zone

Against Cleveland, it appeared that the decisive factor had been reached. The Steelers started out strong, rushing to a third and one, only to see Arians call and empty set backfield, followed by a punt.

The empty backfield issue had returned to haunt the Steelers with a vengeance – after one possession, the Steelers found themselves on the ropes against the lowly Browns.

Arians went on to call 40 pass plays, on a frigid, windy night in Cleveland….

….I was ready to throw in with drinkyourmilkshake in calling for Arians’ head.

Then came the Green Bay game.

Defensive Titans Stage Shoot Out

Green Bay came to Pittsburgh with the NFL’s number two defense. Pittsburgh had the NFL’s number four defense.

Thickening the plot, Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau, perhaps the two men who did more than anything else to put the zone blitz on the map in the NFL, were facing off…

…The result was an all-out, unabated shoot out.

For perhaps the first time, the Steelers were in a game that Ben Roethlisberger had to win all by himself.

And Ben was more than up to the challenge throwing 503 yards. Ben joined an elite group of quarterbacks who’ve passed half grand mark, and he further distinguished himself by doing so without throwing a single interception.

When speculation was rampant that Mike Tomlin was about to fire Bruce Arians, Post Gazette columnist Ed Bouchette took to PG Plus to make a compelling case on Arian’s behalf.

Bouchette pulled no punches. Like me, he agreed that Arains play calling sometimes befuddled.

But he offered one compelling argument as to why he should stay.

  • Ben and Bruce work well together.

Certainly, Ben could excel with another coordinator.

No one hopes more than me that the NFL’s current MO of “Thou Shalt Not Run” and “Thou shalt not have superior defense” is a passing fancy, but there’s a lot of objective evidence to suggest its not, at least in the short and perhaps medium term.

Assuming his current legal troubles do not curtail his career as a Steeler, Ben Roethlisberger is a true franchise quarterback, and the Steelers should treat him as such.

Both Ben and Bruce on the same page, and in an age when the quarterback is king one only trifles with such bonds at their peril.

No tears would have been shed by Steel Curtain Rising had Mike Tomlin decided to dismiss Bruce Arians.

But by the same token, if Tomlin accepts Arians’ commitment to being able to run the ball when it is necessary, so should Steelers Nation.

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What Went Wrong for the Steelers in 2009?

How did it happen? How did the Steelers fall so far, so fast?

12 months ago they stood atop all pro football. Victory in Super Bowl XLIII transformed the Steelers into the NFL’s sole posseser of Six Lombardi trophies.

Pittsburgh had no peer.

Stairway to Seven was supposed the song of 2009. 20 plus veterans from Super Bowl XL were to negate any chance of a Super Bowl hang over. Instead, the Steelers would embarrass ESPN for prematurely picking the Patriots as the decade’s dominate team.

None of it happened.

There are many reasons for this. No one has a definitive answer.

Steel Curtain Rising offers one interpretation here. Some of it objective, some is subjective, and the rest a mix between the two. Everything is interelated of course, but the reasons for the Steelers failures breakdown along these five themes:

Falling Off the Edge
Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say
Less Bang for the Buck
“…Wars are not won by evacuations.”
Into the Looking Glass Mike Tomlin

Falling Off the Edge

Sample Steelers fans for the Steelers 2009 season’s defining image, and they’ll likely suggest:

  • Carlson Palmer’s completion on 4th down late in the fourth quarter in week three
  • Return men scurrying through the Steelers kick coverage units in route to the end zone
  • The dropped interceptions against Kansas City and Oakland
  • Ray Rice’s 40 yard plus scramble to keep Baltimore’s game tying drive alive
  • Ben Roethlisberger getting sacked on the Steelers final offensive play against Cleveland

These were pivotal plays in the Steelers 2009 season, all are worthy of mention.

But Steel Curtain Rising has one you won’t find else where:

  • Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown to Hines Ward that put the Steelers up 10-7 in the 2nd against KC.

Think back to the play. The Steelers were in the Red Zone. The line was giving Ben a ridiculous amount of time, and the Chiefs had totally blow the coverage, as Ben found Ward standing still in the end zone.

It was beautiful. In scoring the touchdown the Steelers displayed the nonchalance of Indiana Jones shooting the swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

And that’s the problem.

As Steel Curtain Rising mentioned during training camp, the 2008 were never more dangerous then when they looked to be hopelessly on the ropes. Against Jacksonville, San Diego, Dallas, twice against Baltimore, and of course in the Super Bowl against Arizona, these Steelers found themselves behind late in the 4th.

Each time they rallied for victory, and each rally was more dramatic than the last.

Such experience can fortify a team’s will, often it does.

  • But perhaps there’s a fine line between coolness under fire and complacency or, at the very least, a lack of urgency.

In 2008 the Steelers lived on the edge and thrived on it. Instead of stepping up on the edge in 2009, the Steelers fell off it.

This tendency was just as apparent in the fourth quarter meltdowns, as it was in the failed third down conversions on offense, in large gains given up on third and short by the defense, in the lack of turnovers, and in repeated Red Zone possessions that went for naught.

The killer instinct that served the Steelers so well in 2008 was absent in 2009, and it cost them dearly.

Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

Mike Tomlin’s “unleash hell in December” declaration will be debated elsewhere. For all of Tomlin’s bluster, he was taking about something he did not control.

Tomlin’s comments about things he could control are far more interesting, such as:

  • The disparity between the treatment of Jeff Reed and Santonio Holmes
  • Commitments to give special teams equal footing with everything else
  • Promises to make roster changes that seldom materialized

There is an apparent disparity between Tomlin’s words and actions. This disparity did not cause the broken plays that spelled doom for the Steelers. But discontinuity between a coach’s words and deeds rarely results in continuity on the field.

Less Bang for the Buck

“Blitzburgh” from Behind the Steel Curtain has made an excellent point about how the salary cap affected Pittsburgh in 2009.

“Blitzburgh” did detailed research and spent serious time putting the piece together, and Steel Curtain Rising will do him courtesy of recommending that everyone read his post (click here to read.)

In a nutshell, the essence of his argument is easy to summarize. Because players like Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison had much, much higher cap values in 2009, the Steelers were forced to release men like Carey Davis and Anthony Madison in favor of rookies like Frank “the Tank” Summers and cheaper veterans like Keiwan Ratliff.

  • The Steelers quickly regretted and repented both moves.

Success in the salary cap era is about getting the most bang for your buck. The Steelers had much greater difficulty pulling that off in 2009 than in 2008.

Wars are not won by evacuations
– Winston Churchill, June 4th, 1940; following the miracle at Dunkirk

Respect for sacrifices made for freedom and justice demands recognition that the stakes in Europe in 1940 and for the Steelers in 2009 are in no way analogous.

But if that’s true, then it is also true the Steelers would be wise to heed the moral of the message. Churchill’s was telling Britain that however miraculous the rescue of 300,000 men might have been, Britain had only managed to live to fight another day.

And so it is with Pittsburgh today.

The Steelers were a team in a total tail spin following the loss to Cleveland. They were learning to lose. Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola as much concluded that the team had quit on Tomlin.

But Tomlin broke the team’s nosedive. The players fought tooth and nail until the very last play of their final three games, and all three contests were decided on the final series.

As Art Rooney II told the Tribune Review’s Scott Brown:

It showed something about Mike that he’s not going to let a team give up on itself. That’s the kind of coach we thought he was, and I think he obviously had a significant challenge to get us through this year. While there were disappointments about the season, that aspect of it was a good sign for the future.

Rooney is right.

Finishing the year with an eight game losing streak would have had repercussions lasting into 2010 and beyond.

Credit Tomlin for rallying the troops, but be clear that it only means the Steelers would live to fight another day. Mike Tomlin still has some soul searching to do.

Into the Looking Glass Coach Tomlin

Mike Tomlin is an excellent coach.

A rookie coach doesn’t take a team furious over the departure of their coach, number one linebacker, and impending departure of their only All Pro guard to a division title in his first year and then for, an encore, win a Super Bowl during his sophomore season.

The knock on Tomlin during 2007 was that his team played down to the competition after they dropped games to the:

  • 7-9 Broncos
  • 5-11 Ravens
  • 4-12 Jets

No one leveled that criticism in 2008 but, then again, the Steelers 2008 schedule didn’t include many soft spots.

This year the Steelers lost to the:

  • 7-9 Bears
  • 5-11 Browns
  • 5-11 Raiders
  • 4-12 Chiefs

2009 made it bitterly apparent:

  • Mike Tomlin teams do in fact play down to the level of competition.

This is a problem. Great teams, even good teams, win the ones they’re supposed to. Consistently.

The Steelers have yet to do that under Tomlin.

The Steelers must address needs on both lines, on special teams, and in the secondary.

All are important, but Tomlin has no greater imperative for this off season than to rectify his team’s tendency to under perform against subpar competition.

If Mike Tomlin takes care of that, many of the other issues mentioned above will fall into place.

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2009 Steelers Miss Playoffs, But Dump Dolphins 30-24

How about a little adversity, huh? That game right there is kind of a snap shot of how it’s been for us.” – Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin

Scout’s honor, I’d already thought of something similar before reading Tomlin’s post-game quotes. In their victory over Miami the men in Black and Gold gave Steelers Nation the perfect snap shot of what was their 2009 season.

  • Pittsburgh started with a bang, but followed by going toe to toe with their opponent for a while.
  • Then the Steelers got hot, and looked on the verge of putting it away…
  • only to see a seemingly inferior offense embarrass and humble a once proud defense.
  • Then, amidst the din generated by a chorus of opposition, the Steelers fought back, with a rebound that was at once imperfect and impressive.

The only difference was that while the Steelers second effort sufficed against the Dolphins, it was not strong enough to secure an opportunity to defend the Super Bowl title.

steelers vs. dolphins, 2009 steelers dolphins, Ike Taylor, Lawrence Timmons, James Jarrior, Pat White

Lawrence Timmons, Ike Taylor deal Dolphins quarterback at brutal hit in Steelers Jan 2010 win over Miami. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

The Steelers 30-24 victory over the Dolphins not withstanding, the Baltimore Ravens did what the Steelers failed to do in the regular season, eliminating the Steelers from the playoffs by defeating the Oakland Raiders.

Steel Curtain Rising will offer a full diagnosis of what when wrong for the Steelers in 2009, but the Miami game, and truth be told the Steelers 3 game winning streak, have taught us something important, which we detail below….

This Is Why You Need to Be Able to Run It…

Miami had pulled within three. Ben Roethlisberger had just taken a sack/fumble and done something nasty to his arm on the way down. Recovering deep in Steelers territory, a best-case scenario had the Dolphins tying the score.

The Steelers defense uncharacteristically reversed that outcome by netting a turnover. – Good.

The Steelers had the ball back at their three, with just over five minutes left, and their franchise quarterback was in obvious distress. – Bad

Enter the Steelers running game, which accounted for 74 yards of the 83 that the Steelers gained on the final drive which end up consuming all but 40 seconds off of the clock.

Rashard’s For Real

Rashard Mendenhall looked as good as he has all year – which is to say it is a lot easier to understand why the Steelers ignored needs on both lines to pick him first in the 2008 NFL Draft.

Mendenhall ran for just shy of one hundred yards, including a 36 yard burst and he added a 26 yard pass reception to bring his yards from scrimmage to 120.

Yet, Mendenhall was not in the game during the Steelers final, critical drive.

Way to Go Willie Parker for One Last Time

Against the Dolphins, for the last time perhaps, Willie Parker was the Steelers feature back. Willie Parker in fact gained 74 of the Steelers 83 yards on that final drive, including a 34 yard scamper that all but assured Jeff Reed’s final field goal.

Why was Willie in? Theories abound. Some say it was because he could grind out the tough yards (Mendenhall’s rushing average drops to 3 per carry when you take out his long one), or perhaps its because Wille’s got more secure hands.

Another explanation perhaps its was the quell any rumors, such as those reported by Ed Bouchette in PG Plus, that the Steelers were intentionally under using Parker to lower his free agent value.

Regardless, Willie got it done.

2009 Steelers Secondary Redeems Itself in Miami. Sort of…

When Tyler Thigpen stepped in the game and led the Dolphins to two quick touchdowns, it appeared that fourth quarter meltdowns would be the be-all, end-all legacy of the Steelers 2009 season.

  • Then something funny happened.

The Steelers defensive backs started coming down with (gasp) – interceptions, as Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor both picked with Thigpen passes.

The counter argument is that Thigpen threw the DB’s “gimmies.” There’s no doubt about that, but against Kansas City and Oakland Clark and rookie Joe Burnett both failed to catch similar “gimmies” either of which would have secured the outcome of those games.

This time the Steelers secondary made plays when it had to. This doesn’t change the fact that this is a major need area for the Steelers, but give the men credit for finishing the Dolphins game.

Steelers Show Toughness in the Clutch

Hines Ward was playing on not one, but two injured hamstrings, but don’t tell him that. Ben Roethisberger was in visible agony on the last drive, but completed all of his passes, including a key 13 yard pass to Ward on third down from the Steelers 15.

  • James Harrison likewise was out there playing with one arm, and so on.

The 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers opened themselves to a lot of questions with their five game losing streak, but their toughness remains beyond reproach.

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Steelers Defeat Miami 30-24, Await Fate

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Miami Dolphins today, holding back a 4th quarter surge led by Dolphins quarterback Tyler Thigpen.

In winning the game 30-24, the Steelers finished the regular season with a 9-7 record, however, their playoff fate remains very much in doubt.

The Houston Texans came back to snatch a victory against the New England Patriots, forcing the Steelers to rely on Oakland to upset Baltimore, the Chiefs to upset the Broncos, and the Bengals to defeat the Jets.

Check back with Steel Curtain Rising for a full analysis of the Miami game.

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Ben Roethlisbergers Wins Steelers MVP Award

Since arriving as a first round pick in 2004, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has accomplished many, many things.

  • Ben became the first rookie to win 14 straight games
  • Roethlisberger became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl
  • Ben bounced back from a near-fatal motorcycle accident
  • His colleagues in the AFC voted him to the Pro Bowl in 2007
  • Ben became the first Steeler to sign a 100 million dollar contract
  • Roethlisberger led perhaps the most dramatic, come from behind touchdown drive in Super Bowl XLIII

Now, Roethlisberger can add another feather into his cap – yesterday Ben Roethlisberger’s teammates voted him as the Pittsburgh Steelers Most Valuable Player for 2009.

This is the first time Ben has won the award, and that marks a certain sort of milestone. Although most of the press Ben gets has portrayed him in a positive light, there have been rumblings here and there that he was not universally liked in the Steelers locker room.

Those days, for the moment at least, are over, as Ben’s teammates recognized him in a year when he smashed a number of Steelers passing records, including most passing yards in a single season and most passing yards in a single game.

Kordell Stewart was the last quarterback to win the award in 2001, and before him Neil O’Donnell won it in 1995. Following those two, one needs to go back to the 1978 and 1979 seasons to find a quarterback who won that award, when Terry Bradshaw won the award during the seasons when he led the team to victories in Super Bowls XIII and XIV.

It is ironic to note that Stewart’s and O’Donnell’s MVP awards marked their final seasons as starters. Steel Curtain Rising feels safe in saying that, barring injury, a similar fate will not befall Ben.

Not to Nit Pick, But…

Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower hates nit picking, but the Post-Gazette article on Ben winning the Steelers MVP award contains a number of factual errors.

Keying in on the fact that Ben will play in Miami – the place where he got his first start, Ed Bouchette points out that:

While the game was in fact, Ben’s first start, it was actually the third game of the season, not the fourth. And Ben had already thrown two touchdowns and two interceptions the week prior in relief of Tommy Maddox against Baltimore.

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