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Steelers Spin: Another Circling Of The Sun

All good stories must end and so too must this season for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Sadly, Steelers Nation left the movie theater with more than a little disappointment, and popcorn butter on their faces. It certainly wasn’t the ending we were all hoping for when we bought our tickets.

Unfortunately, it came down to relying on other teams to get us a ticket for the dance and the New York Jets and our old friend Joe Flacco let us down. Same bird, different feathers.

Having started off the season at 3-7, few outside of (and probably inside) the Steelers locker room would have thought there would be much drama left in the final game against the Cleveland Browns.

To the credit of Head Coach Mike Tomlin, his assistants, and a roster full of high character players, there was plenty of adrenaline to be had up until the last moments of the regular season.

For this we are grateful.

Yet, here we are. Another year passed without even a hint of a playoffs win. Once again, the team is on the outside looking in on real National Football League championship contention. We’re left with not much more than a Steelers-logoed bag of envy as others pursue the year’s greatest prize.

It’s another circling of the sun.

We’re all a year older. Another year removed from our last Super Bowl victory, last witnessed February 1, 2009 when Santonio Holmes toe dipped the winning touchdown reception of a 27-23 victory against the Arizona Cardinals.

Remember that? I know you’ll have to rub your eyes and think hard.

It’s in the Way Back Machine, the film reels rattling and projecting scratchy images on the movie screen. Was it a black and white film? Humphrey Bogart? With lines like, “Play It Sam?”

I remember now. It was James Harrison intercepting Kurt Warner and running it back the entirety of a football field before he collapsed in the end zone and begged for oxygen tanks.

Didn’t they have this feisty coach named Todd Haley or something? Wait, that sounds familiar. Wasn’t he our offensive coach at one time or another?

It’s all so fuzzy. So long ago.

Leaving us on our rocking chairs on the front porch, sipping our lemonade, and talking about the glory days.

Another circling of the sun?

What do we make of all of this? Let’s give it a Spin.

Vultures Circling

In the age of Social Media, preposterousness is just a Tweet away. Apparently, there aren’t any intelligence tests prior to people acquiring a Twitter handle.

After the Steelers won their last game against Cleveland Browns, allowing the team to finish over .500 at 9-8, someone posted something akin to this:

“All of the Tomlin haters are on suicide watch”.

It’s such a stupid comment, it’s not worthy of dissecting, but that’s exactly the kind of low-brow muckraking we endeavor to flop around here in the Spin, so here goes.

Has this team reached such a nadir in its once proud history that we’re gloating about the Steelers barely achieving mediocrity? What have we become? I mean really.

The Steelers finish to the season was to be highly applauded. Winning six out of the last seven? Fabulous!

The Steelers start to the season was to be highly booed. Only winning three out of ten? Terrible.

The reason the Steelers aren’t in the playoffs this year can be directly attributed to poor moves by the coaches during the course of the first ten games.

Poorly prepared. Bad gameplans. Sloppy play. Inability to stop the run. Starting the wrong quarterback. The wrong middle linebacker. The wrong offensive coordinator. The list is long.

Yet, there are those now saying Tomlin is due consideration for NFL Coach of the Year this season. What are we putting in baby formula these days?

The coaches did what they needed to do to firm up their job security. To scatter the circling vultures to the winds. Well done and hats off.

Probably only offensive coordinator Matt Canada has a chance of needing to update his resume but it’s unlikely the vultures will get fed with that one. For him to be replaced it would require Tomlin admitting publicly he made a mistake in giving Canada the job in the first place.

Good luck with that.

There is no doubt. The Steelers are on the rise. They had a tremendous finish. There is hope on the horizon. Credit for all of this should be distributed generously.

Yet, we failed again this year. Just as we have for many years in a row.

And, if we’re being honest, we’re far away from being the kind of dominant team we once were, one that is expected to be in Super Bowl contention year after year.

The Status Quo is unacceptable in Pittsburgh, and has been for some time, and hopefully the front office hasn’t forgotten the first half of the year. For the franchise’s sake.

If we’re in a mindset where we’re celebrating a 9-8 season by straining our eyes to find marshmallows in a bad bowl of Lucky Charms, the Standard will continue to be just about being average.

In Receivership

It’s commonly shared by NFL announcers and many fans that the Pittsburgh Steelers are exceptional in drafting wide receivers and there certainly is plenty of truth in this line of thinking.

But is this strength actually a weakness for the team?

Are we so good, we are destroying our franchise?

Certainly, we’re all happy with George Pickens as a second-round draft pick this year. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any value from Calvin Austin this season as a fourth-round selection.

That’s two high selections out of our seven invested in wide receivers.

Are we completely sold on Diontae Johnson? He cost us a third-round draft pick and a massive contract this year.

And what about the second-round selections invested on Chase Claypool, James Washington and Juju Smith-Schuster? We received some draft recoupment from Chase but what about the other two?

What if we had invested all those blue-chip selections on offensive linemen? Can you imagine what kind of road grading capability we would have? Or linebacking and cornerback talent like we did in the old days?

There are many reasons why the Steelers haven’t been able to “reload” a Super Bowl level team for quite some time.

In the business world we refer to this as “mobile equity”. That means spending a lot of resources in time and money on talent that will probably leave for greener pastures and paychecks.

Maybe we would be better off spending our high draft selections on positions where traditionally players have a lower level of Prima-Donnaship, and a higher level of loyalty?

Most Valuable Defender?

Who deserves the most valuable defensive player nod for this year’s Pittsburgh Steelers?

Why, that’s a complete no-brainer. Snap of the fingers, easy-peezy answer here.

What’s that you say? T.J. Watt?

Nope. Salary was up and production and health was down this year.

Maybe Minkah Fitzpatrick?

That’s a fine response. Certainly, receiving an All-Pro nod is well deserved, and time after time he came through for us on the field. If salary wasn’t a factor, then he would be the right answer. But salary does matter and he’s very well compensated, thank you. If you pay him, you can’t pay others and that makes the defense less strong and him less valuable when you factor that in.

Cam Heyward? Definitely the heart and soul of the Steelers defense and probably the team overall, but as much as he’s getting paid you might as well call him a team partner.

The most valuable defender? That’s Alex Highsmith. Hands down. His 14.5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles are the numbers of a mega-contract performer at the edge position. Great player at a fabulous bargain.

Highsmith is still playing for his rookie contract and that means no steak and lobster…yet. The Steelers are able to go through the McDonald’s drive through and get him Happy Meals still.

That’s great value. Most valuable actually.

Most Valuable Offensive Player?

For all of the reasons provided for Highsmith, the same applies to Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, Pat Freiermuth and yes…Najee Harris.

Pickett exceeded all rookie expectations, even as a mid-level first round draft pick. His performance over the last seven games is as much of a factor of the team’s winning streak as it is a nod to good coaching on the team.

He’s not a Patrick Mahomes arm strength talent, but he’s already established himself as a clutch performer and a strong leader in his debut season. He may not ever be a Top Three talent in the league, but they also said those things about Tom Brady and Joe Montana. Sometimes quarterbacking is more than how far you can toss a football.

Whatever that is? The kid’s got it.

George Pickens is good entertainment. And some. Will he be around longer than his rookie contract? Not according to trends, but he’ll be fun to watch at least until then.

Pat Freiermuth is almost the second coming of Heath Miller and even a partial Heath is about as good as it gets for Steelers fans. He continues to trend upwards.

Harris turned his season around by getting more physical. Is he a huge value while on a rookie contract? Absolutely? Will he be worth a major contract when it’s his turn? That is still to be decided.

What is undeniably true for all these players is that the Steelers have a very strong core of young offensive talent, still at a bargain rate.

And with all these savings, they can continue to splurge on big bodies to block for all of them.

This makes this offense on a pathway to extraordinary brilliance. It really could be something special, and that’s certainly something to get excited about.

Another Circling Of The Sun

What’s the lesson of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022-23 season?

Well…let’s hope there actually is a lesson. One to be listened to and one to be learned.

If we only look at the recent win streak we’ll be duped into thinking that everything is on the right trajectory and nothing should be changed.

Let’s keep all of the coaches. Let’s retain all of the systems. Let’s just keep keeping on.

That would be the worst result possible. No lessons learned.

The Steelers have made some personnel mistakes in the past few years, but all in all there is a collection of talent and character on both sides of the field that could take the franchise to an elite status once again.

Is the coaching staff and strategic approach they have been taking at an elite level? It’s not. And without some serious time spent on self-reflection and significant improvement we will be facing another disappointing circling around the sun.

Let’s hope this is the year…we really grow. In bodies and minds.

Speaking of circling around the sun. Thank you all for another great year of Spinning through all of this with me. You are much appreciated.

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