When future historians pen the definitive history of the Pittsburgh Steelers, 2015 will be a turnkey season. But in which direction did the key turn? Right now Steelers Nation can only wait for its answer. But today the 2015 Steelers have given us one undeniable truth:
- Time and time again, Mike Tomlin and his players have demonstrated the resiliency necessary to overcome adversity.
The Steelers began 2015 with mixed expectations. Pittsburgh had closed 2014 unexpectedly strong by going 4-0 with the defense leading the way. Then 2015 began with a home playoff loss to the division rival Baltimore Ravens. Worse yet, the ease with which the Ravens beat the Steelers seemingly exposed Pittsburgh as a pretender rather than a true contenders:
- Le’Veon Bell’s absence rendered the Steelers offense rudderless
- The offensive line failed to protect Ben Roethlisberger
- Pittsburgh’s pass rush couldn’t pressure the passer
- Joe Flacco victimized the Steelers secondary
With on these underlying flaws laid bare, most pundits predicted Pittsburgh would take a step back in 2015. And the 2014 Steelers were AFC North Champions a year ago, their 2015 successors had to sneak into the playoffs.
No one can argue with those contrasting facts, but do they prove the pundits right?
2015 Adversity of the “Unknown Unknowns” Smacks the Steelers
All NFL teams plan for “what might go wrong.” Sometimes a team projects and plans accordingly, other times they project but take calculated risks and then there are the “Unknown Unknowns.” What’s an “Unknown, unknown?” in the NFL?
- Try cycling through four kickers before the season’s a month old
- Or how about only one secondary starter playing where you projected him when he signed?
- Maybe it’s starting your 4th and 5th string running backs in the playoffs?
Unexpected adversity smacked the 2015 Steelers in the face early and often. Considered numerically, the numbers are daunting:
- 46 starter games were lost to injury on offense
- 6 more offensive starter games were lost to suspensions
- 1/3 of the Steelers games, including the playoffs, saw a quarterback enter the game because of injury
- 20 minutes 46 seconds – that’s the total time that Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Le’Veon Bell played together
- 40% of the Steelers starting offensive line finished the season in injured reserve
Those numbers paint a pretty grim picture. Fortunately saber metrics, DOVA numbers and fantasy football stats don’t win football games. Winning comes from somewhere else.
2015 Steelers Learn a Potentially Important Lesson
One of the underlying ironies of the Steelers 2015 season is that while you can quantify the adversity this team weathered, quantifying how the Steelers overcame is near impossible.
Oh yes, numbers abound. Keith Butler’s defense vastly improve Pittsburgh’s takeaway total, and you can even pinpoint no less than 7 times that opponents entered the Red Zone only to have the Steelers take it away.
- But can you really measure taking the ball away in the Red Zone with a numerical value?
You can talk about how vs. the Chargers, Michael Vick hit a 71 yard touchdown strike to Markus Wheaton, and then followed it with another drive that saw him convert 3 third downs with passes to Darrius Heyward-Bey and Heath Miller while converting another with a 24 yard scramble.
- But can is act of an aging superstar digging down to find “IT” one last time quantifiable in anyway?
You can discuss how Martavis Bryant took a Landry Jones check down pass simply intended to burn off clock time and transformed it into an 88 yard touchdown win sealing run against the Cardinals, or how Antonio Brown took a similar pass 57 yards in OT vs. Oakland set up the game winning field goal.
- But do stat lines “88 yards, TD” and “57 yards, TD” really convey the value of these plays?
You can remind someone of how Ryan Shazier sealed victory over the Broncos with an interception or how he stripped the ball away when all looked loss in Cincinnati.
- But how do you calculate the statistical value of the uncanny ability to force late game turnovers that defines all true great defenders?
While all of these facts and figures should impress, they’re insignificant when measured against the process that each of the represents – learning how to win games.
Make no mistake about it. More is involved in winning football games then throwing more accurately, running a little faster or, Jack Lambert please forgive me, hitting harder than your opponents. Teams learn “how to win” just as they learn “how to lose.”
- The final minutes of the Steelers playoff win over the Bengals put on a clinic of one team going through the exercise of learning to win while the other demonstrated the opposite lesson.
On paper, by failing to win the AFC North crown, the 2015 Steelers might have taken a step back. But if, IF they can internalize the lessons learned above, any future 2015 Steelers season review will reveal that made immeasurable progress this season.