The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Is the 2018 season the biggest letdown of the Mike Tomlin era?
The Steelers were 13-3 last season. This year, they finished with a record of just 9-6-1 and failed to reach the postseason. Who knows, perhaps, what might have been different had just one thing somewhere along the line changed—even at the end of the Cleveland Browns game against the Baltimore Ravens. What if they try a field goal on that last play instead of running an offensive play, and make it?
We’ll never know, because so many things that could have and should have gone their way went in the exact opposite direction—often enough because of their own action or inaction. By and large, the Steelers certainly earned their record this year, especially at the beginning and the end of the year.
9-6-1 is not the worst record the Steelers have posted under Tomlin, as they have gone 8-8 twice, but does this feel like even more of a letdown? Unlike previous down years, there weren’t really any major injuries that you could directly point to for a downturn.
Like in 2012, for example. The Steelers got off to a 6-3 start that year before finishing 2-5. The line of demarcation? A Ben Roethlisberger injury. In 2009, a 6-2 team took a five-game plunge and finished 9-7 in a decline that coincided with major injuries to Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith on defense.
The closest thing to a major in-season injury the Steelers had this year was to James Conner, and I would be hardpressed to say that they lost either of the two games Conner missed that they failed to win due to his absence.
Whether it was offense, defense, or special teams, this was a team that one time too frequently failed to step up in that final clutch moment that turns a game. That’s why they’ll be watching the playoffs on their couches with the rest of us.