Steelers' Problems Run Much Deeper Than Mike Tomlin

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVNovember 4, 2013

The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped to 2-6 on Sunday after their 55-31 loss to the New England Patriots.

Since Week 10 of the 2012 season, the Steelers have a 4-11 record, and presently, they sit at the bottom of an otherwise competitive AFC North division:

Heads may certainly roll in Pittsburgh, either in-season or at its end. The chorus of critics is loudest when it comes to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who is in his seventh year on the job. 

The reasons many argue for Tomlin's ouster include claims that his success—a Super Bowl win and another Super Bowl appearance—had more to do with inheriting talented players from the previous regime under Bill Cowher.

The Steelers' poor draft record through much of Tomlin's tenure hasn't won him any praise either, and the fact that the team has gone from among the league's best to among the its worst certainly means that the coach is under added scrutiny.

However, aside from the fact that the Steelers don't embrace coaching turnover—Tomlin is just their third head coach since Chuck Noll got the job in 1969—there are many reasons why Tomlin shouldn't shoulder the majority of the blame for the Steelers' recent failures.

The entire organization is to blame—from ownership down to the players.

It starts with salary cap management. Though the Steelers supposedly have the best cap guru in the league in Omar Khan, they have dealt with cap problems, season after season. Restructured contracts have only loosened the pressure slightly, because they have only pushed money owed into the future, making this problem a long-term one.

It hasn't allowed the Steelers to do much in free agency, and as much as the Steelers can spin it by saying they're happy with building their roster in-house, the truth is that with more cap dollars to spend, they'd likely be in better overall shape. 

Furthermore, the Steelers have been more than willing to tie up much of their cap space in expensive contracts owed to older players who are past their prime. Instead of retaining cornerback Keenan Lewis this offseason, they preferred to hold onto to the 33-year old Ike Taylor, who has a cap hit of over $9.5 million this year, per

The Steelers also have more than $8.3 million in dead money this year, over half of which has resulted from the release of linebacker James Harrison. Not being able to adequately plan for the future has snowballed into consecutive years of financial strife, and the team's roster has stagnated as a result.

The draft is something that Tomlin has his hand in more than salary cap management, but again, he's not solely to blame for all of Pittsburgh's whiffs. General manager Kevin Colbert and team president Art Rooney II deserve just as much—if not more—ire for the missteps the team has made in talent evaluation over the past seven years.

The Steelers haven't mined much star talent via the draft, though they have managed to find contributors. Linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley have been impressive in their time in Pittsburgh, though the latter has dealt with injuries that limited his effectiveness in 2011 and 2012.

Center Maurice Pouncey, drafted in 2010, has been one of the best in the league at his position, but he's presently sidelined with a torn ACL. Wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was also drafted in 2010, is one of Pittsburgh's best offensive weapons, and defensive end Cameron Heyward seems to finally be coming into his own.

If it comes down to the Steelers' poor choices in the draft, then Tomlin shares the blame with Colbert and Rooney. If it comes down to those players simply not being developed properly, then Tomlin shares the blame with the rest of his coaching staff and the veterans in the locker room. It also comes down to those players themselves failing to make the most of the opportunities given to them.

Another of the Steelers' major problems in the Tomlin era—injuries—have little-to-nothing to do with the head coach. Granted, some may point to his assumed issues in evaluating talent as the main reason why the Steelers have had such a poor offensive line for years, but annual injuries to the line have been a major problem as well. 

Without proper protection for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, he has had only one full 16-game regular season in his career. Considering that the Steelers have—until now—built their offense around the specific skill set of Roethlisberger, it's come as no surprise that they've struggled to win games when he has been forced to the sideline. 

To keep Roethlisberger better protected, Rooney chose to let former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians leave, despite Tomlin's assurances to his team and his staff that Arians would return for the 2012 season. Though Rooney claims that Tomlin indeed hired Todd Haley as the new offensive coordinator, there's nothing indicating it wasn't an ownership power-play that led to Arians' ouster, despite Tomlin's desire to keep him around

As a result, Roethlisberger is a square peg in Haley's round-hole offense. He's been forced to abandon the style of play that resulted in so many Steelers wins, all for the sake of his so-called safety. Still, Roethlisberger missed three games last year with a rib and shoulder injury. 

Then, the Steelers chose to bring on Jack Bicknell, Jr. to be their new offensive line coach, necessitating a switch to the outside-zone run-blocking scheme on which he's built his career. However, with a line that is not built for outside zone followed by Pouncey's injury, they had to abandon the plan.

Disappointing play by Mike Adams and a number of injuries to players like David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert has led to a Pittsburgh running game that has earned 100 or more yards just twice this season. Many of these issues on offense are simply out of Tomlin's control.

He's not to blame for poor blocking or injuries, and he's not the one calling the offensive plays. He's not out on the field trying to stop the run or catch the football, and ultimately, it has been the lack of execution by the Steelers players that has put the team in such a disappointing position at present.

Sure, Tomlin deserves criticism for simply repeating catchphrases like "the standard is the standard," when the standard appears to be so low. Decreeing that all games are banned in the locker room and that flips into the end zone will result in benching all seem like discipline that is missing the point. 

But it takes more than just the head coach for a team to get into the situation the Steelers are presently in. It's a snowball of poor ownership decisions, injuries, draft picks that haven't panned out, bad salary cap management and uninspired, error-filled on-field performance that has gotten the Steelers to 2-6 this year. 

Tomlin may seem like a convenient scapegoat. His 65-39 record as Steelers head coach doesn't mean much in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. But, as much as Tomlin may seem like part of the problem, he's actually a greater part of the solution than other decision-makers in Pittsburgh.

Ditch Colbert, ditch Haley, let defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau retire after the season, don't renew veteran contracts just because they are veterans—but firing Tomlin on top of that would be unnecessary. 

When a team loses, the quarterback gets undue blame for things that are no fault of his own. When a team keeps losing, the coach is the one to go under the bus. However, it takes a team to lose, and it takes an organization to fail on such a grand scale.

"Fire Tomlin" is a convenient catch-all for problems that go well beyond the head coach. 



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