Mike Pelaia says: This past Steeler season was a roller coaster (Jan. 9)

MIKE PELAIA

There’s a new roller coaster going into Kennywood Park in 2019 called the Steel Curtain. Perhaps they should name the coaster “Steelers 2018 Season” instead because that’s exactly what this past year was, a roller coaster.
From the season-opening tie to the Browns, to the six-game winning streak, to the finish to the season that saw them fall from a 7-2-1 record…a near lock to win the division, to out of the playoffs, the Steelers season couldn’t have been a crazier ride.
It’s a season that started with incredible expectations of winning the Super Bowl. The thing is, those expectations were not unrealistic. As this team sits at home this offseason, they have to look at what could have been. They are easily as talented as any other team that made the playoffs.
Yet, the Black and Gold sit at home, on their couches, pondering what went wrong and hopefully, what they need to do to get better in 2019 while this Super Bowl window may still be slightly ajar.
This season they had their issues in many facets of the game. Offensively, they turned the ball over quite a bit, especially in the oppositions end of the field. Ben Roethlisberger was responsible for 20 turnovers this season, 16 of those interceptions, a few of which were in the opposition’s red zone, most notably in Denver, when going in for a TD at the final seconds.
A quarterback of Ben’s caliber should not be turning the ball over 20 times in a season. I understand he’s one of the best in the league and he passed for over 5,000 yards to win the passing title—I don’t think there is any other quarterback worthy of taking his place but I do think his turnovers cost them a game or two and had they won that game, or two, they’d have made the playoffs.
Yet, it can’t be all on Ben. It starts with Randy Fichtner. The new offensive coordinator did a good job but down the stretch, he seemed to abandon the run in favor of the pass. Quite frankly, it’s unacceptable that this was allowed to continue over the last month of the year when it was very evident that the rushing attack was more than capable of handling its own. James Conner and Jaylen Samuels more than filled in for the missing Le’Veon Bell this season, proving the Steelers didn’t need Bell. Fichtner did not appropriately use his running backs and because of that, the Steelers sit at home.
Special teams didn’t do their job, either. Chris Boswell was the worst kicker in football. He shouldn’t have been allowed to kick for as many games as he did but his salary and the fact that he was a Pro Bowl player last year got in the way of just releasing him. Because of that, the Steelers missed the playoffs, and Boswell is a huge reason why.
Special teams came in ranked 29th out of 32 teams this year as well. Danny Smith has to be fired for that, doesn’t he? I say bring in somebody new, they can’t possibly do much worse!
But missing the playoffs isn’t just on the offense or special teams; it is also heavily on the defense led by Keith Butler. Butler’s defense ranked sixth overall in total yards allowed but that in no way truly depicts the story of their season. They flat out stunk. They had no ability to create turnovers, at all. They did nothing on third downs but give up big plays.
So the Steelers and Mike Tomlin decided to let Joey Porter go after the season ended. OK, that’s fine, I think the linebackers could have done more, I’ll buy that but if they don’t fire Butler, they are making Porter the scapegoat. Butler should have been fired last offseason. The fact that we are still talking about him having to be let go is mind-boggling. His defenses are bad. He can’t scheme. He can’t motivate, he get’s outcoached consistently and he’s in over his head.
Butler. Must. Go.
There are some players that need to go as well, namely Bud Dupree, especially on a $9.2 million salary. If they can renegotiate a deal and cut that in half, then I’ll listen. If not, he has to follow former teammate Jarvis Jones out of town.
Artie Burns should just flat out be cut. He’s a bust. Can’t play. It’s best for all parties if he’s let go, he can blow coverages for another team.
They should extend Roethlisberger another three years, build around Conner and young and budding superstar JuJu Smith-Schuster. Conner and Smith-Schuster are team-first guys and guys you can win with, they are the new core of this team.
And you can bet they will have a strong opinion on the most polarizing decision the team has to make this offseason, that of what to do with Antonio Brown. Brown quit on his team, there’s no arguing that. I don’t care to get into the he said she said reasons as to why he didn’t play, he just didn’t and that’s a problem.
If it were up to me, I’d shop him and I’d trade him, if—and this is a big if—I got a lot in return, and that would require a top-tier cornerback or inside linebacker and a first-round pick. If they can’t get that, then Tomlin and the team must find a way to work things out with Brown and move forward. If he plays like he’s capable of, he’s a weapon who can’t be covered.
 
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