The Pittsburgh Steelers season cannot be looked at as anything except a disappointment. 13-3 usually can shine some glimmer no matter the playoff circumstances. Not in Pittsburgh. This team expected more and fell short. There is no other way to look at it.
With that said, everyone from the top down needs to be checked and reviewed. The Steelers as an organization are a well-oiled machine. They find success every season. They have not dominated the playoffs in recent years, though. They have moved from Troy Polamalu to Antonio Brown and have turned a top-five defense into a top-five offense. It took three years of missing the playoffs, but the team had climbed to the AFC Championship in the 2016 season. Instead of building on that, they came up short. How much responsibility do Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin need to take for failing to reach expectations? How did the two handle the 2017 season overall?
Colbert has been drafting with the Steelers since 2000, as a Director of Football Operations, which was a title that essentially meant for General Manager, but GM was not a title that has ever been given. Art Rooney Jr. was the first Director of Football Operations, and he picked the players. In 2011, the Steelers finally changed the title to General Manager.
However, when grading Colbert in the sense of just 2017, the only real draft classes that should be looked at are the past four.
Yes, he took Dri Archer over Martavis Bryant, but he took Bryant nonetheless. He added Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt, which is looked at as a huge win considering you cannot take in the long-term effects of Shazier. You can take in the long-term effects of Bryant. Still, that along with Le’Veon Bell and a huge miss on Mike Adams has the Steelers drafting with a newer philosophy. T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton, James Conner, and Josh Dobbs were all captain and all had clean backgrounds.
Still, their past three first-round draft picks are Bud Dupree, Artie Burns, and T.J. Watt. Dupree has been hampered by offseason injuries and playing through injuries, but still has hardly lived up to expectations. The flashes come few and far between and the poor gap discipline shows equally as much. Burns has discipline issues too, and they have cost him getting burnt a few times. It reared its ugly head against the Jaguars when he gave up a 45-yard completion to Keelan Cole in the fourth quarter. Then, there is Watt, who arguably had his best performance of the season in Week One. He struggled against rookie Cam Robinson in the loss to the Jaguars.
Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave and JuJu Smith-Schuster all start. Jesse James started most of the season by default, Anthony Chickillo, and L.T Walton contribute. Jerald Hawkins and a few members of the rookie class still have a chance, but the last three years were crucial given Ben Roethlisberger and his age, and Colbert’s has been running hot and cold and on the colder side as of now.
Which begs the question, how much does that get put on coaching? The development of players is more on Tomlin than anybody. He has equal say in drafting the players as Colbert because he works with them face to face. Same with the coaching staff. Colbert is taking raw talent, and Tomlin is given the task of molding it. This is why you have to credit Mike Tomlin for Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown just as much as Colbert.
Therefore it is tough to excuse Tomlin from Burns and Dupree and their lack of development. He hired Joey Porter and apparently is good friends with him. Is he helping Jarvis Jones, Anthony Chickillo, and Bud Dupree get better or is he just a figurehead? That is a fair criticism of Tomlin and his staff.
Still, this is also a new approach. The team just barely started embracing starting rookies due to the new rules of the CBA. Getting eight players from the past two drafts any sort of playing time while maintaining 13-3 is still a feat. The unit should come back stronger than the year before.
Aside from player development Tomlin is what he is and always will be what he is. The players are always going to fight for Tomlin. They are always going to carry arrogance and swagger because they always know that Mike Tomlin believes in them and that is all that they need. That is how you go 13-3 despite a holdout by Le’Veon Bell, a Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster suspension, the national anthem controversy, the Ryan Shazier injury and plenty more.
Still, if Mike Tomlin would just hire a clock management coach he would be the best coach in the NFL. Just an analytics figure who taps Tomlin on the shoulder and gives him situational advice at convenient moments. It kills him every time. Gut feelings are great and a fun way to live, but at some point, the structure needs to play a bit of a role.
The lack of this skill is not grounds for firing. Literally every other coach in the NFL, Bill Belichick aside has a giant weakness that can be pointed to. That is the weakness of Tomlin. It came back and hurt him against the Jacksonville Jaguars once again as questionable decisions due to a surprising game flow ended up helping to bury the Pittsburgh Steelers. Still, Tomlin is 45 years old he has twenty years to try to catch up to Belichick. So in his first eleven seasons as a head coach he only won one Super Bowl and two AFC Championships. Poor game? Yes. Poor season? Mostly. Fireable. Not a chance.
The Shazier injury was devastating, but Tomlin had over a month to understand Sean Spence was not the answer. The defense failed to communicate without Shazier and that became the downfall of the unit. That, again, has to fall on Tomlin. Stay tuned as we will break down each coordinator and position coach tomorrow, but for now, Tomlin and Colbert have to accept a poor 2017 and move on to next year.