Colbert vs Donahoe – Why Do We Never Ask “Can Kevin Colbert win without Tom Donahoe’s players?”

The Super Bowl has arrived and, just as they have since 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers are spectating with the NFL’s 30 also-ran teams. For a franchise that measures successful seasons in Lombardis and fan base with a “What have you done for me lately” mentality, 6 years without a trip to the Big Dance is a long drought.

And the lapse has gone on long enough, that even the most serious Steelers homer must acknowledge the elephant in the room, and the question we’ve strived to ignore has some legitimacy:

  • Will Kevin Colbert ever prove he can win a Super Bowl without Tom Donahoe’s players?
Kevin Colbert, Bill Cowher, Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher

Kevin Colbert sits along side Bill Cowher during the press conference announcing his hiring. Photo Credit: Toledo Blade

What’s that? Have you gone crazy? Isn’t that the wrong question to ask (it is)? Doesn’t everyone know that Mike Tomlin is the man with the proverbial monkey on his back? Musn’t Mike Tomlin STILL need to prove he can win the big one without Bill Cowher’s players?

Well, yes, there still are large segments fans in Steelers Nation along with a cohort of the press (see Colin Cowherd, Jason Witlock and sadly Terry Bradshaw) that insist that Tomlin’s inability to win without Cowher’s players this remains Dan and Art Rooney II’s fatal blind spot.

  • This site has debunked those arguments before, and will do so again as needed.

But really, if you buy into the Tomlin only won on Cowher’s coattails nonsense, then your intellectual honesty demands you apply the same standard to Kevin Colbert with respect to his predecessor, Tom Donahoe. Let’s see what happens when you do just that….

Tom Donahoe’s Overlooked Role in Architecting Super Bowls XL and XLIII

Tom Donahoe was of course the man Dan Rooney tapped in 1992 to be the Pittsburgh Steelers first ever Director of Football Operations following Chuck Noll’s retirement and Dick Haley’s departure for the Jets. For much of the 90’s, Donahoe was the most powerful person in the Steelers organization not named Rooney, until the Rooneys sided with Cowher in a power struggle, and sent Donahoe packing.

Tom Donahoe, Kevin Colbert vs. Tom Donahoe

Tom Donahoe, Steelers Director of Football Operations, 1992-99. Photo Credit. Stillcurtain.com

  • Donahoe had full control of the Buffalo Bills from 2001 until 2005, but was unsuccessful. He now advises the Philadelphia Eagles.

While Tom Donahoe made his mistakes, particularly as friction between him and Cowher got worse, if you really want to see his impact on the Steelers, look no further than the Steelers Super Bowl XL roster. Take a good look and ask yourself, could the Steelers have won Super Bowl XL if they had:

Hum… Take away Hines Ward, Joey Porter, Aaron Smith, Deshea Townsend, and Alan Faneca – all Donahoe draftees, and Jerome Bettis whom Donahoe acquired via trade and it’s a lot harder to imagine “One for the Thumb” arriving in 2005, even if this alternate timeline still saw the Steelers drafting Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

By the time Super Bowl XLIII rolled around, the Bus had been parked, Alan Faneca had moved on to New York and Joey Porter was in Miami. But I defy anyone subtract the contributions of Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, and Deshea Townsend and map out a route for the 2008 Steelers that ends in a 6th Lombardi Trophy.

And if you really want to get picky about it, had the Steelers pulled out a win in Super Bowl XLV, Hines Ward would have likely won his second Super Bowl MVP award. But that, as well as the rest of this, misses the point.

Time to Retire a Tired Argument Used on Mike Tomlin

The argument that Kevin Colbert’s achievements are somehow diminished by the fact that Tom Donahoe acquired several critical contributors to both of Colbert’s Super Bowl teams is idiotic. Part of being a good leader is being smart enough and secure enough NOT to clean house for the sake of cleaning house.

  • So why conduct this exercise?

There are two reasons:

First, to highlight the fact that while people always put Tomlin in Cowher’s shadow, no one ever follow suit with Kevin Colbert and his predecessor. Why shouldn’t the same standard apply to both men? The answer is that it shouldn’t apply to either man, which was the second and most important objective of this exercise.

Mike Tomlin, Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher, Tomlin wins with Cowher's players

Rare photo of Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher together, taken in 2010. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

The fact that Mike Tomlin enjoyed his greatest success (thus far) with a large number of men who’d previously played for Bill Cowher doesn’t taint his accomplishments in the slightest. And the pundits in the press as well as critics within Steelers Nation need to stop making that suggestion.

As Kevin Colbert himself observed after Super Bowl XLIII, the Six Lombardi equaled 6 Super Bowls for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a franchise, instead of four Chuck Noll and one for Bill Cowher.

  • So please, let’s bury the “Tomlin only won with Cowher’s players” argument for good.

Although, if at this point, you remain unconvinced, then by all means please hold Kevin Colbert to the same standard and do it with equal enthusiasm and frequency.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

OK, Steelers Nation, its Time to Put 100 Mike Tomlin Victories into Perspective

“It means I’ve been here for a while.” Those were the exact words of Mike Tomlin whose Pittsburgh Steelers had just beaten the Buffalo Bills 27-20, giving the Steelers their 4th win in a role, ensuring Mike Tomlin’s 10th non-losing season and his 100th victory.

Tomlin’s ho-hum attitude towards winning his 100th NFL game might seem surprising but his “I’ve only had one good season” declaration Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette adds a little clarity.

  • Of course, Tomlin is referring to the fact that his team has only won one Super Bowl (Super Bowl XLIII) during his 10 seasons in Pittsburgh.

His predecessor Chuck Noll would have defined that attitude as an example of “singleness of purpose.” Bill Cowher was unambiguous about the fact that the only goal for his teams was to win a Super Bowl, going so far as to ask the city of Pittsburgh not to hold a welcome home rally for the team following Super Bowl XXX.

mike tomlin, mike tomlin at st. vincent's in latrobe

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

But there’s a certain irony that comes with those two statements from Mike Tomlin, because they show that he shares a sentiment that is pretty much spot-on with regards to how so many Steelers fans feel about his coaching abilities over the years.

  • In other words, nobody seemed to be too impressed (or even notice) Tomlin’s milestone achievement on Sunday.

Nobody, except, well, his players quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who gave Tomlin  the game ball, after the win over Buffalo on Sunday.

“I gave him a game ball because there’s a lot of coaches in this league that have coached this game and probably wish they had 100 wins,” said Roethlisberger, in a quote courtesy of ESPN.com. “So for him to get it, it’s awesome.”

  • It is really awesome, but if you’re one of Tomlin’s detractors, you probably cite the franchise passer, himself, Roethlisberger, as one of the reasons you’re not very impressed with 100 victories.

If  that’s the case, you’re almost certainly a member of the crowd who thinks Mike Tomlin only won that aforementioned Super Bowl with Bill Cowher’s players. Cowher, of course, was the coach of the team from 1992-2006 and resigned (or, maybe,  retired–that CBS gig is a good one) with a career record of 149-90-1 (regular season).

Putting 100 Mike Tomlin Victories into Perspective

For years, people have been saying Mike Tomlin inherited a Super Bowl team, when he stepped in for Bill Cowher in January of 2007, even if, let’s be  real, he inherited an 8-8 team from the Steelers 2006 campaign.

Tomlin not only inherited an 8-8 team, it was a veteran squad, complete with a team leader in linebacker Joey Porter, who he had to waive for financial reasons, and a Pro Bowl and future Hall of Fame guard in Alan Faneca, who was all kinds of disgruntled over his contract status during the 2007 training camp.

But Mike Tomlin handled both matters in a professional manner and soon made the team his with two-a-day practices and by allowing his coaching  staff–including Dick LeBeau, the legendary and beloved defensive coordinator with a style and philosophy that differed from his–to do its thing.

Mike Tomlin won his Super Bowl in 2008, just two years after being hired, and made it to another one in 2010. But, again, a lot of his players were drafted by Bill Cowher (and Kevin Colbert),  so you weren’t impressed.

But what about his job since 2011, when he had to fire Bruce Arians as offensive coordinator, eventually allow Dick LeBeau to get on with his life’s work, surround his franchise quarterback with a premium offensive line and skill position players that are the envy of the NFL, and rebuild his defense from scratch?

Maybe you’re not impressed, but you should be. In securing his 100th victory in his 10th season, Tomlin joins a group of coaches that include Patriots head man Bill Belichick but not Bill Cowher. For the record, It took Mike Tomlin 157 games to reach 100 wins where as it took Bill Cowher 163 to break the 100 victory mark.

  • Not only has Mike Tomlin never finished with a losing record, he’s never lost his team.
  • We’re talking zero losing seasons and just one regular season finale in-which his team was already eliminated from playoff contention at kickoff.

You might want Mike Tomlin gone as head coach, but then again, there was a time when you wanted Terry Hanratty to start in place of Terry Bradshaw and Scott Campbell to start in place of just about anyone, so, really…it’s one thing to say “fire the coach,” but it’s quite another to replace him.

  • The better the coach, the harder that job becomes.

Fact is (and I’ve said this many times before), a lot of the criticisms levied against Tomlin over the years–always being out-coached in big games, his favoritism toward certain players, clock-management, etc., etc.) were the same that Cowher faced during the majority of his coaching career in Pittsburgh before he finally won Super Bowl XL in his next-to-last season.

  • You might not think that’s true, but if that’s the case, either you’re not from Pittsburgh or you’re simply choosing to ignore the truth.

You want to fire Tomlin?

Good luck finding a successor. Just because the Steelers have only had three head coaches over the past 47 years doesn’t mean they can’t screw up the next hire.

  • When you have someone great in place, you better do your best to make sure he sticks around.

Mike Tomlin is a great head coach, and if you don’t already know that, you never will…..and I have no time to argue with you.

 

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

5 Key Decisions that Fueled Mike Tomlin’s 100 Wins as Steelers Head Coach

Ask Mike Tomlin about his 100 wins as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach and he’ll tersely explain “It means I’ve been here for a while.” Fair enough, but Mike Tomlin’s 100 wins didn’t come overnight, and certainly didn’t occur because he was in the right place at the right time.

  • No, Mike Tomlin’s 100 wins come because he’s one of the best head coaches in the NFL.

Any head coach’s record is a byproduct of a lot of hours of film study, staffing and personnel choices, strategy adoption and game-day decision making. It is hard for an outsider to pinpoint key moments that directly resulted in a coach’s success.

But we’re going to try. Here are 5 key decisions that fueled Mike Tomiln’s 100 wins as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach.

mike tomlin, mike tomlin's 100 wins steelers head coach,

Quality coaching decisions fueled Mike Tomlin’s 100 wins as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach. (Photo Credit: Andrew Rush, Post Gazette)

1. Adopting while reshaping Bill Cowher’s legacy

Can we please dispense with the “Mike Tomlin has only won with Bill Cowher’s players” nonsense?

Yes, Tomlin did inherit Ben Roethlisberger and a host of Super Bowl XL veterans, but if you think that getting handed the keys to a team that is a year or two removed from a Lombardi Trophy is an automatic key to success, please consult the coaching records of Richie Petitbon, Ray Handley or Phil Bengtson.

  • Mike Tomlin had a real challenge facing him when he took over in 2007.

Most if not all of his locker room expected and wanted either Russ Grimm or Ken Whisenhunt to get the job. Alan Faneca wasn’t happy with his contract. Neither was Joey Porter.

Tomlin was not only smart enough to retain Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator, but wise enough to sit back and learn from Coach Dad. He also retained several members of Bill Cowher’s staff, while integrating it with new faces he’d brought in with him.

  • Mike Tomlin didn’t shy away from tough choices. With his approval, the Steelers parted ways with Joey Porter.

Part of his motivation no doubt lay in the conclusion that James Harrison needed to start, a move The Chin never made. Tomlin also smoothed over the Alan Faneca situation. Faneca wasn’t happy, but he never caused a disruption because of his contract.

It’s true that Dick LeBeau came “highly recommended” by the Rooneys, but Tomlin could have just as easily kept him and made wholesale changes with the rest of his for the sake of making a statement. Instead, Tomlin pulled off the delicate balance of embracing the legacy that Bill Cowher left him while making the team his own.

2. Going hard on defense in the 2007 NFL Draft

While Mike Tomlin shares drafting authority with Kevin Colbert, the duo didn’t hesitate to break rules by drafting two outside linebackers with their first two picks in the 2007 NFL Draft.

  • No, that’s not a misprint.

The Steelers drafted Lawrence Timmons to play outside linebacker, and he was listed behind James Harrison in the Steelers 2007 Media Guide’s training camp depth chart. After that they picked LaMarr Woodley. They of course moved Lawrence Timmons to the inside. He took a while to develop, but since 2010, he’s been the mainstay of the Steelers defense.

But as Tony Defeo pointed out on Behind the Steel Curtain, LaMarr Woodley registered 44 sacks in 55 games, a pace that not even Hall of Famers like Joe Greene and Kevin Greene or legends such as L.C. Greenwood and Greg Lloyd could match. And of course, LaMarr Woodley’s strip sack of Kurt Warner sealed victory in Super Bowl XLIII.

  • Tomlin and Colbert also picked William Gay during the 2007 NFL Draft.

The Steelers 2007 draft class was was far from perfect. Matt Spaeth was hardly a bust but never lived up to his 3rd round status. Neither did Daniel Sepulveda. And who can remember the other players the Steelers drafted then?

But 100 wins later, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s first draft picks are still paying dividends on the field.

3. Standing Up for Bruce Arians in 2009

Mike Tomlin’s first real adversity came during the Steelers 2009 five-game losing streak in a year where the franchise clearly seemed to suffer from a Super Bowl hangover. Fans, bloggers and the professional press were all calling for Bruce Arians’ head.

  • So were some people on the South Side whose opinion actually counts.

As Ed Bouchette reported at the time, “Tomlin is under pressure from the ‘front office’” over Arians. While Arians did do some boneheaded things in 2009 (see the pass happy, empty sets on third and short on a freezing night in Cleveland), the truth is he got unfairly scapegoated a lot too.

  • But Mike Tomlin believed in his offensive coordinator, and he fought for him.

Don’t think for a moment that players, coaches and other members of the Steelers organization weren’t watching Tomlin closely to see whether he would fold.

4. Hiring Todd Haley as his offensive coordinator

Wait a minute! How’s this? How can you pat Mike Tomlin on the back for sticking up for Arians, then in the next breath praise him for a hire that he had to make because Art Rooney II pulled rank on him by forcing Bruce Arians out?

  • Yes, I admit, it does seem like a bit of a contradiction. But it is not.

We know that Mike Tomlin wanted Bruce Arians back and that he was unable (or perhaps less than 100% willing) to convince Art Rooney II to agree. So be it. The ultimate success or failure of the move would lie in how the Steelers offense performed post-Arians.

  • That meant Mike Tomlin had to hire the right replacement.

Mike Tomlin hired Todd Haley, a move that generated its share of controversy. Steelers author Tim Gleason praised the move, while Steelers writer Neal Coolong spoke out harshly against it as soon as Haley’s name surfaced. Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley didn’t exactly hit it off either.

But before working with Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger was seen as a fine physical talent who excelled at school-yard football. Ben Roethlisberger has grown under Todd Haley. It’s true that Ben Roethlisberger’s road record under Haley remains a concern, but under Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger is both playing better football and taking far fewer sacks.

Todd Haley was able to accomplish what Bruce Arians was unwilling even to attempt: find a way to get Ben to release the ball sooner, without taking away what makes Ben, Ben.

5. Pulling out of 2013’s 2-6 Spiral

OK, number 5 doesn’t exactly count as a “decision.” But the turn around of the 2013 Steelers turn around certainly could not have happened without a lot of good decision making.

A lot of NFL teams that start 0-4 probably continue on to 2-6. Your “average 2-6 team” will finish 4-12 with your “above average 2-6 teams” ending somewhere in realm of 5-11 or 6-10. But it is fairly safe to say that a 2-5 team that finds its way to a 2-6 record thanks to a 55-33 loss generally projects to a 2-14 or 3-14 finish.

  • Yet, that is exactly how the first 8 games of the Steelers 2013 season unfolded.

Things looked bleak after the Steelers London loss dropped them to 0-4. Mike Tomlin made changes, and suddenly 0-4 turned to 2-4. Then came disastrous trips to Oakland’s Black Hole and a trip to Gillette Stadium. But the 2013 Steelers fought on, and not only returned to respectability with an 8-8 finish, but they came one blown call away from a trip to the playoffs.

  • Only well-coached teams execute turn arounds like that.

Quitting on a coach is somewhat of an art form in the NFL. The 2013 Steelers always gave Mike Tomlin their best all season long. By the end of the season, their best delivered results.

  • Out of Mike Tomlin’s 100 wins, those 8 from 2013 might have been the hardest fought.

Mike Tomlin coaxed everything he could out of the talent on the 2013 Steelers who lacked depth at several key positions.

Mike Tomlin’s 100 wins are undoubtedly build on dozens of other decisions that the public doesn’t know about, but until those come to light, these are our 5 top choices.

 

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

How Kirk Cousins “How Do You Like Me Now?” Callout Vindicates Dan Rooney’s Contract Negotiation Stance

One of the peculiarities of being a Steelers fan first and a football fan second is that it becomes easy to forget just how differently the rest of the NFL operates sometimes. In fact, when I read that a team has extended a contract during the season, my first reaction is often “…But wait a minute, players don’t get signed during the season.

  • But of course they do – It just doesn’t happen in Pittsburgh.

Reading Andrew Brandt’s column in MMQB on the Kirk Cousin’sHow do you like me now?”call out to Washington Redskins General Manager Scot McCloughan, brought home just how wise Dan Rooney was to install the Steelers regular season contract negotiation blackout policy in 1993.

  • Can you imagine something like the Kirk Cousin’s incident happening in Pittsburgh?

No, neither can I. That’s not to say that the Steelers are immune to contract malaise. Alan Faneca was not happy about not getting his extension in 2007, and he grumbled about it loudly in the off season, but that ended when the games started.

Dan Rooney, Steelers contrat negotiation policy

Dan Rooney following the 2010 AFC Championship victory. Photo Credit: Al Bello, Getty Images via BTSC

Jeff Reed likewise was unhappy that the Steelers didn’t extend his contract in 2010, and that unhappiness perhaps contributed to Mike Tomlin’s decision to cut him.

  • But by and large, you don’t see these types of contract-based stories popping up in Pittsburgh during the regular season.

Reporters certainly ask players in their contract years if they want to come back, as they did with Lawrence Timmons after the Steelers win over the Giants, but answers usually run along the lines of “I’d like to stay, but we’ll see what happens in March.”

It wasn’t always that way, however….

Free Agency Comes to Pittsburgh….

1993 was the first season that the NFL experienced free agency, thanks to the Freeman-McNeil verdict. The new era saw the Steelers say good by to long-time stalwarts like Tunch Ilkin, but allowed them to bring in veterans like Hall of Famer Kevin Greene.

  • At the time, most fans thought that Dan Rooney was cheap, but the Steelers also pioneered success in the salary cap era by resigning their own players.

During that 1993 off season, the Steelers came to terms with Neil O’Donnell, Greg Lloyd and Dermontti Dawson a year before their contracts expired (O’Donnell had been a RFA). They also wanted to reach similar deals with Rod Woodson and Barry Foster, but couldn’t get them done in the summer. So negotiations continued, as the 1993 Steelers got off to a 0-2 start.

Patricia Rooney is the only one who knows if her husband Dan watched ESPN PrimeTime that night, but Chris Berman’s lead on the Steelers game talked about the Woodson and Foster contracts, and showed in image of a guy handing out money….

…If Dan Rooney did see that ESPN, he could not have been pleased.

1993 the Year of the Locker Room Lawyer

While the Steelers had locked up their best defensive player and, at the time, best offensive player the rest of the locker room was not happy, particuarly because after inking Woodson and Foster, Dan Rooney and Tom Donahoe decided to cut off further negotiations until season’s end.

Tight end Adrian Cooper went as far as to tell Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “If everyone’s contract would be done, I think we’d be 4-0 instead of 2-2. It has something to do with it. We’re unbeaten since they signed the two big guys.”

Big things had been expected of Adrian Cooper, so much that the Steelers openly discussed trading Eric Green. Cooper’s breakout season failed to materialized, and after the season he explained to reporters, “I feel neglected. As a result, my performance was a reflection of how they treated me.”

  • As soon as Tom Donahoe heard that, Cooper was on the next bus out of town, heading to Minnesota via trade.

But even Merril Hoge, a man whose ethics are beyond question, confided, “When we went 0-2, I think they thought players were more concerned about their contracts. That may have been true.”

After the season Bill Cowher, Dan Rooney and Tom Donahoe all agreed that contract issues had been a distraction for the Steelers in 1993. Their solution was to use the regular season to focus on winning, not negotiating.

The results speak for themselves. Although he may have wanted his contract extension sooner than he got it, Ben Roethlisberger certainly never considered walking off of Heinz Field and screaming “How do you like me now?” at Kevin Colbert, because the focus in Pittsburgh during the season stays where it should, on winning.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

The Dak Prescott-Tony Romo Decision Harks Back to Bill Cowher’s Choice on Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger

A fabled franchise flashes the greatness needed to recapture championship glory, only to fall short in the playoffs thanks to a frustratingly bad call….

The next season begins with high hopes, only to have injuries strike key starters as the franchise slides into double-digit losses….

Disaster strikes again the next season, robbing the franchise of its starting quarterback….

.…The call goes to a rookie, who struggles in his first outing, but rebounds to lead his team to 7 straight wins.

We’re of course telling the story of the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo and Dak Prescott. But this story isn’t exclusive to “America’s Team,” the Pittsburgh Steelers have lived through this too. As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to host the Dallas Cowboys at Heinz Field its interesting to reminisce about the situation the Steelers found themselves in 2004.

Ben Roethlisberger, Tommy Maddox, Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger and Tommy Maddox in 2004. Photo Credit: Spokeo

Of Tommy Gun and Tony Romo….

The parallels between Tony Romo and Dak Prescott and Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger are not perfect. But the similarities are striking.

Tony Romo entered the 2014 season as the Cowboy’s established starter, with a big contract to prove it, whereas Tommy Maddox began the 2002 season as the backup to Kordell Stewart, who’d just won the Steelers MVP award the year before.

  • Few were expecting to see anything from the 2014 Cowboys; no one expected Tommy Maddox to do anything other than hold a clipboard in 2002.

A blowout during the Cowboys home opener in 2014 led one writer to speculate over whether Jerry Jones berated his son demanding: “You made me pass on Johnny Football for this….” Yet, led by Romo, the Cowboys bounced back winning 12 games. They then beat the Lions in the playoffs, and appeared to be in position to upset the Packers at Lambeau Field only to lose the game based on the “Catch-Non-catch call.”

In 2002, Tommy Maddox watched as Kordell Stewart (and to be fair, the Steelers defense) struggled during the first two games of the season. Late in their third game against Cleveland, Bill Cowher made the switch. The Steelers won the game, and Bill Cowher named Maddox his starter.

Tommy Maddox, aka “Tommy Gun” led the Steelers to 10 straight wins. While threw plenty of picks, as gunslingers are wont to do, commentators wondered aloud as to whether or not Maddox was throwing touchdowns to too quickly to Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress. In the playoffs, Maddox led a dramatic come from behind win over the Browns. The next week, however, the Steelers lost due to a bogus roughing the kicker call where Al Del Greco took a dive worthy of World Cup Soccer.

Unlike Romo in 2015, Maddox escaped the injury bug in 2003, but a good chunk of his offensive line did not, with Kendall Simmons struggling with diabetes and Marvel Smith getting hit with the neck injury that would ultimately end his career. Things got so bad that Bill Cowher had to move Alan Faneca from guard to tackle and back again depending on the down.

The 2015 Cowboys saw Romo, Dez Bryant and several other key players seasons ruined by injuries.

Of Young Dak Prescott and the Once Young Ben Roethlisberger

The parallels of the stories diverge a bit here, as the Cowboys didn’t pick Dak Prescott to be their franchise quarterback in the 4th round. Although the Steelers had done just that with Ben Roethilisberger, Big Ben wasn’t supposed to play as a rookie.

  • Like Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger struggled in his first action, throwing a pick six vs. the Ravens.
  • But also like Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger went on a tear.

And like Jason Garrett, Bill Cowher bided his time in naming Ben Roethlisberger as his starter, waiting until he won after his fifth start, the 2004 win over New England.

Will the Steelers Tempt Garrett?

Tony Romo is back to health, and team owner/general manager Jerry Jones admits the situation is muddled, and likely to remain so. Like Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson before him, Garrett appears to content to go with the hot hand. And so he should.

During the entire 2004 regular season, Ben Roethlisberger never once gave Bill Cowher a reason to second guess his decision to back Roethlisberger. However, Ben appeared nervous in the playoffs against the Jets, and struggled against the Patriots in the AFC Championship.

  • After the game, Bill Cowher insisted he never considered pulling Rothlisberger in favor of Tommy Maddox.

But after so many AFC Championship frustrations, the thought had to have crossed his mind at some point. No one is comparing the Keith Butler’s 2016 defense to Dick LeBeau’s 2004 version. But with Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier back, the Butler’s boys are showing signs of life.

Will that be enough to temp Jason Garrett into making a switch? Probably not, but Steelers fans can always hope….

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin Attack Amounts to Pure Idiocy

Why Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin attack amounts to pure idiocy

One of the great personal ironies of the global economy is that, trips to the United States either prevent or seriously impair my ability to watch, follow and write about the Pittsburgh Steelers. So it came as a great shock Thursday morning in San Francisco to see that my friend Ivan Cole had taken it upon himself to defend Mike Tomlin against Colin Cowherd on Rebecca Rollet’s Going Deep with the Steelers.

  • My first thought was, “Are we really having this conversation? Aren’t the Steelers 2-0?”
colin cowherd's mike tomlin attack, ben roethlisberger, mike tomlin,

Ben Roethlisberger stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Mike Tomlin. Photo Credit: broncos.com

Well, yes, we are. And perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, because the year began with then BTSC scribe Chris Carter obliterating Jason Whitlock’s contention that Tomlin was “coddled” simply because he was African American. Ironically, or not, Whitlock launched his attack on Cowherd’s show.

My friend Mr. Cole launched a two pronged attack on Cowherd, first taking aim at Cowherd’s argument, and second speculating about Cowherd’s motives. Cole’s article amounts to must read for Steelers Nation, and there’s no reason to rehash his arguments here.

There is every reason to pile on additional reasons to prove that Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin attack is pure idiocy.

Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin Attack Rooted in Stale Criticisms

Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin attack begins in the same old stale criticisms that have been leveled against Tomlin for years. The only one that holds any validity is Tomlin’s almost Thanksgiving Day trip of Jacoby Jones.

  • Cowherd criticizes Tomlin’s assistants for getting into fights with opposing players on the sideline.

Is this the best you can do? The charges leveled against Joey Porter and Mike Munchak during the circus in Cincinnati have been debunked by video evidence. Neither coach acted as an instigator, nor were any of their actions inappropriate.

Really? Last January Mike Tomlin led a Pittsburgh Steelers team into a division rival’s stadium on a rainy night and January. His third string quarterback, Landry Jones threw an interception from the Steelers 14 with 1:43 left to play with Pittsburgh down by 1.

  • Let’s see, how did that one turn out?

Oh, yeah, the Steelers came back and won that one, and one of the franchise’s most dramatic playoff come backs since the Immaculate Reception (and that’s not a comparison one makes lightly.) Yeah, Mike Tomlin really mangles clock management, and if he doesn’t, his teams choke with the game on the line.

Tomlin Was Simply Lucky to get Roethlisberger

The basis of Cowherd’s argument is that Tomlin was lucky to inherit a roster with Ben Roethlisberger and others.

There’s no doubt that Ben Roethlisberger has made Mike Tomlin a better head coach just as Bill Cowher suddenly became a Super Bowl winning instead of a Super Bowl contending head coach after Roethlisberger arrived in Pittsburgh. And Bill Parcells was a better coach with Phil Simms than he was with Drew Bledsoe, Vinny Testaverde and whoever else he had under center with Jets, Patriots, and Cowboys.

  • But Cowherd betrays himself here without even knowing it.

You see, when Mike Tomlin arrived in Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger was “an effective game manager,” and of who it was said that “nothing to this point suggests that Roethlisberger can carry an undermanned team on his shoulders to playoff success.” This missive was written on ESPN back on August 2, 2007, before Mike Tomlin had called his first game as Steelers head coach. (The same article suggested that Matt Leinart was a sure-fire Hall of Famer while Ben would never get to Canton.)

  • A decade later those words seem laughable.

In fact, during the Steelers rebuilding seasons in 2012 and 2013, Roethlisberger’s presence was cited as a reason why the Steelers could go all the way. Cowherd himself extols Roethlisberger as one of the best three quarterbacks in the AFC. He’s right. But doesn’t Mike Tomlin deserve credit for helping develop Ben Roethlisberger, or at the very least providing him an environment to thrive in?

  • And while we’re at it, has Colin Cowherd always thought that Ben Roethlisberger was an elite quarterback?

Or did Cowherd sing the “Big Ben’s just a ‘game manager’ chorus” a decade ago?  I don’t know, but perhaps some questions are best left unasked.

Mike Tomlin is a George Seifert, not a Barry Switzer

Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin attack is laced with comparison’s to Barry Switzer. The argument is that, like Switzer, Tomlin inherited a talented team and rode on his predecessor’s coattails. It IS true that Mike Tomlin took charge of a Super Bowl ready team.

Tomlin started James Harrison whereas Bill Cowher kept him on the bench. Unlike Cowher, Tomlin didn’t had the benefit of the services of Jeff Hartings and Alan Faneca, instead he made it work with Justin Hartwig and Darnell Stapleton. What’s more, Mike Tomlin’s 2010 Steelers team featured even more new faces.

  • Barry Switzer got handed a Super Bowl caliber team, and within two years, he brought home another Lombardi Trophy.

Kudos to him. But two years later, Switzer’s team had imploded and his players quit on him late in the season. Has last game featured Troy Aikman imploring his teammates in vain to hustle to the line of scrimmage to run the hurry up offense. Jerry Jones fired him.

  • Comparing Mike Tomlin to Barry Switzer is completely off base.

The better comparison is between Mike Tomlin and George Seifert. Like Tomlin, George Seifert got handed the keys to a Super Bowl-ready team, and like Tomlin, Seifert drove his team home. Seifert however, kept his team in contention and in 1994 won another Super Bowl.

  • No one in Steelers Nation should count Lombardi Trophies before they’re won.

But today the Pittsburgh Steelers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, with a roster that only contains three players from their last Championship team….

…Not bad for a coach who simply got “lucky” to inherit a talented team.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Landry Jones Evolution as a Steelers Quarterback

When discussing the performances of certain individuals in the Steelers 30-17 loss to the Lions at Heinz Field Friday night, Landry Jones, the backup quarterback who started in place of Ben Roethlisberger and played the entire first half, has been placed in the “losers” category by more than one expert and fan.

  • That type of criticism is understandable, I suppose.

When a player completes just six of 12 passes for 55 yards and a touchdown, he’s certainly going to open himself up to slings and arrows–even in the aftermath of the very first preseason game.

landry Jones, Steelers Lions preseason, pittsburgh Steelers, landry jones evolution

Landry Jones reads the Detroit defense as David DeCastro blocks in Steelers preseason loss to Lions. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

However, given that it was a preseason game–the very first preseason game–head coach Mike Tomlin really didn’t do Jones any favors by deactivating Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Maurkice Pouncey and a few other key components for the evening.

Not that Tomlin had to hand Landry Jones the keys to a Porsche with a full tank of gas (it almost seems insane to play your superstars in exhibitions games in 2016), but you might think such obstacles would give the fourth round pick out of Oklahoma in the 2013 NFL Draft a little leeway with regards to criticism.

But it didn’t.

On the surface, aside from a very pretty 29-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey late in the second quarter that couldn’t have looked better if Roethlisberger had connected with Brown on the play, Jones turned in a lackluster performance Friday night.

But preseason football isn’t about judging performances at face-value. Sometimes it’s about looking at the intangibles. For instance, even though Heyward-Bey made an absolute gem of a catch when he pulled in that touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone, you can’t forget that he also dropped a pass over the middle in the first quarter that Jones placed in-between several Lions’ defenders.

Maybe that’s why, on the heels of a bobbled bubble screen and a fumble by the second-year receiver, Jones appeared to give Sammie Coates the what for as he ran back to the huddle late in the second quarter after failing to come up with a sliding catch over the middle.

  • That also could be why Jones looked a little annoyed and irritated as he stood on the sidelines in the second half, while Bruce Gradkowski and then Dustin Vaughan took over quarterback duties.

Perhaps Jones wasn’t annoyed or irritated. It could be that he’s matured into a poised leader. But even if he was a little upset about the performances of his teammates, that’s a good thing. After all, regardless of how big of a superstar Antonio Brown is or how great of a leader Maurkice Pouncey has always been, the leader of the offense should always be the quarterback.

Remember when Alan Faneca gave his sarcastic response to the media when he learned that the then rookie Roethlisberger would be starting his first game against the Dolphins in Week 3 of the 2004 season? Faneca seemed annoyed, because, at that point, he probably envisioned having to babysit a wide-eyed rookie quarterback. Even though Faneca was in his seventh season and had long-since established himself as one of the best guards in the NFL, he probably didn’t want the added responsibility of directing traffic and being vocal in the huddle.

Jones made his NFL debut in a game against the Cardinals in Week 6 of last season, when he came on in the third quarter in place of an injured Mike Vick. Even though Jones passed for 168 yards and two touchdowns, as he led the Steelers to a 25-13 victory, his appearance wasn’t without controversy, when Brown became visibly upset after a play in-which he and the young quarterback didn’t appear to be on the same page.

  • While it’s never ideal to have those kinds of blow-ups, the natural order of things is for the quarterback to be chewing out his receiver.

If you’ve ever watched NFL Films highlights of the Steelers 21-10 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, you may have seen veteran receiver Hines Ward sitting on the sidelines next to Roethlisberger (playing in just his second season) and urging him to “Take control of that huddle.”

Regardless of an offensive player’s stature (Ward was a decorated receiver at that point of his career and moments away from being named Super Bowl MVP), he wants his quarterback to know the plays, direct traffic and demand accountability.

  • Judging by his demeanor on Friday and the way he directed the likes of Jesse James and Coates to the correct spots right before the snap, Jones confidence in himself appears to have grown.

If that’s the case, its a far-cry from what his state-of-mind must have been last fall following his heroics against Arizona, when he told the assembled media, “I still can’t believe I got in the game and to play. I’m still kind of reeling from it.”

Jones got a ton of practice last preseason, which prepared him for the spotlight. In addition to his relief appearance against the Cardinals, Jones started his first two regular season games and had to come on in another substitute role in the fourth quarter of the wild card game against the Bengals after Roethlisberger left with a shoulder injury.

Landry Jones may never duplicate what Roethlisberger has done throughout his career (there are only about three dozen passers in the history of the league who have similar resumes), but Landry Jones evolution as a Steelers quarterback may have reached the point where his coaches and teammates believe in him.

Sometimes, such belief is all a backup quarterback needs when called upon to win an important game.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Alan Faneca Probably Wasn’t an Exciting Pick for Steelers Fans. But….

With the 2016 NFL Draft just over a week away, the anticipation from Steelers fans is so palpable, it could probably be lanced at this point.

Who will the Steelers choose? Will they decide to go cornerback in Round 1 for the first time since 1997? Will Pittsburgh go with one of the plethora of stud defensive linemen that seem to be the fan-favorites of this year’s draft class? Will Karl Joseph, a safety out of West Virginia who would have been a high first round pick if not for suffering an ACL tear in 2015, be the Cinderella choice for the Steelers?

  • It’s hard to say for sure, but it certainly would be a shock if the ultimate choice doesn’t play one of those aforementioned positions.

Regardless of who the Steelers pick, however, like they always are with post-draft discussions, the reactions from experts and fans will be mixed and probably range from excited to distraught, depending on the position and the player.

With the NFL Draft now an institution and something almost as anticipated as the Super Bowl by many football fans, it’s easy to get caught up in the draft hype and put a lot of stock into who is selected. But given that your average NFL prospect comes with so many unknowns, and that the history of even top 10 choices is a mixed bag of success and failure, it seems like wasted energy to get so up and down about the whole process.

Unfortunately, so many fans will let their emotions rule the day when  the name of the Steelers first round pick is finally known on the evening of April 28. If the prospect is someone like Andrew Billings, an interior defensive lineman from Baylor, it will be a time to celebrate for many. If the first round pick is Eli Apple, a cornerback out of Ohio State, some reactionary fans will label him a bust before he even speaks to his first local sports journalist.

I don’t remember anything about April 18, 1998, when the first round of the NFL Draft was taking place. I can’t recall how I felt about the Steelers using their first round pick (26th, overall) to select Alan Faneca, a guard out of LSU, but I know I wasn’t overjoyed about it.

Like my brother always says, “drafting offensive linemen is so boring.” My brother is emblematic of a lot of football fans regarding the draft; he’d rather his draft day desires be met right away than sit back and wait to see how a player will actually develop and help the football team.

After all, isn’t that the whole idea?

Who cares about post-draft grades and “winners” and “losers”? Isn’t building a team to win on Sunday afternoons the ultimate goal? Actually, that was a rhetorical question, because that really is the ultimate goal.

And guess what? No matter how happy you would be if Billings, Joseph or any of the other Steeler fan man-crushes I’ve read about in recent weeks is the top choice, it still won’t automatically mean success.

I do remember where I was on April 24, 1994, when the Steelers used their first round pick (17th, overall) to select Charles Johnson, a receiver out of Colorado. Johnson was a favorite of my uncle and a player who wasn’t expected to last until the second-half of the first-round. When he slid to Pittsburgh and was selected, not only was my uncle happy, I was pretty excited, too.

But while Johnson had a decent enough five-year run with the Steelers, where he caught 247 passes for 3,400 yards and 15 touchdowns,  he certainly didn’t live up to his pre and post-draft excitement and hype.

As for Faneca, he went on to make nine-straight Pro Bowls, was a member of the Super Bowl XL team (that block he made to spring Willie Parker for a 75-yard run sure was exciting, wasn’t it?), and became the best guard in Steelers history and one of the greatest the NFL has ever seen.

The 2016 NFL Draft isn’t about being excited in April or May, it’s about being excited in January and February.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Free Agent Analysis Ramon Foster – Keeping Him Pittsburgh Might be Hard

Taken at face value, the career prospects of an undrafted rookie free agent who signs with the defending Super Bowl Champions look pretty bleak. Yet that’s exactly where Ramon Foster found himself in April of 2009, when the Steelers signed Foster as part of their 2009 undrafted rookie free agent class, just months after victory in Super Bowl XLIII.

Yet, 7 years later, Ramon Foste can count himself is one of the Pittsburgh Steelers hottest free agent commodities.

Capsule Profile of Ramon Foster’s Career with the Steelers

Yet Foster showed enough on the fields of St. Vincents to get a shot in preseason, where he played well enough to make the final 53 man roster. Injuries to Chris Kemoeatu opened the door for Foster to crack the starting lineup, and neither Foster nor the Steelers have looked back.

Foster started 8 games in 2010, including Super Bowl XLV. He started 14 games in 2011, 16 games in 2012, 15 games in 2013, 14 games in 2014, and 16 games in 2015.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Ramon Foster

While Ramon Foster will crack the big 3-0 before opening in 2019, he’s an offensive guard with 5 straight seasons of starting experience under his belt, and no significant injuries to speak of. Not bad for an undrafted rookie free agent. Contrast that with the experience of Kendall Simmons, 2002’s first round pick whose career was essentially over thanks to injuries by the time he turned 30.

  • Ramon Foster has been a pillar of stability during a period of turmoil for the Steelers offensive line.

Ramon Foster might not be a road grading guard in the mold of David DeCastro or Alan Faneca, but his first start vs. the Ravens in 2009 marked the first game that the Steelers gave up no sacks, and his second start vs. Green Bay marked Ben Roethlisberger’s first 500 yard game. Who wouldn’t want a player like that?

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Ramon Foster

Back in the1980’s, the Washington Redskins had a middle linebacker named Neal Olkewicz. Olkewicz was one of those players who wasn’t quite big enough or fast enough, but he was good enough. Nonetheless, Joe Gibbs and Bobby Bethard continually tried to replace him, and Olkewicz continually beat back the Young Turks until retiring after a decade at age 32.

  • That little ditty highlights the difference of today’s NFL with the pre-free agency NFL.

The Redskins repeated attempts to replace Olkewicz were no-risk propositions because they neither had to worry about losing his services via free agency nor tying up salary cap money.

The Steelers are not so lucky with Ramon Foster. To that end, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell offers some interesting insights:

…when I asked two different coaches over the last two seasons whether [Kelvin} Beachum is a guy they’ll always be looking to replace, the exact answer each time was “No, but Ramon Foster is.”

The Steelers, word has it, want more mobility at left guard than Foster can give him, and will apparently consider their options.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Ramon Foster

There are no easy choices here. The Steelers leaked their ideal scenario and it is one that does not include Ramon Foster coming back. That scenario has Kelvin Beachum signing and extension and moving to guard while Alejandro Villanueva takes over at tackle with Mike Adams serving as a backup.

OK. Beachum is about to become a free agent and offensive takcles make more money than guards do.

So Beachum’s supposed to say he’ll never play guard. But those kind of statements indicate at least a willingness to test the market. If the Steelers give priority to Kelvin Beachum that means there’s no way to sign him before he becomes a free agent, and also likely means that Foster will be allowed to test the market.

  • While the Steelers salary cap situation is OK, there is still no shortage of teams with money to throw at experienced offensive lineman.

Offensive line depth is nothing to trifle with. The safe move would be to sign Beachum and allow Foster to test the market but that option is not likely open to the Steelers. Will the Steelers commit to signing Foster before he hits the market? Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin don’t make personnel decisions out of fear.

It would make another great “Steelers undrafted rookie free agent does good” story for Ramon Foster to ink and extension which give him a shot at ending his career in Pittsburgh. And that very well may happen. But the stars don’t quite seem to be lining up that way.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Former Steelers Kevin Green and Tony Dungy Elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame, Alan Faneca Must Wait

While it might not evoke cheers of “Here We Go Steelers Here We Go!” the way it did for Jerome Bettis last summer, the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2016 class has been announced and this year’s class as a Black and Gold tinge.

  • Former Steelers outside linebacker Kevin Greene was elected along side former Steelers defensive back and defensive coordinator, Tony Dungy.

Kevin Greene Shined in Black and Gold

In the spring of 1993 NFL teams literally tripped over themselves to land free agents such as Reggie White. Ticker tape parades were thrown, keys to cities were bestowed, and there was much pomp and circumstance. The Steelers took a low key approach, and one of the signings they made was that of Kevin Greene.

By the time the Steelers signed Greene, he was over 30 years old and had amassed 72.5 sacks. Yet he was little known outside of the NFC West, where he’d played for 8 years for the Los Angeles Rams. That changed in a hurry, as Bill Cowher pared him with Greg Lloyd, and together the tandem terrorized opposing quarterbacks for the next three seasons.

  • Greene played for the Steelers from 1993 to 1995, with his last game being Super Bowl XXX.

During that time Kevin Greene amassed 35.5 sacks, but the Steelers opted to let him depart via free agency, thinking his best days were behind him. That conclusion was very, very wrong, as Greene would go on to play for 4 more years and register another 52 sacks in the process.

As it was, Greg Lloyd’s next two season would be shortened by injury, the Steelers would lose Chad Brown in another year, Jason Gildon would show he was good but not great, and Carlos Emmons provided average play until the Steelers could draft and develop Joey Porter.

Dungy’s Roots Trace Back to Pittsburgh

The Steelers drafted Tony Dungy in 1977, and he played as a back up defensive back. His most notable feats were subbing as emergency quarterback as a rookie in 1977 when Terry Bradshaw and Mike Kruczek both got hurt. Dungy’s performance was a disaster, but he did complete passes to both Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Dungy also become one of the few modern era players to both record and throw and interception in the same game.

[Editors note, the orginal version of this article had an error, which has been redacted and corrected below.]

  • Tony Dungy’s biggest play for the Steelers came in Super Bowl XIII, when he forced a fumble after the Dallas Cowboy’s final on-sides kick which Rocky Bleier recovered.
  • Tony Dungy’s biggest play for the Steelers came in Super Bowl XIII, when he forced Randy White fumble which Dennis Winston recovered. One play later, Bradshaw hooked up with Swann in the end zone

Despite that, the Steelers traded Dungy after the 1978 season, and he played another year in San Francisco.

tony dungy, steeles, defensive coordinator, african american, chuck noll

George Gojkovich, Getty Images – In 1984 Chuck Noll made Tony Dungy the NFL’s youngest defensive coordinator

Dungy spent 1980 coaching defensive backs for the University of Minnesota, but a year later Noll brought him back to Pittsburgh, first as a defensive assistant, then as a defensive backs coach. In 1984, Noll promoted Tony Dungy to defensive coordinator at age 29, making him one of the first, if not the first, African American defensive coordinators.

Dungy’s first two years as defensive coordinator were so successful that he was touted as possibly being the NFL’s first African American head coach. The Steelers defense declined in 1986 and 1987, as the full impact of the Steelers mediocre drafting of the early and mid 1980’s was felt. Nonetheless, in 1987 the Steelers defensive touchodowns, and were 5th in take aways.

  • The Steelers defense fell on hard times in 1988, finishing dead last.

Indeed, the 1988 Steelers finished 5-11, but saw 4th quarter leads evaporate in at least 3 games. Dan Rooney decided to order changes, and in the ensuring scuffle, Tony Dungy opted to resign rather than accept demotion.

  • In an ironic twist of fate, Chuck Noll replaced Dungy with Kanas City’s Rod Rust, while Dungy took a position under new Kansas City defensive coordinator Bill Cowher’s staff….

Dungy of course, never did succeed Chuck Noll as many once expected him to, but he did go on to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he hired and mentored Mike Tomlin has his defensive backs coach.

Tony Dungy rightly wins Hall of Fame induction for his work as Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and for becoming the first African American to win a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, but he made important contributions while a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers and, in many ways, his influence lives on in the organization.

Faneca Must Wait

The Hall of Fame candidate with the strongest ties to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization will have to wait another year. Former Steelers, Jets and Cardinals guard Alan Faneca was a candidate for induction into the Hall of Fame, but did not receive the necessary votes.

  • This was Faneca’s first year of eligibility, and it is not unusual for offensive lineman, who lack statistics and other high-profile measures of success, to wait several years to get induction.

Joining Greene on the Hall of Fame dias are Brett Favre, Marvin Harrison, Orlando Pace, Ken Stabler, Dick Stanfel and former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartlo Jr.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!