Steelers offense, defense went opposite directions
January 1, 2013:
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
To put the 2012 season in capsule form, the Steelers offense went one way, the defense went another and the results came in as an 8-8 standstill.
That's how Mike Tomlin explained it Monday in its simplest terms. He also noted for the second time in a week that a 3-5 record in their eight three-point games contributed.
"The good teams, the dominant teams, aren't necessarily dominant inside stadiums," Tomlin said. "But they are dominant largely in moments, and they do what is required to get out of stadiums with victories. We didn't do that consistently enough."
The new offense under Todd Haley "started off on the right foot in terms of dominating time of possession and converting third downs."
"We did what was required in those areas to possess the ball and win football games."
That occurred as the Steelers jumped to a 6-3 record and the offense was on pace to set team records, especially passing, and led the league in third-down conversions. Although Tomlin did not connect the dots, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger then was injured and missed 31/2 games. Little came together on offense after that.
"Obviously we didn't ascend in the second half of the season in those areas," Tomlin said. "It was an Achilles' heel for us."
The opposite happened on defense, which started slow and finished fast.
"Defensively, I thought we didn't start out very well, particularly in situational football and getting off on third downs, and the end of the half and end of the game type of things," Tomlin said.
"I thought we grew into those roles and improved over the course of the season. It was a really good defense in the latter portions of the season, particularly in those settings. I think the statistics show that. But again, not enough significant plays in those moments at the early portion of the season that produced wins, such as Tennessee and others."
RB situation hurt
Tomlin acknowledged that not having a No. 1, go-to running back did not help the offense.
"I'm sure that would be a fair assessment," he said. "But there are also several reasons why that didn't occur, and just general ineffectiveness being one of them."
Four of their five halfbacks were injured at different points in the season to where three of them started and three shared the duties. Their former lead back, Rashard Mendenhall, battled through ACL and achilles injuries and was suspended for one game by Tomlin. He had only 51 carries for 182 yards and no touchdowns.
Jonathan Dwyer led the team with 623 yards, the lowest rushing total to lead them since Merrill Hoge had 610 in 1991.
LeBeau to return
While Tomlin did not state it, Dick LeBeau will return as defensive coordinator. Haley likely will be back as offensive coordinator, although Tomlin offered him a much cooler assessment.
"I think everybody is aware that I'm happy with the work of Dick LeBeau," Tomlin said. "He's a special guy, a special man and a special coach."
And Haley's performance?
"It was about 8-8, like all of us. I'm a black-and-white kind of a guy. He was an 8-8 coordinator. I was an 8-8 head coach. I don't think that's what either of us desire to be."
But he did add that "We're going to proceed with that understanding and with a mentality toward being better and maximizing our talents here to the best of our capabilities."
Tomlin also acknowledged that there were the expected growing pains in teaching and learning a new offense.
"Certainly, but not that it is unexpected and not that it is an excuse, much like the injuries. I acknowledge that growing pains are a part of transition but I didn't believe that it would be significant enough to prevent us from winning and I still don't. It's not an excuse, much like the injuries."
Series of injuries
The Steelers season was a series of one injury after another. Starters lost 78 games to injuries, and four more left the game Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.
Tomlin at least had good news on two of them. Brett Keisel and Keenan Lewis each have damage to medial collateral ligaments, but neither will need surgery.
He confirmed that Kelvin Beachum sustained a concussion in the game. David DeCastro had a severe stinger. Cameron Heyward "probably" has a rib fracture.
Ryan Clark spent Sunday night in the hospital as a precautionary measure with a severe left thigh contusion. He was released Monday morning and is fine.
• Tomlin said he has no timetable in hiring a line coach to replace Sean Kugler, who became head coach at UTEP. He also said he will assess whether to hire another special teams coach to replace fired Al Everest or stick with one.
• The Steelers will draft 17th in the first round and swap places with Dallas every subsequent round. Both finished 8-8 but the Steelers get the first-round edge on the Cowboys based on their opponents' weaker won-lost percentage (.465).