Following Sunday’s loss to the Patriots, the Steelers are now sitting at 2-6 on the season. They are three and a half games behind the Bengals for the division, and are looking up at a number of teams for the last wildcard spot (it’s almost guaranteed at this point that the first wildcard will go to either Kansas City or Denver). Usually, you need at least 9 wins, just to have a chance at the post-season, meaning the Steelers would need to win 7 of their next 8 games. I don’t know about the rest of Steeler nation, but I’m not extremely confident that happens with Detroit, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Green Bay, Miami, and yes, even Cleveland (twice) on the schedule.
So this raises a big question for the Steelers. At what point do you accept that this season’s goal isn’t to win a championship, and just start trying to improve the team in the future? I understand that publicly, Mike Tomlin can’t say that they’re giving up on the season and holding live try-outs for next season. He can, however, start getting young guys on the field and start going through those growing pains now, when it’s not hurting the team. Not to mention, that this team could sorely use a top 10 draft pick to help infuse some more young talent. As SteelDad mentioned in his lastest write-up, Tomlin is dealing with players quitting on him. Playing the young and hungry also works to send a message to the vets that their spot isn’t going to be handed to them. This past offseason when asked if the Steelers were re-building, Kevin Colbert said “We’re not at a crossroads. We’re not in the rebuilding stage. The best way to put it is we need to re-tool.” At the time I thought it’s just something he has to say, but desperation moves like the trade for Levi Brown and continuing to push cap dollars into the future with restructures makes me think maybe he really believes that.
It’s very likely that Shamarko Thomas will be starting at one of the safety spots on opening day next year, so why not get him all the game action right now that you can? Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review had a great piece last week about getting Jarivs Jones on the field even if he’s struggling, and he’s absolutely right. Jason Worilds had a nice 2 sack performance against the Patriots, but playing him over Jarvis Jones is only earning him money from some other team this offseason (and the same goes for Emmanuel Sanders). Jones will definitely be starting next season. When Markus Wheaton gets healthy, I think he should definitely get snaps over Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders. Cotchery looked great against the Patriots, but you know what you have in him. I personally would like to see Ziggy Hood get a new contract this offseason, assuming he doesn’t demand too much, but if you think that he’s not in your plans long term, get Al Woods out there to see if he has what it takes to be a part of the future.
Look at Vince Williams, and the progress he’s made this season. He’s only seeing the field because the Steelers coaches were forced to put him there after Larry Foote’s injury. In a very short time Williams has gone from 6th round pick just trying to make the team, to starting inside linebacker and even wears the headset to call the plays. It looks like the Steelers have a legitimate long term solution at that spot, and never would’ve known that if they hadn’t been forced to put Williams in there. Not that he’s a rookie, but Cam Heyward has also thrived since being put in there over Ziggy Hood. The Steelers need to do the same across the board, to see what their future holds.