As the Steeler World Turns: The End of the Killer Bs
I believe the game is designed to reward the ones who hit the hardest – if you can’t take it, you shouldn’t play! ~ Jack Lambert
Well Steeler Nation, we almost had it but it got away from us. What you ask? The only thing that matters, our next Lombardi Trophy. I say we, no we the fans don’t suit up, don’t hit, surely don’t get paid, but the reason we’re the best fan-base in any American professional sport is because we live this damn team. So yeah, it may not be earned, but it’s we.
We seemingly had it all in our pursuit of the Superbowl. We have a gun slinging franchise quarterback who has thrown for over 5,000 yards in a season. We had a running back who arguably changed the way running backs play the game. He of the patient pause and explosion, pretty routes and good hands. Le’Veon Bell was a Swiss army knife of an offensive weapon, part runner, part receiver. Then on the outside we had a receiver who may currently be the best in the game. A guy who might be the hardest working player in the NFL, great routes, great hands, able to separate or take a shallow crossing route to the house. On top of it all, a near psychic connection at times it seemed with Ben.
It didn’t stop there, we had an offensive line with three pro-bowlers and two guys who worked their way to the top. Possibly the best offensive line in football, coached by the absolutely best line coach in football. Munchak not only has a yellow jacket, but knows how to teach what got him to Canton. At the end of the line, a tight end in Vance McDonald, who when healthy, has the ability to make ESPN top 10 lists with a stiff arm. Add to that a youngster receiver in Juju who might be nearly as good as AB and is on the rise. And to top it off, a kicker who looked like he was damn near money on every kick, in every situation.
With all of this, in a league that has absolutely committed itself to offensive success, I mean you can barely touch an offensive player these days and if you hit a quarterback you take your wallet into your own hands. All we had to do was score points and we looked like we could score at will. In this situation all we needed was a passable defense and we should have gone 12-4. And we had far more than a passable defense. A solid defensive line, with two first round OLBs, one who is a budding star in TJ Watt. Solid if not remarkable ILBs, a couple of young gun safeties. On one side a first round pick who seemed on the rise and on the other, an aging star in Joe Haden. Hell on both sides of the ball we even had depth.
But then it started, the soap opera that would steal our chance and sink our season. I won’t lay the blame on any one thing, but I’m going to name all the places the drama came from. There certainly is a lot of ego flying around on a talented team, the killer b’s are all superstars and have egos to match and egos need to be fed. Life in the NFL is a tough gig, with a few years to maximize your earnings, add in a little greed and the money thing can get in the way. Giving talent a little extra rope, which Tomlin and certainly the Rooney’s did, and you might just hang your team.
First of course it was Bell, and enough has been written about this saga. For me the saddest thing, next to him not being on the field, was the bullshit games he played. Had he straight up told the team he wasn’t going to play this season, the drama might not have been so bad. Next Artie Burns seemingly, and suddenly, forgot how to play corner. He hadn’t been great, but he’d been good and improving and then just went to shit.
Then, we tie Cleveland, honestly I think this was the beginning of the end. I think that game put doubt in every player and every coach’s mind about the impact of Bell and the risk to the rest of the season. Then the winning streak, it was great and when we used Conner, he was a monster. The balanced offensive attack we had lived up to its billing. With Conner running well, Juju turning into a star and a healthy Vance MacDonald running people over like a semi, it seemed for a few weeks like this was our year, even without Bell. Hell even Cody Sensenbaugh looked like a starting NFL corner.
Then, it just fell apart, we seemingly forgot to run the ball, our kicker became confused and apparently started aiming outside the goal posts, the play calling stunk. And the simple fact was, even a more than passable defense was not quite good enough to hold the line. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the coaching staff designs an amazing game plan against the Patriots, it was awesome. And all I kept thinking that entire game was where the hell have these coaches been the last four weeks. It was almost like we’d given up on every game for a month before the Patriots just to make sure we got it right against them. Then AB melted down, he believes he was disrespected and I’m guessing from the level of outburst he’s had those feelings for a while.
In the end, one more lousy win, or one less tie, and there were so many games that were a play a way, or a lack of an officiating error away that we could have won, could have hit the playoffs in stride. Could have been an underdog nightmare for anyone to face. But we didn’t, instead our team turned into a bad episode of the Kardashians and now it seems the killer b’s will be no more.
I don’t want to leave this piece on a downer. All football fans are eternal optimists but I think there is a reason to have some optimism. We know Mike Munchak is gone, but his replacement is solid and it’s a good line, whether or not we resign Ramon Foster and indications are the Steelers hope to do that. Ben’s contract is being negotiated to have him in place likely for three more seasons. Bell is gone, the Steelers announced today there will be no tag, he’s free to shop himself elsewhere. The organization has also said that they will work to trade AB, but won’t take a discount just to get him out-of-town. So in all likelihood, drama or not, his talent will yield a good enough trade. I saw an ESPN piece today that suggest a trade with San Francisco that would look something like this, the 49ers, second round (2019) and fifth round (2020) for AB and Pittsburgh’s sixth round (2020). Given the Niners are picking second that’s close to being a late first round pick. I think that or a straight up AB for one of the Raiders pick in the 20’s is most likely. We have Conner and Jaylen Samuels back and they should be a good tandem. I know it’s not a popular opinion but I like Washington and think he’ll make a second year leap. We will need Vance MacDonald to be more relevant, consistent and healthy this next season.
Add to that some help in the draft, hopefully talent at ILB, OLB and/or corner in the first two rounds and a receiver in the third or fourth. Finally, and I’ll write more about this soon, some veteran help. We need depth on the D-line and there are some good players on the backend of their career who will be free agents. Getting our in-house free agents in line would be awesome as well. I’d love to see LJ Fort, Chickilo, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble and Ramon back. And I think this year with the amount of cap money we have, with some more space without AB and a re-worked Big Ben contract we should do something we don’t do and that’s make a splash in free agency. I have two free agents in mind, one at corner and one receiver, but I’ll save the names for my next post.