Mike Wallace Wins Steelers Rookie of the Year – How Will the Rest of His Career Go?

The Pittsburgh Steelers announced today that rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace has won the 26th Annual Joe Greene Great Performance Rookie of the year award.

The announcement of the award came as little surprise to Steelers Nation, who have come to know Wallace well during the Steelers 2009 season. Wallace has played 14 games, and recorded 37 catches including 5 touchdowns.

Those are impressive numbers for any rookie, but much more so when you consider that he is the third receiver on a team that includes Super Bowl MVP’s Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, and an All Pro Caliber tight end in Health Miller.

His game winning catch against Green Bay was a play worthy of an All Pro.

No One is Saying Mike Who ?

This stands in stark contrast to last year’s announcement. Steelers Nation greeted news that free agent linebacker Patrick Bailey was the Steelers 2008 rookie of the year with “who?” or with more general laments over the failure of any of the Steelers 2008 draft picks to generate something on the field.

Steelers Rookie of the Year Winners Have Checkered Histories

Wallace, a third round pick in the Steelers 2009 draft looks like a steal and looks to have a right future ahead of him. Or so it would appear.

For reasons obscure and unclear, the future has not always been kind to Steelers rookie of the year award winners. As you can see below, past winners of the award have either gone on to be:

One Year Wonders
Productive, but Still Disappointing
Decent, but Not Spectacular and/or Over Taken by Other Rookies
They Budded into Super Stars

Simply click on the link above to learn more about the members of each category.

One Year Wonders
1986, LB Anthony Henton – Who? Exactly my response. Had to look him up. Played to years, started 4 games but did nothing of note. This ninth round pick was clearly out classed by fellow rookie and 2nd round pick Gerald Williams.
1987, CB Delton Hall – A second round pick who started gang busters but then went downhill after that. Also had a penchant for starting fights, never started more than four games after his rookie year.
1994, RB Bam Morris – The man who made Barry Foster expendable. Did have a decent sophomore season, but got busted for drugs shorly after Super Bowl XXX.
1999, WR Troy Edwards – Grabbed 61 balls as a rookie, but never developed after that, perhaps in part to his “I can’t race air” attitude to training.
2001, LB Kendrell Bell – Simply wreaked havoc as a rookie. Injuries marred his second season and after that the word was that he did not want to learn coverages or schemes
2008, LB Patrick Bailey? – Perhaps this is a little harsh, but he was supposed to be a special teams demon… then again, the 2009 Steelers special teams have played like hell…

Productive, but Still Disappointing
1990, TE Eric Green – Green’s numbers were pretty good, by any standard. But my God, this man was supposed to redefine the tight end position, instead his final year was marked by his tendency for running out of bounds.
1991, TE Adrian Cooper – Played well as a rookie when Green was injured and then again 1992 during Eric Green first drug suspension. Justification that a sub par year in 1993 was due to being under paid got him on the first bus out of town.
1995, QB Kordell Stewart – A tremendous athlete, but as a quarterback he simply could not cope with the pressures of being a starter
1997, CB Chad Scott – Started as a rookie, then missed his entire second year due to injury. Many felt he should have played safety. He was never popular with the fans.

Decent, but Not Spectacular and/or Over Taken by Other Rookies
1985, P Harry Newsome – Not a bad punter, but sadly Newsome was the best player the Steelers selected in the 1985 draft
1988, RB Warren Williams – A solid, dependable number two back, who definitely belong in the rotation back in the days when both the half back and the full back got carries. Still, he was eclipsed by both Dermonti Dawson and John Jackson
1992, FS Darren Perry – His development in training camp led the Steelers to cut Pro-Bowl caliber safety Thomas Everett. Had a good career, but Leon Searcy, Joel Steed, and Levon Kirkland all grew into more prominent roles with the team
1996, FB Jon Witman – A solid full back whose running capabilities never were truly explored. Linebackers Earl Holmes and Carlos Emmons ended up being the most prominent members of the Steelers 1996 draft class
2002, OG Kendall Simmons – Stepped right up and started as a rookie, but multiple injuries and diabetes really limited his ability to reach his potential. Again, Antwan Randal El, Chris Hope, Larry Foote, and Brett Keisel at least equaled if not surpassed his contribution as a member of the Steelers 2002 draft class.
2007, P Daniel Sepulveda – We still don’t know much about Sepulveda, but Larwence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley are clearly now more important to the team than he is.

They Budded into Super Stars

1984, WR Louis Lipps — He gave John Stallworth a second wind. Perhaps he wasn’t a “Great” receiver, coming of age during the days of Jerry Rice, but still a very, very good player.
1989, SS Carnell Lake — One of the true gems from the Steelers 1989 draft class. Saved not one but two seasons by moving from safety to corner. An all around great player and class-act
1993, LB Chad Brown — When Jerry Olsavsky got hurt against Cleveland, heads turned when Reggie Barnes went in instead of Brown. But Brown started quickly thereafter, and distinguished himself on a group of linebackers that included Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, and Levon Kirkland.
1998, OG Alan Faneca – And all around anchor to the Steelers offensive line for a decade.
2000, FB Dan Kreider – Sure, he never went to a Pro Bowl or was selected to an All-Start team, but he was the best blocking fullback in his days, giving Pittsburgh the equivalent of a 6th offensive lineman on the field.
2003, S Troy Polamalu – We’ve all seen the hell the Steelers defense has gone through in his absence.
2004, QB Ben Roethlisberger – Doesn’t always get the recognition he deserves, but anyone who doubts his greatness need only click here and scroll down a bit to see proof of his greatness.
2005, TE Heath Miller – He’s always been a great blocking and catching tight end, and how he has the numbers to back it up. Heath is quiet, but he gets the job done.
2006, WR Santonio Holmes – He still has yet to be consistent enough to be considered a dominating wide out, but his skills are superb and he is dependable.

It says here that the odds favor Mike Wallace carving a place for himself in the latter group. However, we would have said the same about Kendrell Bell with even more certainty….

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Watch Tower: John Harris’ Renewed Criticism of Tomlin’s Quitting is Way Off the Mark

The site dictionary.com defines “to beat a dead horse” this way: beat or flog a dead horse, to persist in pursuing or trying to revive interest in a project or subject that has lost its usefulness or relevance.

It is a term most of us are familiar with. However, it seems like the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s John Harris would do well do to reacquaint himself with the concept.

Or perhaps the idea of beating a dead horse is entirely new to Harris, as the lead in to his article covering the Steelers victory over the Ravens suggests:

See, Mike Tomlin. This is why you don’t hang your football team out to dry with four games left in the season.

Steelers 23, Baltimore 20.

You don’t throw dirt on your players, no matter how angry you may be at the time, because they’re the defending Super Bowl champions.

They might not be what you want them to be, but they’re not as bad as you wanted us to believe following the 27-24 loss to Oakland on Dec. 6.

Regular readers of this site will remember that the Watch Tower took Harris to task following the Oakland game. At the time, Harris came down on Mike Tomlin, and came down hard for his admission that he was “just trying to win a game.”

To Harris, that was tantamount to quitting on his players.

We needn’t rehash all arguments as to why Harris is wrong here (click here to read the original post).

We will, however point out that Harris’ harshness is not shared by other members of the Pittsburgh media, as evidenced by Ed Bouchette’s comment in a recent on-line chat.

We’ll also point out that Harris completely fails to support his argument. He simply makes a sweeping condemnation, and then does nothing to back it up while ignoring three glaring facts that contradict his conclusion, namely:

  • The Steelers, however flawed their play might have been, have shown plenty of fight since the Cleveland debacle
  • In the course of two articles, Harris has failed to produce a single quote supporting his thesis that Mike Tomlin hung his players out to dry
  • Harris has likewise also failed to produce an “off the record” or anonymous source for the Steelers locker room or front office that supports his contention

Devoid of such support, Harris argument is mere personal opinion, little more than rantings during a post-game wind down that one might expect in dark corners of a Steelers bar.

Far short of what you’d expect from the sports editor of a major daily.

It was one thing for Harris to vent like this after the Oakland game, it is another for him to revisit the argument while the Steelers are on a two game winning streak.

No Ill Will Toward Harris, But….

Steel Curtain Rising bears no ill will to John Harris. He is a generally a good journalist who works hard and makes some great points. Just a few weeks ago, the Watch Tower commended Harris for being right on the Steelers decision to cut Anthony Madison.

But his current vendetta against Tomlin for the coach’s “I am just trying to win a game” comment is hard to fathom. Perhaps Harris just knows that negativity drives page views. Perhaps he simply does not like Tomlin on a personal level.

The Steelers, both players and coaches, have given Steelers Nation a lot of issues to dissect when it comes to understanding the disappointments of the 2009 season.

Mike Tomlin quitting on his players, however, is not a legitimate issue. And John Harris should know that.

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Joey Galloway, Jared Retkofsky Join Steelers

The Steelers today took steps to shore up their ailing receiving corps. as Joey Galloway joined the active roster. This move came one day after Limas Sweed was ruled out for the rest of the year for “personal reasons.”

It was also announced that Hines Ward’s hamstring is still bothering him and rookie Mike Wallace bruised a knee during Sunday’s victory over Green Bay.

The Steelers had attempted to sign Galloway during the off season, but he opted to play for New England instead, where he caught 7 passes before being released in October.

Jared Retkofsky also returned to the roster from the practice squad to the 53 man roster, to replace long snapper Gerald Warren.

Retkofsky served as the team’s long snapper in 2008 following the injury of Warren against the Colts all the way through to Super Bowl XLIII.

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Greg Warren, Limas Sweed, Out For the Year

Yahoo! Sports is reporting that both Greg Warren and Limas Sweed are out for the year. Warren injured his ACL on the final play of the Steelers 37-36 victory over the Packers.

Limas Sweed has been sick with the flu. It was believed that it was just regular flu, which makes the team’s decision to place him on the non-football injury reserve list interesting.

Regardless, Sweed has had a disappointing sophomore year, consisting of little more than dropped passes at key moments. While the team must still hope to get something out of their 2008 number two pick, he was unlikely to help them much this year.

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Steelers Gut Out 37-36 Win Over Packers

During six of the Steelers seven loses during the 2009 season, Steelers Nation watched in agony as the men in Black and Gold let fourth quarter lead after fourth quarter lead slip away in spite of themselves.

  • Today against the Green Bay Packers the Pittsburgh Steelers reversed the course of events finding a way to a last minute victory in spite of some, perhaps, questionable coaching.

The Steelers and Packers are the NFL’s two most storied franchises, and so it is fitting that the two teams would play one for the ages on the first occasion that Pittsburgh-native Mike McCarthy brought the Packers to Heinz Field.

Please, spare me any analysis of how this game affects any playoff results, not because the Steelers still have a long, long way to go before that can become relevant, but rather because this game revealed something far more important.


The phrase “The Steelers and the Packers played one for the ages” conjures images of hard hitting, smash mouth football, of tyrannical coaches like Vince Lombardi, of mean and nasty players like Ray Nietzsche and Jack Lambert.

These images only intensify when you factor in that the Packers entered the game with the number two defense, and the Steelers entered the game with the number four defense.

  • Instead, the two teams put on an air exhibition worthy of the legacies of Don Coryell and Joe Gibbs.

The word from the pundits all season long has been that today’s NFL is all about offense and passing and that defense and running have gone by the wayside.

Purists like yours truly has hopped that something would come along and disprove this thesis. Ironically, on Sunday Post Gazette ran a feature highlighting the success of the defense that Dom Capers, Dick LeBeau, and Marv Lewis installed in Pittsburgh back in 1992; the same defense Green Bay fielded.

  • If any two teams could show that this 2009 obsession with passing was just a fad, it would be Green Bay and Pittsburgh. Alas, their play gave the pundits ample ammunition.

Be that as it may, things change quickly in the NFL, and what is in vogue one year can be old hat the next, and so it may be with the demise of defense and rushing.

But one thing that cannot be disputed is that:

  • the Steelers defense, without Troy Polamlu at least, has no hope of defending the pass.

Was Mike Tomlin Crazy, or Calculating?

Which brings us to Mike Tomlin.

Steel Curtain Rising had prepared to condemn Mike Tomlin with moral indignation for on-sides kick, irrespective of the final out come.

Tomlin seemed to ignore the very lesson that the Packers most recent trip to Pittsburgh so clearly demonstrated: Trick plays can give an effective team an edge, but can be equally fatal for a struggling unit (click here for a full recount of the lesson Ray Sherman’s offense left us.)

It seemed like raw emotion, rather than reason, had gotten the better of Tomlin, and that the team was going to lose another one in the fourth not because of poor plays, but because of poor coaching decisions.

But then I read Tomlin’s explanation.

I’ll be very bluntly honest with you, based on the way the game was going in the second half, first of all I thought with the element of surprise we had a chance to get it, but if we didn’t get it and they were to score, then we would have necessary time on the clock to score or match their score.

Plan A didn’t work, we got the ball but we were illegal, that was the correct call, but it kind of unfolded the way you envisioned it. We had 30 minutes of evidence that we could drive the ball on them, we also conversely had 30 minutes of evidence to show they could also drive the ball on us. That’s why we took the risk when we did. [Emphasis added]

There you have it folks. In so many words, Mike Tomlin knew his defense had no chance of stopping the Packer’s passing offense – the Packers made little or no pretense of running the ball in the second half.

So his logic was cold and calculating. Either get the ball back and hope to add to the lead, or give them a short field to work with so that they can score quickly.

It is not pleasing to think that the defense has fallen so far that coaches need to take those game gambles, but they did, and it worked. Barley. But as Tomlin says, “they don’t add style points.”

Why They Call Him BIG Ben

Tomlin’s gamble worked because his players pulled it off. Losing is never pleasant, but during the Steelers five-game streak it was difficult to gauge whether each loss was more ignominious or more demoralizing. Bob Labriola, the editor of Steelers Digest, himself all but said the Steelers had quit against the Browns.

Credit Mike Tomlin for rallying his players. There was fight in this Steelers team, even among the units that failed to acquit themselves well (namely the entire defense, the coverage teams, and the offensive line.)

As Tomlin stated during his pre-game press conference, if you fail to play dominating football, then you’ve got to make plays.

  • And Mike Tomlin’s players made plays, starting with Ben Roethlisberger.

Less than ten days ago authorities of no less stature than Bob Smizik and Jim Wexell were calling out Ben, claiming that generous love handles he had put on were impeding his both mobility and ability to improvise.

Well, Ben showed he can still improvise, and then some.

Games like this make you want to track down ESPN’s Thomas Neumann and Scott Symmes who wrote prior to the 2007 season, explaining why Ben would never make it to the Hall of Fame:

Roethlisberger proved to be an effective game manager in his first two pro seasons, and he has a Super Bowl ring to show for it…. Now the Steelers are losing personnel from their championship team, and nothing to this point suggests that Roethlisberger can carry an undermanned team on his shoulders…. [Emphasis added.]

Oh really?

On a day when Ben got no help from his offensive line, no help from the defense, and had little running game to lean on, he put up 503 yards passing – without throwing an interception, putting him in the exclusive company of Warren Moon and Y.A. Tittle.

Ben did more than carry his team. He had the commanding presence of a general on the battlefield. He adjusted protections, called audibles, and chewed out teammates, goading them to fight on.

As Santonio Holmes put it, “Only one guy was talking in huddle, and that was Ben. No other voice was spoken. No one had an opportunity to talk. We were dead tired.”

  • Ben must have been tired too, but he did not let them stand in his way.

As Roethlisberger himself declared, “We didn’t quit, everybody believed that we could do it…. That is kind of a Pittsburgh mentality, we don’t quit no matter what.”


At 7-7 this Steelers team has some issues to resolve, but fortunately, attitude is not one of them.

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Kemoatu Out, Polamalu Out, Redman Rejoins Practice Squad

It appears that the rumors that Troy Polamalu might be out for the year could be correct. In speaking with reporters earlier this week, he confirmed that his target return date is the Steelers final game against Miami, although he said he hoped he might be back soon.

Either way, Polamalu will not play this week against Green Bay.

Last week conflicting press reports either had Poalmalu on the verge of returning or perhaps out for the year.

The Steelers beleaguered offensive line got more bad news this week, as Mike Tomlin also ruled Chris Kemoatu out for the Green Bay game. Ramon Foster will start in his place.

But, in perhaps might be a piece of good news, Post-Gazette correspondent Ed Bouchette informed during his weekly chat that Isaac “Red Zone” Redman returned to the Steelers practice squad. Redman had been cut prior to the Raiders game to make room for Justin Vincent.

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Watch Tower: Calling Tomlin Out, …For the Wrong Reason

Last Friday the Tribune Review’s John Harris called out Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

As well he should. Mike Tomlin deserves to be called out for a number of reasons.

Harris, however, honed in on the wrong one.

Let’s take a look at Harris’ argument:

Win or lose, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin should have attended Thursday night’s news conference with his mouth taped shut.

After seemingly giving up on the season following Sunday’s loss to Oakland when he flippantly cast aside his team’s fading playoff chances, Tomlin promised lineup changes entering last night’s game against the Cleveland Browns. [Emphasis added.]

OK. Harris is absolutely on the mark in berating Tomlin for promising to make sweeping lineup changes, and then failing to deliver. Steel Curtain Rising will go into depth about that in a later post.

But that’s not where Harris directs most of his fire. Later on he asserts:

No coach should ever publicly give up on his team when there’s still a mathematical chance of reaching the playoffs, no matter how slight. It was
Tomlin’s responsibility to keep his players going, even when the well appeared dry. [Emphasis added.]

Harris is right. Tomlin’s job is to keep the players going, and Tomlin has failed thus far. But did Tomlin give up? Not content to leave it there, Harris attempts to draw a contrast between Tomlin’s response to a losing streak and that of his predecessor:

To say that Tomlin jumped the gun in writing off the season is stating the case mildly.

What if former coach Bill Cowher had taken that approach when the Steelers were 7-5 and struggling late during the 2005 season? No way the Steelers would have won Super Bowl XL, much less qualified for the postseason. [Emphasis added.]

There is not question that Tomlin’s attempts to motivate the team are having the opposite effect. The Steelers performance against the Browns represented one of the worst performances in team history.

Tomlin richly deserves criticism for that.

What is at issue here is Harris’ interpretation of Tomlin’s statement, following the Oakland debacle, that he is “just trying to win a game.”

That was Tomlin’s answer in response to a question about how the loss to Oakland affected his team’s playoff prospects.

“I’m Just Trying to Win A Game.”

Considering the circumstances, Tomlin’s response was appropriate. He wasn’t writing off the rest of the season. He was simply making clear to everyone that dreams of the grandeur and glory that the playoffs bring were not appropriate for a team coming off of a four game losing streak.

Harris’ argument would have some teeth, if say, he’d gotten a player, even an inactive list dweller like Tony Hills or Sunny Harris, to say “yeah, to hear coach throw in the towel like that, that was de-motivating.” Barring that, he could have cited off the record, unnamed sources.

But he didn’t, thereby transforming his argument into a piece of conjecture.

2009 Is Not 2005

Harris’ analogy to the Steelers situation in 2005 is also inappropriate. Yes, the Steelers were reeling from a three game losing streak. But those losses came to Baltimore, whom the Steelers played without Roethlisberger, an undefeated Colts team, and the eventual division champion Cincinnati Bengals.

When the Steelers losing streak stood at four, two of those losses came to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders. NFL bottom feeders if there ever were ones.

Steelers Nation is angry and wants answers, and Harris is trying to provide them.

The Steelers 2009 season is spiraling down in a nosedive with no end in sight. Tomlin is losing, or has already lost his players, as Pittsburgh’s pathetic performance Thursday night so starkly demonstrated.

Mike Tomlin stands squarely in the bulls eye. In losing 5 in a row (and counting) he’s opened all of his decisions and all of the choices he has made since the morning after Super Bowl XLIII to question.

But to say that Tomlin, by simply declaring that he “was just trying to win a game” had quit on his players or written off the rest of the season, is one piece of criticism that is unjust.

For more criticism of those who cover the Steelers, click here and scroll down to read more from Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

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Watch Tower: Press Sifts Through the Rubble of the Steelers 2009 Season

The Steelers may have three games remaining, but that is not stopping anyone from sifting through the rubble of the season.

Ed Bouchette not only declared the season dead, but also declared his era of Steelers football to be dead.

Get Out Your Geritol

It is a grim conclusion, and one that tempts the reader to say, “isn’t he going too far.” Yet, Bouchette marshals good, if somewhat exaggerated, evidence to support his cause.

Here are the ages next year of some starting defenders: Casey Hampton, 33; Brett Keisel, 32; Aaron Smith, 34; James Farrior, 35; James Harrison, 32; Ike Taylor, 30; Ryan Clark, 31. And the ages of their top replacements: Tyrone Carter, 34; Deshea Townsend, 35; Travis Kirschke, 36; Chris Hoke, 34; Nick Eason, 30.

That is ancient in football terms.

While generally accurate, the Steelers do have an age problem on defense, the portrait of a gerontocracy in the making on the Steelers line is a little exaggerated. Casey Hampton, Ryan Clark, and Deshea Townsend are all free agents who will probably find other homes next season.

Bouchette is likewise on to something in highlighting that Steelers lack of quality depth on defense. But he is too quick to dismiss Joe Burnett and Kennan Lewis, and he ignores other up and coming promising up and comers such as Keyron Fox, Patrick Bailey and Sunny Harris who show varying degrees of promise.

But Steel Curtain Rising does not wish to quibble too much with Bouchette’s description of the task that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin now face.

His assessment of the offensive line is excellent. At mid-season, when commentators were praising this group as one of the better units in the league, the decision to invest in the current personnel looked like a stroke of genius. After the 8 sack fiasco in Cleveland, it now looks like the Steelers braintrust have married themselves to mediocrity.

Quantifying the Quit Watch

Over at the Tribune-Review, Joe Starkey’s focus was more immediate, asking whether the Steelers will fight to the end or simply choose to mail it in. Starkey quotes Jerome Bettis, who criticizes the players for quitting Thursday night, and insists that attiude starts at the top.

No qualms with that. But Starkey, like Bouchette, exaggerates to make his point:

Bettis fondly remembered the 2000 season, when the Steelers started 5-6. The playoffs were gone, but, unlike the previous two seasons, the Steelers finished with some fight, winning four of five. One game was especially memorable – a come-from-behind, 21-20 victory over a very good Oakland Raiders team.

The Steelers battled like crazy that day. Quarterback Kordell Stewart won over the locker room by playing through an injury. That would lead to his MVP-caliber campaign of 2001, when the Steelers finished 13-3.

That’s what can happen during a stretch of so-called meaningless games.

I remember that game, and that season fondly. The Steeles did fight like cornered animals. It was one of Cowher’s most impressive coaching jobs, as the team started 0-3, but never, ever quit.

Remembering The Good Old Days

But Starkey misses a key point. The Steelers indeed started 5-6, but they were not eliminated from the playoffs at that point, in fact, their playoff hopes were alive right up until the final weekend.

In fact, had the Minnesota Vikings knocked off the Indianapolis Colts – something they looked poised to do until Bubby Brister came in for an injured Dante Culpepper, the Steelers would have made the playoffs.

  • The point being that the Steelers last five games of the 2000 season, including the Oakland game — which was one for the ages — were very far from meaningless.

Starkey also recounts the 2003 and 2006 season, seasons where Steelers fought to the bitter end despite no having playoff hopes.

Excellent examples which speak directly to Bill Cowher’s prowess as head coach. But Starkey also ignores the meltdowns of 1998 and 1999, two seasons where the Steelers rank and file did quit and quit badly, while the playoffs remained a possibility.

None of this is to meant to defend Tomlin.

All of the evidence indicates that Mike Tomlin has lost this group of players and the possibility of an 6-10 eight game losing streak is just real, but likely.

But in framing the present Starkey seems to want to embellish the past, if just a little. The Good Old days were indeed good, but not quite as good as Starkey would perhaps have us remember.

To read more criticism the Steelers’ press coverage, click here and scroll down for more from Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

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Understanding the Steelers Downward Spiral

A number of non-Steelers fans have emailed asking “How could the defending Super Bowl Champions fall from 6-2 to 6-7, losing to the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns?”

It is a hard nut to crack, no doubt.

But in sports the concept of “learning how to win” is quite important. To find an example, look no further than the 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that faced tremendous adversity.

Given numerous opportunities to quit, the team fought on, bounced one of its division rivals from the playoffs, and came a dropped pass and a muffed QB-center exchange from going to the AFC Championship.

The naked truth is that the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers are learning how to lose games.

From my vantage point, the Steelers have lacked an edge all year. I’ve been waiting for them to “snap out of it” and they seemed to do that against Minnesota, and then in the second half against Denver.

But the 6-2 record after the win at Denver offered a false hope.

Instead of finding an edge, they quickly found a way to fall of the edge. And the best way to explain why is through analogy, and one that we’ve all been through before.

Imagine this:

  • You woke up late.

Then because you were rushing, you dropped your coffee mug and cleaning it up delayed you even more.

  • Then, because of that, they got out of the house even later, but you win such a rush that you forgot something vital you needed for work.

So, in the process of cursing yourself for forgetting, you miss a key turn because you couldn’t change lanes on time.

  • When you finally pull in the drive way, you’re in such a hurry that you lock your keys inside the car — with the motor running.

Then you realize your cellphone is inside the car. So you had to look for someone who would let you make a call.

  • Then when you finally do, you discover that you’d inadvertently let your AAA membership lapse….

It may be overly simplistic, but I think it sums up where the Steelers are. If you go back to the analogy above, at each phase it is the coaches job to step in and make sure a team does not compound on its error.

But the Steelers have done that. The run defense falters in Baltimore. Tackling gets sloppy. Normally sure handed players muff punts.

They’re in a spiral. Tomlin has not been able to break them out of it.

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Steelers Fall to Browns 13-6, Nose Dive Continues – With No End in Sight

It is official. The defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 season is now over.

Perhaps there are some mathematical calculations that have them qualifying for the playoffs, but this team is as done as a team can be. Losing 13-6 to the Browns puts an exclamation point on a awful, ugly season.

The game was not shown here in Buenos Aires, and even the local bar which carries US sports was not showing it.

I had to settle for a live stream from SkyNetwork in the UK on the internet, with passable quality. Still, there were lots of stops and starts, which was fitting, as the Steelers were bumbling around looking nothing remotely like the team that drove 90 yards in less than two minutes to win Super Bowl XLIII.

Sky showed a stat of cases where teams more than 10 games below .500 had defeated a Super Bowl Champion.

One of those was Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas Cowboys upset of the Redskins on Monday Night Back in 1988. Growing up in the DC area, I remember that game well, and it seemed a fitting metaphor. The Redskins looked every bit lost and hapless that night in giving Jimmy Johnson his first NFL win, as the Steelers looked in dropping their first loss to the Browns since 2003.

The Steelers lost the battle of scrimmage on offense, and their ability to protect Ben was laughable, although Ben’s decision making left a lot to be desired, as did the play calling.

As for the defense? Well, it almost looks as if Joshua Cribbs beat them all by himself. And of course the night would have have been complete without some special teams screw ups, which the Steelers special teams were only too happy to provide.

Quit Watch is On

Now the watch is on to see if the players quit on Mike Tomlin, and if so how badly and what does he do about it.

His promise/threat to bench starters appears to have been empty, which is not a good sign. The Steelers quite simply have forgotten how to win games, and this tendency has snowballed.

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

It is a very open question as to whether his men respond.


The record reflects that Bill Walsh followed up his first Super Bowl victory with a 3-6 effort in the strike-shortened 1982 season.

He came back for two more Lombardi Trophies.

Parcells followed his 1986 Super Bowl with a 6-9 effort in the 1987 season, and he got another ring.

Tomlin is often erroneously put on the Bill Walsh coaching tree, (where he has NO place, click here to read why) but he is much more of a cerebral coach in the mold of Walsh, Noll, and Gibbs.

Hopefully the can learn from this. Perhaps he can follow suit.

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

Steel Curtain will be along for the ride, until the bitter end.

And for those Steelers fans longing for something good, please come back to check out our series on the Steelers 1989 season – the next installment will be up in a day or so. (Believe it or not, the Steelers loss to Cleveland coincided with the 20 year anniversary of their shut out of the Jets.)

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