Going into the final game of 2012 with no chance to enter the post season is about as depressing a thought as there is in sports. Normally we as fans are looking forward to prognosticating how the playoffs will turn out, where Pittsburgh may or may not have to play. It’s an exciting time of year no matter what seed you get, but this year the team will join the fans in the same spot on game day, the couch.
Popular thinking tells you that with nothing to play for, standings wise, why not see what your younger players can do? Might as well get a head start in the evaluation process for next season right? No substitute for game day situations when you’re trying to make the team, or stay on it. For the Steelers though, they don’t have to worry about that scenario because they’ve all but exhausted their roster this season as it is.
As Mike Tomlin pointed out in weekly press conference this past Monday, they won’t just use the final game against the Browns at Heinz Field as an evaluation process. They will play to win with the players they have. That means Ben Roethlisberger will be at Quarterback and all of the normal starters will play as usual.
Looking over the Steelers roster, more like an M.A.S.H. unit this year, there are a handful of names that could benefit from the experience that a game day atmosphere provides.
Recently signed DB Justin King, LB Adrian Robinson, S Robert Golden, and OG John Malecki, all have seen little to no playing time this year. Beyond that though, everyone else has had significant snaps in some capacity, mainly because injuries dictated as much for the team.
In a perfect world you have your starting 22 and the rotational players that come in on the Defensive Line and Secondary, but everyone else is fresh and available. That may not be the way those other backup players would like it necessarily but having your starters healthy normally means you’re headed for the post season or fighting for a chance if you’re the Steelers.
We can complain about the injuries all we want, but that’s life in the NFL. Ya know, I really hate saying that but in sports it’s all too common to ignore. I don’t use that as an excuse for the season, especially these last few games when the team was as healthy as they’ve been all year. Healthy is relative term at this point, but the backups have received significant snaps during the season and one would liked to see them come through better. That goes for the veterans too but I guess we can’t have everything. In fact, you could make the case that some of the young players came through with better performances than some of the established veterans.
As Mike Tomlin put it on Monday, “We take pride in our work,” said Tomlin. “We take pride in our opportunity to come together and compete again as the 2012 Steelers. To perform for our fans, to perform for them at Heinz Field. Obviously, we lost the game against these guys the last time we played them so there’s some motivation there.”
I would argue that this team has had motivational issues during the year, at crucial times that could have changed their fate for 2012. Hopefully they’ll be able to go out with a bang and at least finish at .500.
At this point in the season, Mike Tomlin’s decision was basically already made for him, there’s no sense forcing young guys onto the field to get some tape on them for next year, they’ve already done that since September.