The Colbert Record: Grading the Steelers 2012 Draft, B-

The with 2017 NFL Draft in the books, it is now time to turn our attention to grading Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s performance with the Steelers draft class.

  • Of course, we’re talking about grading the Steelers 2012 Draft Class here.

The question of when a draft class is ripe to grade is an interesting one with no definitive answer. Same day draft grade border on inane, as Ike Taylor and the Steelers 2003 Draft Class demonstrates. Year after draft grades certainly aren’t much more helpful either.

After the rookie years of Sean Davis, Artie Burns and Javon Hargrave, the Steelers 2016 Draft Class is looking pretty smart. But the same could be said in May 1990 about the 1989 Steelers Draft class, which had its gems but also a lot of fools gold.

The Steelers 2011 Draft Class seems to make a solid case for why you really need to wait five years to grade a draft class, and while others may quibble, we’ll stick with it grade the Steelers 2012 Draft Class.

David DeCastro, Steelers 2012 Draft Class grades, DeAngelo Williams

David DeCastro lines up in front of DeAngelo Williams in 2015 as the Bengals visit Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Justin K. Aller, Getty Images via Pittsburgh CBS Local

Steelers 2012 First Round Pick – David DeCastro, Guard, Stanford

When a highly rated prospect falls in the first round of the NFL Draft, it usually for two reason. First, some sort of off the field issue, be it true or not, surfaces and prospective buyers shy away. Second, sometimes one team will make an unexpected pick or trade scrambling everyone else’s draft board.

Going in to the 2012 NFL Draft, David DeCastro had been rated very highly, some experts had him in the top then. But then a run started on defensive lineman, and DeCastro continued to fall. The Steelers didn’t hesitate to pick DeCastro, and haven’t looked back since.

David DeCastro started as a rookie, although he lost most of that season ton injury, but was a full time starter by 2013. By 2014, DeCastro was establishing himself as a force on the field, and showing that streak of nasty that makes offensive lineman great. By 2015, David DeCastro had done well enough to see the Steelers exercise their 5th year option on him and eventually sign him to a long term deal.

For what it is worth, the NFL Network is rating DeCastro as the 97th best player in the league. Grade: Quality Value Pick (trending toward Grand Slam).

steelers, draft, grades, evaluations, bust, Kevin Colbert

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Steelers 2012 Second Round Pick – Mike Adams, Tackle, Ohio State

Mike Adams provides the perfect example of a player who fell for kind of reason. In his case it was a failed drug test at the NFL Combine. The Steelers knew about this, and took them off their board because of it.

  • Mike Adams of course worked his way back into the good graces of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.

The Steelers took him admitting that there are risks with every pick. The easy evaluation, based on the disaster that was Mike Adams starting at left tackle, is that the Mike Adams pick was a bust. That’s a tempting conclusion to take, but it is not quite accurate.

  • People forget that Mike Adams started 6 games (per Pro Football Reference’s count) at right tackle in 2012 and played fairly well.

HE also made four starts at right tackle in 2014 and again he performed well. 2015 was lost to injury. OK, if you pick a man in the a tackle in the second round, and you project him as a left tackle, you expect more than 10 good starts at right tackle out of the player.

But the Steelers did get some value out of Mike Adams, it just wasn’t enough. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2012 Third Round Pick – Sean Spence, Inside Linebacker, Miami

This pick perhaps illustrates just how much of a factor luck plays in forming a successful NFL Draft. The Steelers drafted Sean Spence with an eye towards replacing Larry Foote. All indications in training camp and preseason were that Spence was capable of being that player.

  • Then disaster struck, as Sean Spence suffered what could have been a career ending injury during preseason.

The Steelers kept Spence on injured reserve for two years, and in the meantime drafted Vince Williams and Ryan Shazier. Spence returned to full health in 2014 and functioned effectively as “The Next Man” up starting 13 games over the next two years.

Steelers vs. Texans, Sean Spence

Sean Spence after forcing a fumble in the Steelers 2014 win over the Houston Texans. Photo Credit: USA Today Steelers Wire

Who knows how good Sean Spence would have been had not been injured? How well would have he would have played during 2014 and 2015 had Shazier not forced him to the bench? Will never know the answer. All indications are that Colbert and Tomlin made the right pick with this selection, but unfortunately due to no one’s fault, injury prevented the Steelers from recouping its full value. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

Steelers 2012 Fourth Round Pick – Alameda Ta’mau, Nose Tackle, Washington

Note to Kevin Colbert: Next time you think of trading up to grab someone in one of the middle rounds, don’t pick a guy that is getting KOed on highlight films by your first round pick.

Because that’s exactly what the Steelers did in 2012 when they traded up to get the “last pure nose tackle in the draft” even though one of David DeCastro’s highlight reels included him totally dominating
Alameda Ta’mau.

That didn’t stop some pundits from predicting that Ta’Mau would become Casey Hampton’s heir apparent. Instead Ta’Mau became best known for his South Side drunken rampage, where only by the grace of God no one got seriously injured.

The Steelers didn’t cut him immediately, but he was gone by year’s end without playing a down and played in 14 games for Pittsburgh West over the next two season. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2012 Fifth Round Pick – Chris Rainey, Running Back, Florida

Unlike Ta’Mau who had a previous alcohol incident that the Steelers knew of but was not public knowledge, Chris Raniey brought a checkered history to Pittsburgh. However, the Pouncey family vouched for Rainey and the Steelers gave him a chance.

  • Chris Rainey was supposed to be a utility back for the Steelers – a small speedy back who could come out of the flat to spread the field.

As a running back Rainey saw spot duty in 2012 and had a respectable rushing average, and he also caught 14 passes on 22 targets which is also respectable, although he never showed any of that field stretching ability. Rainey had a minor run in with the law late in the season, and then his name popped up in the police blotter for domestic violence in January.

The Steelers cut their losses immediately and sent Rainey packing. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2012 Seventh Round Pick, A – Toney Clemons, Wide Receiver, Colorado

Toney Clemons never caught on with the Steelers, but he did play four games in 2012 for the Jacksonville Jaguars and was never heard from again. Grade: Farm Team

Steelers 2012 Seventh Round Pick, B – David Paulson, Tight End, Oregon

Fans will remember David Paulson for his dropped pass in the Steelers road loss to the Bengals in the second game of the 2013 Steelers 0-4 start. And yes he should have caught that, and yes it could have been a difference maker.

  • But David Paulson was a number 4 TE playing as a number 2 TE.

All told, David Paulson had 13 catches on 21 targets over 32 games for the Steelers. Those are hardly Mike Mularkey numbers, let alone Heath Miller type stats. But not bad production from the 240th man taken in the draft. Grade: Quality Value Pickup

Steelers 2012 Seventh Round Pick, C — Terrence Frederick, Cornerback, Texas A&M

Terrence Frederick never made caught on with the Steelers but played 5 games in 2012 and 2014 for the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints. Again, not for a 7th round pick and not a bad way to pocket six figures before starting your “Life’s Work.” Grade: Farm Team

Steelers 2012 Seventh Round Pick, D – Kelvin Beachum, Tackle, SMU

If most NFL General Managers would be forced to confess, when they get to the 248th pick of the draft they’re probably thinking, “If this works out well, he’ll land on the practice squad.” You don’t pick a man that late and expect him to play seven games for you that year, let alone start 5.

Yet that’s what Kelvin Beachum did for the Steelers as a rookie. There weren’t many bright spots for the Steelers offense on the backend of 2012, with Ben Roethlisberger’s injury to Young Money going broke, to the three headed implosion at running back.

But Kelvin Beachum was a true bright spot for the Steelers, as he went on to save the Steelers season in 2013 by stepping in at left tackle, and established himself as a legit starting left tackle in 2014. Grade: Grand Slam

Steelers vs. Chargers, Kelvin Beachum, Kelvin Beachum right tackle

Kelvin Beachum starting for the Steelers vs. the Chargers in late 2012. Photo Credit: Don Wright, AP via PennLive.com

Grading the Steelers 2012 Draft

Only David DeCastro remains of the Steelers 2012 Draft Class and by many measure’s that’s bad, because in theory this is when your draft picks should in their prime, hitting their stride. And when that happens, a team wins. See the roles the Steelers 2002 Draft Class played in winning Super Bowl XL.

  • But the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement’s rookie salary cap altered that calculus a bit.

By essentially mandating that every NFL team devote the same portion of his salary cap on its draft class, it raised the marginal value of the production a team gets out of its draft picks during their rookie contracts.

Viewed in that light, the Steelers got excellent value out of David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum. They also got solid contributions from the Sean Spence and even got “Something” out of Mike Adams and David Paulson. Unfortunately are weighed down by the loss of value of Ta’amu and Rainey and the draft pick they used to get Ta’Amu.

All told, Steelers 2012 Draft Class had a “Good But…” quality to it, and that’s why we’re grading out with a B-.

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Why Mike Tomlin’s Record vs Giants Is a Poor Indicator of Steelers in Season Progress

As I look back at Mike Tomlin’s record vs. the Giants as the Steelers prepare to play the New York Giants this week, I’m struck by both the similarities and ironies marked by the Tomlin era Steelers-Giants match ups. For starters:

  • In both 2008 and 2012 the Giants were defending Super Bowl champions
  • Both games were decided by 4th quarter comebacks

Dig deeper, and you’ll see that both the 2012 game and this year’s game reveal a lot about Pittsburgh’s post Super Bowl XLV roster retooling efforts. Moreover, the Steelers current .545 winning percentage is nearly identical to the .571 winning percentage the ’12 Steelers took into the Giants game.

However for all of these similarities, both the ’08 and ’12 games served as ironically poor indicators of how those two Steelers teams would be ultimately judged.

steelers vs. giants, mike tomlin vs giants, isaac redman giants 2012, isaac redman career game

Isaac Redman had a career game vs. the Giants in 2012, rushing for almost 150 yards. Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky, Getty Images.

’08 Steelers Stumbles vs. Giants Ultimately Signaled Nothing….

Mike Tomlin’s 2008 Steelers welcomed the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants to Heinz Field with a 5-1 record. Despite that record, this game was widely viewed as a “statement” game for the Steelers, given the lackluster track record of the opponents they’d beaten thus far.

Here was what we had to say about the game at the time:

No one should be fooled by the score as 21-14 does not begin to reveal the poor showing the Steelers made for themselves. The Steelers lost their first game against “PrimeTime” competition, and their performance revealed some troublesome issues which Mike Tomlin and company must address if the Steelers truly want to become contenders.

After describing the Steelers “bend but don’t break” defense of the day, the assessment of the offense came down to this:

Aside from Mewelde Moore’s 32 yard run, and Ben Roethlisberger‘s long bomb to Nate Washington, the Steelers offense produced nothing all day. They could not protect their quarterback, receivers could not get open or hold on to the ball, they could not convert third downs, and they could not sustain drives.

This game came well before Steel Curtain Rising had reached its its Arians Agnostic philosophy and the article harshly critiqued Bruce Arians reluctance to establish the run before concluding:

The Steelers are seven games into their season and they’re having difficulty sustaining drives and they cannot protect their quarterback. The Giants game revealed none of these warts, as each was on display in previous games. But the Steelers were able to compensate for them up until now. In fact, they compensated so well that one wondered if they were aberrations.

The Giants game revealed that the against a legitimate contender the Steelers would not be able simply make up for a several sloppy drives with a heroic comeback.

In the afterglow of Super Bowl XLIII, it Steelers fans can easily forget that the 2008 Steelers spent a lot of time stumbling and bumbling around yet, when the game was on the line, they pulled it together for the win more often that not. The Steelers 2008 loss to the Giants, complete with James Harrison’s errant snap as emergency long snapper, was one exception to that rule.

’12 Steelers Upset New York Giants on the Road

Unlike 2008, fans remember 2012 as the year the Steelers slipped into mediocrity. But that slip was anything but apparent after the 2012 Steeles win over the Giants.

Indeed, the early word on the significance of the 2012 win over the Giants flowed like this:

The Giants appeared to offer the perfect measuring stick, and the game in New York gave the team a chance to measure themselves against the defending Super Bowl Champions, as well as providing a different sort of test for the Steelers – one where they proved to be more than worthy to the task.

The Steelers started out the day strong, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive only to give up two touchdowns thanks to two very questionable calls that went in favor of the Giants. The Steelers defense held the Giants to field goals after that, as Shaun Suisham knocked in one of his own.

Still, the Steelers began the 4th quarter staring down a 10 point deficit against the defending Super Bowl Champions. Here is how we described the Steelers 4th quarter comeback:

Since Ken Whisenhunt’s departure the debate over the proper Run-Pass balance that should define the Steelers offense has consumed Steelers Nation.Such debate misses the point. Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain observed last season, the Steelers need a dynamic offence, that can either run or pass when the situation warrants.

  • The Steelers fourth quarter performance reveals a dynamic offense par excellence.
  • Ben Roethlisberger first connected with Mike Wallace for a catch-and-run quick strike.
  • Pittsburgh then mixed passes and runs to four different ball carriers, with Isaac Redman punching it in from the one

Finally, the Steelers iced the game on a clock killing drive that featured a 16 yard completion on third down and 28 yard scamper by Redman…. Versus the Giants the Steelers had multiple opportunities to flinch. But they chose to focus instead, and in the process the played their best regular season game in over a year. Not a bad place to be at the season’s half way mark.

Such high praise might seem misplaced give the 2012 Steelers 8-8 record and their dismal 3-5 finish which saw them lose multiple games in the 4th quarter. But the Steelers defense had struggled in early 2012, but the win over the Giants served as a turning point for that unit.

Dick LeBeau’s 2012 defense never did recover the splash play potential of its predecessors, but by the end of 2012, the Steelers defense was a strength. The fact that the Steelers gave up 8 turnovers to the Browns  a few weeks later and only lost by 4 points tells you all you need to know.

In contrast, Ben Roethlisberger got injured the next week vs. Kansas City, and wasn’t himself when he returned. The Steelers also lost Willie Colon shortly thereafter, and their run blocking fell apart because of it.

Those injuries, plus the performance against the Giants gives fans legitimate grounds to ask, “What If.”

Mike Tomlin’s Games vs. Giants Highlight Steelers Roster Retooling

The Steelers 2008, 2012 and 2016 matchups against the Giants provide excellent insights into Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s retooling of the Steelers roster. On offense Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Max Starks and Willie Colon served as constants between 2008 and 2012. Rashard Mendenhall was an additional roster holdover too, but he was already on IR for when the Steelers lost to the Giants in 2008.

  • Outside of those 5, the Steelers entire offense had turned over in just four years.

Yet if the Steelers rebuilding on offense was underway in 2012, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin had hardly touched the defense. Sure, Ziggy Hood had “replaced” Aaron Smith and Cam Heyward was waiting in wings. William Gay was on his sabbatical to Pittsburgh West, while Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen split the cornerback duties with Will Allen playing for an injured Troy Polamalu.

Fast forward to 2016. On offense only Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro (who was on IR in 2012) remain. On defense the difference is even more dramatic as only James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, Cameron Heyward and Robert Golden remain.

What Does the Steelers Intra-Giants Roster Upheaval Mean?

The tar and pitchfork portion of Pittsburgh’s fan base will no doubt look at the turnover between 2012 and 2016 and point to it as proof of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s personnel deficiencies. Too be sure, there is some room for criticism.

  • But by and large, the shifts highlight’s as many successes to Colbert and Tomlin rebuilding philosophies as it does disappointments.

After 2009, the Steelers stopped playing “plug and patch” with their offensive line and focused on drafting quality lineman, and the holdovers from 2012 show that they’ve been successful. (And remember, the Steelers wanted to keep Kelvin Beachum who they’d drafted in 2012.)

2012’s running back trio has all moved on to their life’s work, with injuries derailing Isaac Redman’s career and also hitting Rashard Mendenhall who didn’t have the desire, and Jonathan Dwyer who lacked discipline. Beyond those specific factors, the average career of an NFL running back is less than 4 years, so turnover there is normal.

As for the wide receivers, the Steelers bet on Antonio Brown over Mike Wallace before 2012, and never looked back. Since free agency arrived in 1993, the Steelers policy has been to invest heavily second contracts for only one veteran wide out, so the departure of the rest of Young Money hardly surprises.

  • To the extent that the defensive rebuild had begun in 2012, Cameron Heyward is the only true success.

The Steelers made a similar Cortez Allen instead of Keenan Lewis gamble (fueled in part by salary cap limits) and they franchise rolled Snake Eyes on that one. Ziggy Hood couldn’t replace Keisel or Smith.

  • The rest of the defensive rebuild has come since then.

In theory, this Sunday’s matchup against should provide a good measuring stick of Keith Butler‘s young defense’s progress. But history shows that Mike Tomlin’s record vs. the Giants has told us very little about the overall direction of the Steelers….

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Off the Market: Cameron Heyward to Stay in Pittsburgh in ’15, Steelers Pickup 5th Year Option

During the last two off seasons Steelers Nation has renewed its acquaintance with the phenomena of free agent defections. Keenan Lewis blossomed into a star and was gone. The Steelers investment in training and development of Al Woods went up on smoke. Jerricho Cotchery bolted for Carolina.

  • But the Black and Gold faithful can lay their minds at ease that Cameron Heyward’s name will not be in play next year.


As expected, the Pittsburgh Steelers have exercised their 5th year option on 2011’s first round draft pick, Cam Heyward. The option will pay Heyward 6.969 million dollars and is guaranteed.

Heyward’s development was slow, although it’s a legitimate question as to why he was not pushing Ziggy Hood for more playing time if not the starting role in 2012. Nonetheless, he remained a backup until the Steelers 0-4 start, which saw Mike Tomlin promote him to the starting role. And indeed, Heyward gave Steelers Nation something to be thankful for last fall, as he seized the reigns and making splash play after splash play.

As a high schooler, I desperately wanted the Steelers to draft Pitt’s “Iron Head” Craig Heyward, Cam’s father, but the Steelers passed on him, taking Aaron Jones instead. (Think Chuck Noll and Dick Haley would have liked to have had that one back.) “Iron Head” never got to play in Pittsburgh, but his son will remain there for another year.

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Four Words Define the Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Season: Inconsistency, Injury, Inopportunity, and Irony

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:

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.

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

Injuries can actually be opportune, at least in a macabre sense. How? Just ask like Tommy Maddox or Drew Bledsoe.

  • 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.

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:

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.

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Plaxico Burress Return Takes Kevin Colbert Full Circle

Admittedly you can’t see a lot in that video.

And perhaps that’s fitting as its significance has largely been overlooked by Steelers Nation.

In case you’re unable to tell, what you can see is a clip of Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown to Plaxico Burress capping the Steelers season-ending victory over the Cleveland Browns.

  • But the pass holds deeper significance because it brought Kevin Colbert’s career with the Steelers full circle.

Dan Rooney named Kevin Colbert as Director of Football operations in January 2000, following a total breakdown in the relationship between Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher.

At the time many questioned the move, pointing to the fact that Colbert came from perennial loser Detroit.

More than a few scribes were suspicious that Colbert had graduated from North Catholic, a Society of Mary established high school in Pittsburgh that both Rooney and Donahoe himself had graduated from. (Full disclosure, I once volunteered for the MVSC, a great volunteer program run by the SM that fell victim to some petty internal Society of Mary politics.)

  • No one questions Colbert’s credentials today. Nor should they. 

His resume comprises 13 rosters that have produced victories in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII, an AFC Championship in 2010, 6 division titles, 8 playoff appearances and only one losing effort.

Plex Brings Kevin Colbert Full Circle

Plaxico Burress was Kevin Colbert’s first draft pick with the Steelers, initiating a Colbert’s unparalleled streak of success in the first round of the NFL Draft (OK, after finishing 2010 with a bang Ziggy Hood has been, “inconsistent” to put things charitably.)

  • But the drafting of Burress in wasn’t Colbert’s only feat in 2000. 

Dan Kreider joined the team in 2000, starting a line of Colbert unrestricted rookie free agent steals that today includes Willie Parker, James Harrison, and Steve McLendon, to name a few (click here for a full look).

2000 was the year that Marvel Smith became the first rookie to start for the Steelers on the offensive line for the opening day since Tom Ricketts did so for the 1989 Steelers. Smith’s play was solid at right tackle but in rapid succession he fell to injury and then so did his back up Shar Pourdanesh. (Sound familiar…? And they didn’t even have Marcus Gilbert to blame.)

“Who?” you might ask? Excellent question question. “Larry Tharpe” has long been forgotten and wasn’t even close to a household word in Steelers Nation in 2000.

Larry Tharpe had played as a part time starter the Detroit Lions in 1992 and 1993, wasn’t on an active roster in 1994 or 1996 but did play for Arizona in 1995, and then returned to Detroit for 1997 and 1998 season after which Detroit did not invite him back.

  • Tharpe watched the 1999 NFL season from a couch somewhere, presumable out of football.

But Kevin Colbert thought enough of Tharpe to bring him to Pittsburgh, and during the middle of the Steelers 2000 season Tharpe started four games.

No one was considering Tharpe for Pro Bowl honors, but the blunt truth is that he out played both Chris Conrad and Anthony Brown, who’d rotated the starting right tackle’s job throughout 1999 in an effort to to see who was more ineffective.

With the selection of Burress in the draft, insight in bringing in players that no one else wanted such as Kreider and Tharpe, Kevin Colbert showed himself as an NFL personnel man who was both smart enough and able enough to add quality contributors wherever he found them.

Plaxico Burress had a decent season for the New York Jets in 2011, but he was out of football for the first three months of the 2012 NFL season. No one wanted him.

When injures robbed the Steelers of Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery’s services, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert did not hesitate to bring back Burress.

Now Burress only played in three games for Pittsburgh and only caught 3 passes.

  • But one of those was for a touchdown. 

A touchdown that sealed victory for the Steelers, a victory the Steelers needed to avoid a losing season.

Not bad for an NFL street free agent. Kevin Colbert couldn’t have scripted it any better.

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Steelers Close 2012 by Defeating Browns, Offer Glimpses of What Was, Could Have Been….

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered their 2012 season finale with the Cleveland Browns carrying a unique distinction – for the first time in the Mike Tomlin era, the men in Black and Gold would play a game with zero playoff implications.

  • How would the Steelers respond?

In defeating the Browns 24-10 and evening their season to 8-8 the Steelers fittingly offered Steelers Nation glimpses of both what was and what could have been.

2012 The Way It Was

Disappointment was in no short supply for the Steelers in 2012, and the first half of their game vs. the Browns showed why.

Through the first 28 minutes the Steelers managed to:

  • Punt the ball way 4 times
  • Secure zero first downs
  • Fail to convert a turnover into any points whatsoever
  • Give up a long punt return (which was mercifully called back on a penalty)

Nor does the stat sheet take into account the interception that safety er um, tight end David Paulson broke up. And of course there were the injuries. A 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers game would not be complete without the loss of at least one starter to injury.

And the Fates were not about to choose Week 17 to disappoint. During the course of the game the Steelers lost:

  • Kelvin Beachum to a concussion resulting for a cheap shot
  • Keenan Lewis re-injured his knee and was lost for the game
  • Brett Keisel injured his MCL
  • David DeCastro suffered a stinger and left the game.

That’s 3 starters for those of you taking notes at home, leaving the Steelers with their 4th string offensive tackle, their 2nd string defensive lineman, their 4th string guard and their 5th or 6th string cornerback.

If you’re a member of Steelers Nation who was holed up at the South Pole and only now are catching up on the 2012 season, the 203 words written below the subtitle provide a concise summary.

Yes, for most of the first half it looked as if Mike Tomlin was going suffer his first losing season. But then the Steelers offered a peek at what could have been.

2012 The Way It Could Have Been

With 3:48 left in the first half the Steelers got the ball and, after making their first down of the half, proceeded to do what they’d done all day so far – go three and out.

Cleveland, playing under second year player Thaddeus Lewis, had looked like the team that wanted it more, and had an excellent shot at getting into the end zone with just two minutes remaining.

But then the Steelers defense went and did something it only began doing with any regularity a week ago – they caused a turnover.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been consistent at anything this season, it has been at scoring in the final minutes on the first half. And week 17 was no exception.

Isaac Redman set the tone with a bruising 11 yard run, and two plays later Ben Roethlisberger was connecting with Leonard Pope for the Steelers first touchdown.

It would be poetic to say that from this point on, the Steelers controlled the game. Alas, that was not to be.

The Steelers defense did its part, stalling Cleveland at their own 25 on 4th and 5, but for the second time in a four games, the Steelers special teams got caught with their pants down on a fake punt as Raymond Ventrone scampered for 35 yards.

An inane pass interference penalty on Joshua Victorian gave the Browns 1st and goal at the 1, and they only needed two plays to tie the score.

But Jonathan Dwyer answered immediately with the frist of two 12 yard runs on an 12 play 6:24 drive that ended with Ben Roethlisberger hooking up with Antonio Brown in the end zone.

  • The Steelers were ahead, but could they stay there?

The Steelers would stay there on the strength of:

  • A tag team sack by Steve McLendon and Cameron Hewyard
  • Cortez Allen’s forced fumble, recovery and 21 yard return
  • Plaxico Burress’ first regular season touchdown as a Pittsburgh Steeler since December 2004
  • Back to back, lightning quick sacks Lawrence Timmons, including a forced fumble and recovery by Ziggy Hood
In a word, the Steelers closed out 2012 with the type of situational plays that they didn’t make consistently enough to keep their season going into January.

Steelers Finish 8-8, Face a Long Off Season

The win over the Browns evened the Steelers 2012 regular season record to 8-8. While missing the playoffs disappointing, this year it is particularly poignant in Pittsburgh.

As discussed here on Steel Curtain Rising this morning, aging, free agency, and looming salary cap complications will likely force the Steelers to retool their roster considerably.

Max Starks, Casey Hampton, Larry Foote, and Mike Wallace are all free agents, Brett Keisel and James Harrison will both be 35 and Deebo may very well be carrying a cost-prohibitive salary cap number.

But they’ll be plenty of time to sort those issues out in the months to come, and Steel Curtain Rising will be there to comment on it all.

In the mean time, thanks to all of for visiting this sight and taking time to share in its insights.

For any number of reasons — some good, some bad, some on my shoulders, some out of my control — traffic was down this season, but Google Analytics tells me that we did retain a core of loyal followers, and for that you have my deepest appreciation.

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Steelers Bid Farewell to 2012, Are They Also Saying Bye James Harrison, Casey Hampton, Mike Wallace and Others?

On Sunday December 30th 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers end 2012 just as they started it by playing their historic rivals, the Cleveland Browns.

2012 did not start well for the Steelers. Yes, they rang in New Year’s day in Cleveland with a victory, but it came at the cost of injuries to Rashard Mendenhall, a further tweak to Ben Roethlisberger’s injury added to the losses of both Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen.

  • Unfortunately, that game was only the warm up.

The Steelers traveled to Denver short-handed for a show down with Tim Tebow, and lost Max Starks, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel. Doug Legursky, starting for Marukice Pouncey, was also injured in the game.

The tendency that began in January sustained itself throughout 2012.

  • Both starting outside linebackers missed significant time due to injury
  • 2011 team MVP Antonio Brown missed time due to a high ankle sprain
  • In the space of two weeks, the Steelers lost their number 1 and number 2 quarterbacks fallen by injury
  • By the end of the game in Dallas, the Steelers were playing their number 5 and number 6 corners
  • Despite investing heavily in their offensive line, the Steelers saw four starting offensive lineman spend time on injured reserve.

Finishing a season with no playoffs certainly qualifies as a disappointment to Steelers Nation. But the Steelers if ‘13 can bring better luck on the injury front, then Pittsburgh should shed no tears in bidding 2012 good bye.

Final Game for Hampton, Harrison, Keisel, Starks, Foote, Mendenhall and Wallace?

The Steelers 2012 off season marked a major transition of the Steelers as they parted ways with Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Byrant McFadden, and Hines Ward.

But of the above group, only Farrior was a starter at the close of 2011.

The season finale vs. Cleveland could mark the final game of several starters for the Steelers, many of whom wear two Super Bowl rings.

  • Casey Hampton is in the final year of his contract, and while he still has something left, he is unlikely to return
  • Brett Keisel likewise is finishing 2011 strong, but he will be 35 next year…
  • Max Starks has no contract for 2013, and the Steelers drafted both Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert with an eye towards replacing him
  • At times Larry Foote played well, at other times he was a half step behind, and a half step might be too much
  • Rashard Mendenhall contract is up, and recent events hint that he probably wants out and that the feeling is mutual
  • Finally, James Harrison is another who started slow but has finished strong, but he has a monster contract and the Steelers are facing serious salary cap issues

One player may have already played his final game in Black and Gold and his name is Mike Wallace. Wallace has been ruled out of the Browns game, yes you guessed it, because of injury, but he will be an unrestricted free agent, one whom the Steelers have shown no sign of expecting to resign.

On the defensive line, the Steelers have Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon waiting in the wings. Ditto Stuart Spence at inside linebacker.

But Young Money was supposed to make the Steelers forget Hines Ward. Instead, Heath Miller out preformed them all.

And while Jason Worilds has shown flashes, but as far as being a replacement for James Harrison is concerned, thus far he has show himself far more of a Jason Gildon or even Carlos Emmons type of player as opposed to being in the mold of Joey Porter or Greg Lloyd.

Such transitions are painful but necessary in the NFL.

If this is the final time that we’ll see these men in Pittsburgh Steelers uniforms, let’s hope they go out with a bang.

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Steelers Report Card vs. Bengals @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who can only now sympathize with Parkland Junior High School’s decision to send out interim progress reports (i.e. failure warnings) before the Christmas holidays, here is the Steelers Report Card for the loss against the Bengals at Heinz Field. As a caveat, no other grades were consulted prior to this posting.

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger did not have a good day. He only completed 50% of his passes and led the Steelers to a woeful 2-14 effort on third downs. Those are mediocre numbers, but the true ugliness of his performance lies in two interceptions Ben threw in situations were he was obviously forcing the ball when he didn’t need to. Ben certainly had help in losing the game, but he was clearly the first among equals here.  Grade:  F

Running Backs
Perhaps the greatest difference between this outing for the running backs and others was in the attitude. Jonathan Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman all ran hard, contested every hit, and never stopped pumping legs for extra yards. During the first half the trio managed to put up some nice runs and in doing so helped the team. The second half saw them take hits behind the line of scrimmage more regularly, and they’re efforts suffered. At the end of the day it was a wash, as the running game again was a non-factor.  Grade:  C+

Wide Receivers
For the first time in a long time the Steelers wide receivers put in a solid game from start to finish. Their quarterback put them into some tough positions, but Antonio Brown and Heath Miller led the team, with Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders, and Mike Wallace each following with a catch. This unit did not have a lot to work with, and perhaps could have done more to get open, but no fingers need be pointed at them for the loss. Grade:  B-

Offensive Line
This was the much ballyhood David DeCastro’s second NFL start and the truth is he played like an NFL rookie on the second week of September, as Geno Atkins dominated him through the game. His rookie compatriot Kelvin Beachum faired little better. Maurkice Pouncey suffered another injury but was able to return. Early in the game the line opened some holes for the running backs and afforded “OK” protection to Roethlisberger. But Cincinnati dominated the battle at the line of scrimmage in the second half shutting down the Steelers running game and sacking Ben Roethlisberger 3 times. The playoffs were on the line, and this unit’s performance was far, far below the line:  Grade:  D-

Defensive Line
If Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton are playing their final games at Heniz Field then they’re going out with a bang, as both men lead a unit that completely suffocated the Bengals rushing attack all day long. Ziggy Hood and Cameron Hewyard also got into the action spending plenty of time in the Bengals backfield, and Steve McClendon had a half sack. What’s more, these men won enough of their matchs ups to allow others to pressure Andy Dalton, and that should have been enough. Grade:  A-

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons was a man on fire, leading the team in tackles, sacking Dalton twice, hitting him two more times, and registering two tackles for losses. James Harrison also got into the act with a sack and a tackle for a loss. Larry Foote added another tackle for a loss. LaMarr Woodley, however, was a non-factor. Overall, a solid performance from the linebacking corps. Grade:  B+

Secondary
Oh the irony! The Steelers defense in general, and the secondary in particularly, have been a turnover-starved unit for almost two seasons running. Against the Bengals, Cortez Allen accounted for three, intercepting two balls and forcing another fumble which Ryan Clark recovered. Troy Polamalu got into the action and as fate would have it seems to be returning to form now the Steelers find themselves out of the playoffs. This unit was not perfect – Dalton did complete some passes when he needed to, but they were well above the line.  Grade:  A-

Special Teams
Shaun Shuisham had been all but perfect until the playoffs were on the line, and he missed, twice. And it wasn’t even his fault. Greg Warren has one job, one sole function justifies his existence on the Pittsburgh Steelers. His bad snap cost the Steelers three points and those three points made a huge difference. Drew Bulter punts had decent length but too many ended up as touchbacks. Chris Rainey had a nice return. Grade:  D

Coaching
Coaches hold ultimate responsibility when teams lose games and seasons end in failure. Yet can you really blame a coach for things like a bad snap on a 24 yard field goal and two forced passes that end as interceptions? The truth is that the Steelers fielded a focused, championship caliber defense vs. the Bengals. The offensive effort was not as sound, but its difficult to attribute much of that to game planning. However, as has happened at other times in the season, when one part of the Steelers is at the top of its game, another part is falling short, and it is the head coach’s job to avoid that, and clearly Mike Tomlin again was unable to do that against the Bengals. Grade:  C-

Unsung Hero
He started the day injured, and for most of the day played on one leg. Yet he still managed to defend two passes and helped contain Andy Dalton and his otherwise A.J. Green and had he had help from offense and special teams, the Steelers success at defending against the Bengals passing attack would have been the difference maker, and for tha Keenan Lewis is the Unsung Hero of the Bengals game.

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Merry Christmas to Steelers Nation

When the history of the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers is written, it will go down as “the season that could have been.” At times this team flashed greatness that could have propelled them deep into the post-season. At other times they could not stop from tripping over their own two feet.

The team invested heavily in an improved offensive line, only to see every start except Max Starks lose time due to injury, with Marcus Gilbert, Willie Colon and David DeCastro spend time on IR…. 
James Harrison started slow but finished strong. LaMarr Woodley was playing fairly well until injuries removed him from the line up. Troy Polamalu was out much of the year, but no sooner did he return to health  than did the Steelers lose Ike Taylor to injury….
Running backs Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, and Rashard Mendenhall at times ran like All-Pro running backs, but none were consistent enough to establish themselves as starters….
Ben Roethlisberger started off with an MVP like season, then he too fell to injury, and was not the same player after his return…
More to Life Than Football
Unfortunately, this isn’t the story that Steelers Nation wanted to tell at Christmas. But fortunately there is much more to life than football.
From everyone here at Steelers Curtain Rising, to everyone out there in Steelers Nation, we wish you a very Merry Christmas!
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Bengals Best Steelers 13-10 at Heinz Field

Obviously, not our day and, thus, not our year.” – Mike Tomlin following the Bengals loss

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 campaign has been one riddled with ironies and the loss at Heinz Field to the Cincinnati Bengals added yet another layer.
An inability to sack the quarterback and force turnovers plagued the Steelers defense all season.
  • Against the Bengals the Steelers intercepted two balls and forced and recovered one fumble, and sacked Andy Dalton six times
Yet… 
  • …the Steelers offense scored zero points off of those turnovers

The Steelers secondary was brutalized first against San Diego and then again against Dallas

  • Against the Bengals, the secondary held Cincinnati to 4-15 on third down conversions

Yet…

  • …when Andy Dalton needed to complete a pass, he did

All season long, ball security and drops have plagued Young Money at critical points in crucial games

  • Against the Bengals, the wide receivers committed no turnovers, made some nice catches and drops were a non-issue

 Yet…

  • …too often they never got a chance to work their magic because Ben Roethlsiberger simply lacked time

And what 2012 Steelers loss would be complete without a special teams snafu? Shaun Suisham has been impeccable all year, yet missed another field goal beyond his range, and shanked an absolute gimmie because of – get this – a bad snap.

Steelers Start Hungry, Focused But…
You can describe the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers with a single word.  “Inconsistent.”
To be truly inconsistent implies highs as well as lows, and today certainly qualified for the Steelers, because it may have been one of their better defensive performances.
Against San Diegothe Steelers defense looked dazed, confused and at times appeared to play almost in slow motion. Against Dallas, the Steelers defense seemed over matched for much of the game (although the unit did ‘turn it up’ fairly well in the second half.)
  •  None of that was apparent today. In the words of my wife “this is a different team.”

 And it was.

  • At times the Steelers run defense has been suspect this season. Cincinnatitotaled 14 yards rushing.

Series after series ended in frustration for the Steelers offense, but the Steelers defense never batted an eye. Yes, Andy Dalton made a number of key throws and connected with A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham, but neither of those men sniffed the end zone.

Cincinnatioffense made enough noise to pin the Steelers deep into their own territory, their total offensive output for the day was six points. 
  • Normally in the NFL you win when you hold your opponent’s offense to six points.

But the 2012 Steelers, ever creative in their endeavors to find new ways to self-sabotage, succeeded yet again.

It’s (Not Quite) About the Quarterback, Stupid
The loss to the Bengals, as all losses are, was a team effort.
If Greg Warren, Drew Bulter, and Shaun Suisham keep it together long enough to make a 24 yard field goal, this game likely goes into overtime.
Rashard Mendenhall and to a lesser extent Jonathan Dwyer ran strong in the first half. Cincinnatimade the adjustments necessary to shut down the Steelers running game in the second half.
The Steelers inability to rush the ball in the second half forced them to rely in Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers. Antonio Brownatoned in part for his awful performance last week by burning his man on the Steelers only touchdown of the day.
  • Yet that burst was the exception and not the rule.

 The Steelers passing game might look respectable on the stat sheet, but in truth it struggled all day. They only managed to convert two third downs, and Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 4 times in the second half.

It’s important to get all of these very relevant points out into the open, so that the record reflects that no one man was responsible for the Steelers loss. 
  • But one man must bear extra responsibility for the loss, and that man would be Ben Roethlisberger.

Cincinnati’s only touchdown came when Ben Roethlisberger attempted to force the ball to Health Miller deep in his own territory. Leon Hall wasn’t fooled for a moment and scored easily.

Ben Roethlisberger waited until the 4th quarter for his next self inflicted wound, when he forced a pass to Mike Wallace that he didn’t have to force, setting up the Bengals for a field goal.
Steel Curtain Rising has long argued that Ben Roethlisberger gets short shift from the national media. Yet, if he wants to be regarded as a truly elite quarterback, he needs to stop throwing these stupid interceptions.
Ben’s ability to improvise and make something out of nothing is legendary, and no serious Steelers fan should want to take that away from him. But sometimes he tries to take too much upon himself. He did that today, and it cost the Steelers.
And that adds additional irony to the Steelers 2012 season. Arguably Ben Roethlisberger has played some of his best ball during stretches of 2012. Along with Heath Miller and Lawrence Timmons, Roethlisberger has been one few consistent performers game in and game out this year.
But in this must win game vs. the Bengals Roethlisberger’s number came up, and it was his turn to fall short with the playoffs on the line. Unfortunate and frustrating, but that’s reality in Steelers Nation this Christmas Eve.

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