Tag Archives: AFC North

Le’Veon Bell’s Case for NFL MVP

Bell is 2nd in the NFL in total rushing yards and 3rd in total yards from scrimmage, despite missing 3 games to suspension. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

(Update – 12/28/16): Le’Veon Bell will not play Sunday in the Pittsburgh Steelers final game of the 2016 season vs. the Cleveland Browns. Neither will Ben Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown.)

I’ve been saying for weeks now that Le’Veon Bell is the best offensive player in the NFL. So it shouldn’t be a surprise to my readers that I think #26 should be the 2016 NFL MVP. On a team with arguably the best wide receiver in the League in Antonio Brown, who leads the NFL in receptions, a perennial pro-bowl quarterback with two Super Bowl victories in Ben Roethlisberger, Bell is the most lethal of the “Killer B’s”. He’s even already been named team MVP for 2016.

My case starts here:

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the midst of a 6-game winning streak that helped them clinch the AFC North title and the 3rd seed in the AFC Playoffs. This after being 4-5 after the first 10 weeks of the season. In this run, Bell is averaging 139.2 rushing yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 42.7 receiving yards game (8.5 yards per catch), for an average of 181.9 yards from scrimmage. His 12-game average of 157 yards from scrimmage per game is the most in the NFL since Priest Holmes in 2002. He’s converted 62 first downs running and receiving in the streak, His total for the season is 94). Most importantly, he’s scored 7 touchdowns (6 rushing, 1 receiving).

Don’t forget about the 2016 NFL league high and Steelers franchise single-game rushing record of 236 yards he set against the Buffalo Bills in week fourteen. Also, he has more receptions than a handful of NFL teams’ number one receiver.

In the Steelers only loss in the second half of the season to the Dallas Cowboys, Bell rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown, caught 9 passes for 77 receiving yards and a touchdown, as well as converted 10 first downs.

Bell doesn’t just make the offense better, but the defense as well. The formula for the Steelers to win is simple, when he touches the ball 25+ times via the run and the pass, it helps win the time of possession battle, keeping that much maligned defense of theirs off the field. Since week 11 they’ve been a top 5 defense, mostly because they’re on the field less and not as vulnerable to be exploited.

In the win streak, Bell averages 32 touches a game. In the 4 losses he played in, he touched the ball an average 23 times. Much like Pittsburgh’s magic number on defense is 20—they’re undefeated when allowing 20 points or less, 1-5 when allowing 21+ points—25 touches for #26 is the magic number for their offense.

Bell averages 181.9 yards per game from scrimmage in the Steelers 6-game win streak. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Even after missing 3-games due to suspension, he’s second in the NFL in total rushing yards, and third in total yards from scrimmage. In his first game of 2016, Bell rushed for 144 yards on 18 carries and had 5 catches for 34 yards as the Steelers blew out the Kansas City Chiefs 43-14. Proving just how much extra “juice” he brings to an already lethal unit.

Since I mentioned his suspension, most would think that would disqualify him from winning this award. But, Tom Brady is gaining momentum for votes. He was suspended four games to start this season. Therefore it shouldn’t be a knock on Le’Veon either.

#26 has scored 7 touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s 6-game win streak. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

My final point is this, most valuable player should go to the player who if they weren’t on the field for any reason, the team wouldn’t be as successful as they are with him. It shouldn’t just be given to the best player on the team with the best record, as is the case most of the time. Or to the glory position of quarterback which has happened eight of the last ten seasons. LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006, and Adrian Peterson in 2012 were the only non-QBs to breakthrough.

Bell’s performance and incredible versatility is why Steelers Nation gets so upset and disappointed in him that he’s been suspended for off-the-field issues twice in his career. Who knows what this guy could do had he been available for a full 16-game schedule? Who knows where the Steelers would be if he hadn’t stepped up the second half of the season the way he has. That’s why he’s the most valuable.

He probably won’t win the award, he maybe won’t even finish in the top three. But, as I’ve showed you, he should. Who’s been hotter when it mattered the most?

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Pittsburgh Uses 4th Quarter Explosion to Steel AFC North Title

Le’Veon Bell rushed for 122 yards a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass to help beat the Ravens 31-27. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

In a week when Pittsburgh Steelers legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw criticized Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin’s coaching ability and philosophy, even going as far to say “He’s a great cheerleader guy…”, Tomlin’s team came out and backed up their #1 cheerleader by winning their 5th AFC North division title in his 10 seasons as a head coach. Especially, the Killer B’s of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.

When it looked like Roethlisberger was going to throw away the division and possibly the playoffs with 2 second half interceptions that set the Baltimore Ravens up for 10 points, offensive coordinator Todd Haley turned to the guy I call “the most lethal offensive weapon in the NFL”, Le’Veon Bell.

The Steelers offense started the game ringing the Bell successfully. #26 converted 4 of the Steelers 6 first downs on their first drive of the game and rushed for 45 yards, which were more than the total he had the entire game against Baltimore in week 9 (32 yards). That 9 play, 87 yard drive ended with a 20-yard TD pass from Roethlisberger to Xavier Grimble to put the ‘Burgh up 7-0. We all know what happened from that moment through the beginning of the final 15 minutes. Pittsburgh was soundly out played and Bradshaw’s assessment of Tomlin looked pretty spot on.

But just like they’ve finished the second half of this season, they did so in this game. In the 4th quarter Pittsburgh scored 21 points on drives of 75, 90, and 75 yards. The longest was 2 minutes and 49 seconds. On the 90-yard touchdown drive to put them ahead 24-20, Brown and Bell gained EVERY yard. With the game on the line, #7 went to #84 with 9 seconds remaining and he fought his way into the end zone to bring the AFC North title home with the 31-27 win.

For the game, Le’Veon rushed for 122 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown, he also had 3 catches for 15 yards and a touchdown. Brown had 10 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown, 9 in the second half. Roethlisberger finished with 3 touchdown passes on 24 of 33 and 279 yards to go along with those 2 interceptions.

Defensively it wasn’t pretty, but they got it done when it counted. The Ravens won the time of possession battle 34:37 to 25:23. They were 9 of 17 on 3rd down conversions. Joe Flacco passed for 262 yards on 30 of 44 passing, while the offensive line bullied the Steelers D down the field for 122 rushing yards. Baltimore was beating the Steelers every which way you’d want. But Keith Butler’s unit forced Baltimore to settle for 4 field goals in the red zone, and a botched snap on another field goal attempt basically sealed their playoff fate.

Ryan Shazier’s interception as time expired sealed the AFC North title for Pittsburgh. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Flacco was sacked 2 times for -18 yards, and Ryan Shazier’s pick as time expired clinched the division. This is the first game in 2016 the Steelers have allowed 21+ points and won. All 5 losses this season came when the opponent score 21 or more points.

Who would’ve thought at week 10 when the Steelers were 4-5 and on a four game losing streak, they’d be 2016 AFC North Champions?  But here they are. With a 6-game win streak, surging into the playoffs as the 3-seed, instead of sneaking in like last season and looking like the team NOBODY wants to play in January.

Next up, the 1-14 Cleveland Browns in Heinz Field on New Year’s Day.

EXTRA POINTS

  • Roethlisberger’s 3 touchdown passes moved him to 301 and past John Elway, he’s idol growing up, for 9th on the NFL’s All-time pass touchdowns list.
  • Antonio Brown joined Marvin Harrison as the only players in NFL history to have 4 straight season of 100+ receptions, and his 1 TD reception was the 50th of his career.
  • With his 6th 100+ rushing yard game of the season, Le’Veon Bell passed Barry Foster, Dick Hoak, and Frank Pollard for 5th place on the Steelers all-time rushing list.
  • The Steelers are the only team in 2016 to not allow an opening drive touchdown to an opponent.

Steelers Sneak Away With 5th Consecutive “W”

Bell’s 131 total yards from scrimmage help the Steelers escape with a 24-20 win over Cincinnati. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Two teams from Pittsburgh got off the bus at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati on Sunday. The first half was the team that lost 4 consecutive games in weeks 6 thru 10. The second half was the team that has now won their last 5 games, especially on the defensive side.

The first half version of the Steelers beat themselves offensively and defensively with key penalties that set the Bengals up for points and kept themselves from scoring touchdowns. Pittsburgh was flagged 4 times for 74 yards in the first half alone. They finished the game with 7 for 104 yards.

Three major penalties told the story of the first half. A face mask by Stephon Tuitt on a 3rd down sack on the first Bengals offensive drive, and a pass interference in the end zone against Artie Burns on the second drive that put the ball on the Steelers one-yard line, set Cincinnati up to score 10 quick and easy points.

The third against Le’Veon Bell for a chop block that erased what would’ve been Antonio Brown’s 50th career touchdown reception and a what would’ve have been a 17-10 deficit. Instead the Steelers had to settle for a Chris Boswell 49-yard field goal.

Speaking of Boswell, he gets the game ball. If it weren’t for his Steelers franchise record tying 6 made field goals, 5 of 40+ yards, and a touchdown saving tackle on a kickoff return, Pittsburgh would have been out of this game at halftime.

Defensively, Keith Butler’s group couldn’t stop the Bengals running or passing game.

Cincinnati gained 184 total yards (116 passing, 68 rushing), they never punted and didn’t allow a sack or have a turnover. Andy Dalton was 10 of 16 passing for 116 yards. Jeremy Hill ran for 44 yards on 14 carries and had a touchdown that put them up 17-3 with 9:02 remaining in the 2nd quarter.

The Bengals did what the Steelers had done masterfully over the last month, win the time of possession battle and keep opposing offenses as spectators, while not allowing the suspect defense to be exposed. The Bengals held the ball for 17:59 of the first 30 minutes.

Offensively, Pittsburgh could only muster 3 field goals in the time they crossed into enemy territory. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley got cute, and clearly over-thought his game plan. There’s no reason Le’Veon Bell should’ve had 7 carries and 3 receptions in an entire half, as he did on Sunday. It lead to 29 rushing yards for the League’s best back and a 20-9 halftime deficit.

Coach Mike Tomlin implied to CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn that the Steelers were beating themselves and needed to be “cleaner” in the second half. Obviously the team got the message.

Harrison and the Steelers D held the Bengals scoreless and to 38 total yards in the second half. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Defensively, they cleaned up the penalties and held the Bengals scoreless, while only allowing 38 total yards. Hill rushed 6 times for -1 yard. Dalton went 6 of 11 for 41 yards, was sacked for an 11-yard loss, and threw an interception to Lawrence Timmons.

Meanwhile, the offense patiently and methodically took the lead. Ben Roethlisberger led them to 228 total yards in the second half. Le’Veon Bell rushed for 64 yards to finish with 93 on the day to go along with 5 catches for 38 yards. In total he touched the ball 28 times, and they them won the time of possession battle 32:32 to 27:28. LaDarius Green and Eli Rodgers stepped up and took the defensive attention off Antonio Brown that Roethlisberger has been begging for all season. Rodgers finished with 5 catches for 75 and the go ahead 24-yard touchdown pass. Green also had 5 catches 72 yards, 3 of which were converted for first downs.

The second half performance followed the formula this team has used to win 5 games in a row and take the AFC North lead going into next Sunday’s major matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. If they play like the second half team next week and not the first half version, they’ll be one step closer to the AFC North title and a spot in the tournament.

Kickoff is set for 4:30 pm at Heinz Field.

EXTRA POINTS 

  • Pittsburgh is now undefeated on the season when they allow 20 or fewer points (9-0).
  • The Steelers have now won 7 of their last 8 games at Cincinnati.
  • With his second catch of the day, Antonio Brown recorded the 470th of his career, setting an NFL record for most receptions in a 4-year span passing 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrine Marvin Harrison.

Throwback Steelers Football…

And at the right time too. 

Le’Veon Bell rushed for a Steelers single game record 236 yards in the 27-20 victory over the Buffalo Bills. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

 

I said it last week and I’ll say it again now, Le’Veon Bell is the most lethal offensive weapon in the NFL. That includes all offensive positions, not just running back. 

Bell ran for a Steelers single game franchise record 236 yards with 3 touchdowns versus the Buffalo Bills Sunday in the 27-20 victory. He also had 62 yards receiving on 4 catches.

As the Steelers need every win to keep pace for the AFC North title, to possibly be the division’s only playoff participant, the formula for winning is simple. Get the ball to number 26. 
During Pittsburgh’s four game win streak, Bell has rushed for 236, 118, 120 and 146 yards. In a league where everyone is throwing the pig all over the field, Pittsburgh has decided to go throwback.

These type of performances are why fans have been disappointed he hasn’t played a full season in his career due to two suspensions and two major injuries.

Who knows what kind of offensive explosion would’ve happened if Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t thrown three interceptions on the day, one in the red zone on their first drive, and another on the fourth drive that set Buffalo up inside the red zone for their first touchdown of the game down 14-0.

The only unit that stopped the Steelers offense, was themselves. Or Roethlisberger if we want to point fingers.

But back to Bell, his 298 total yards from scrimmage were more than the 275 yards Keith Butler’s unit allowed to the Bills offense.

Speaking of defense, I’m loving what I’m watching lately. At the beginning of this season I never thought I’d say that. Hell, a month ago I wouldn’t have said it. 

Stephon Tuitt sacks Tyrod Taylor, one of the five the Steelers D registered on the day. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

 
They’re blitzing more, which is resulting in more sacks. Sunday they got to Tyrod Taylor 5 times, 3 in the first quarter. They’re creating turnovers, even though William Gay’s pick 6 in the first quarter was called back due to a holding penalty,  Artie Burns picked off Taylor later in the game to kill a Bills drive. And, they’re stopping the run better. The Bills had 67 yards for an average of 3.7 yards per carry in the game. A quarter of the way into the second stanza, Pittsburgh held them to -1 total yard. 

Most importantly, the rookies in the secondary, Artie Burns and Sean Davis, along with Ross Cockrell aren’t allowing teams top receivers to light them up like in years past.

This is the type of Steelers football I grew up with, and expect. This is what won Super Bowls XL and XLIII, even though the offense gets the highlights on NFL Films, aside from the James Harrison pick 6. This type of defensive effort is what’s going to be needed if they’re going to make the playoffs and win a NFL record seventh Lombardi in February.

This team is clicking on all the right cylinders at the right time.

Next up, the Cincinnati Bengals in the Queen City. Kickoff is set for 1 pm.

OTHER NOTES

  • Mike Tomlin won his 100th game as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • Bell went over the 1,000 rushing mark for the 2nd time in his career.
  • Even though Ben Roethlisberger had a terrible day, he moved past Vinny Testaverde into 10th place on the NFL’s Career Passing yards leaders list (46,249).

Steelers Feast on Luck-less Colts

Ryan Shazier and the Steelers D feasted on the Colts shorthanded offense in a 28-7 victory. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Just like last week when I didn’t care that it was the winless Cleveland Browns, this week I don’t care that it was Scott Tolzien, not Andrew Luck, under center for the Indianapolis Colts. Wins in the NFL are hard to come by. Steelers Nation knows this from just watching the past month. So they’ll gladly take this 28-7 victory, especially with the short week.

The performance by the Steelers defense, gave me hope this team can meet my preseason expectations. I’ve been saying all season, at some point this defense was going to have to step up and win a game for them. They finally did. Yes, the offense came out the gate swinging haymakers, but the defense set the tone.

The first play from scrimmage in the game, William Gay blitzed and stripped the ball out of Tolzien’s hand for a loss of 9 yards. Two plays later Javon Hargrave tackled Robert Turbin on 3rd down for a loss of 5 yards to force a punt. The defense was running down hill from there.

Then on the second drive, after giving up some momentum and 41 yards to the Colts, the D rose up and James Harrison sacked Tolzien at the 34-yard line on 3 and 1 to force a 52-yard field goal that future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri missed.

It’s great to finally see defensive coordinator Keith Butler dial up the pressure on opposing offenses instead of sitting back and playing that flimsy “bend but don’t break” scheme. The Black and Yellow followed up their NFL season high 8 sacks versus Cleveland last week, with 3 against Indy to go along with 11 QB hits and two interceptions by Mike Mitchell and William Gay.

Without the injured Cam Heyward, I’m concerned about the Steelers getting an effective pass rush with just their front three against better teams. I suspect, and hope, they’ll send more linebackers and even some defensive backs to get to the QB as the season goes on.

The most impressive part of the defense to me was the two strong goal-line stands from inside the five yard line at the end of the 1st half and beginning of the 4th quarter to keep the score at 21-7. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Pittsburgh has the best red zone defense in the NFL at 42.4%. Still its impressive that they were able to hold each time. If one of those turns into a touchdown, or even if Indianapolis kick and made field goals for 6 points, it’s a different game.

Brown catches his first of three touchdowns versus the Colts in the 28-7 win. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Offensively, the Killer B’s did what we expect them to do. The first three drives ended in touchdowns, and they were quick. Each drive was 7 plays of 52, 58, 78 yards, and the longest was 4 minutes and 2 seconds.

Ben Roethlisberger was 14 of 21 for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns. Brown had 5 receptions for 91 yards and his 8th, 9th and 10th touchdowns of the season. Once again Le’Veon Bell displayed his all-around abilities. Bell had 23 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown to go along with 4 catches for 22 yards.

I said in my preview of this matchup that offensive coordinator Todd Haley should run the gameplan through Bell even though the Colts have the worse pass defense in the NFL. The first two offensive plays were to #26. One rush for 10 yards and a first down and a reception for 2 yards. Which eventually opened up a 30-yard reception from Roethlisberger to Eli Rogers that he took down to the 8-yard line. Bell finished it off 2 plays later with a 5-yard rushing TD.
That’s the formula for this team, especially as we get deeper into the winter months when the weather won’t allow for Roethlisberger to sling the ball around as much as he’d probably like. If Bell touches the ball 25 times a game, the Steelers are going to win.

Bell rushed for 100+ yards in consecutive games for the first time in 2016. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The lone disappointment was the penalties. Pittsburgh is 20th in the NFL in penalties and 12th in penalty yards. Against the Colts they were penalized 7 times for 67 yards, and most were on the offense during crucial periods of drives. Those penalties stalled the offense. After their first 3 drives ended in touchdowns, the next three of the next four ended in punts, the other the end of the half after the goaline stand. Clean those up, and this game wouldn’t have been as close as it was. Those penalties have to be sured up before they get back into the tougher part of the schedule.

 

Next up, the  New York Giants (7-3) on December 4th at Heinz Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25.

Cleveland is the Remedy

Bell gained 201 yards from scrimmage vs. the Browns (146 rushing, 55 receiving). Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Saying the Pittsburgh Steelers were in a must win situation against the Cleveland Browns isn’t an exaggeration. It doesn’t matter that Cleveland is the only winless team in the NFL at now 0-11. It doesn’t matter that the Dallas Cowboys beat the Baltimore Ravens, who have the tie-breaker for the lead in the AFC North over the Steelers.

With a 4-game losing streak, and most likely needing to win the division to get into the playoffs, a loss would’ve sent this team into a greater tailspin that would have led to greater unwelcome ramifications for the coaching staff and players. I don’t care that it was the Browns, they needed something to feel better about themselves.

The smartest decision of the day was the Steelers electing to kickoff after winning the pre-game coin toss. This defense was under fire after giving up the win to the Dallas Cowboys with under a minute remaining after the offense appeared to have won it. It was imperative that defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s unit got off to a good start against the 28th ranked total offense and 30th ranked scoring offense, to gain some confidence without their best defender Cam Heyward, who is lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Even after allowing a 38-yard catch to Terrelle Pryor to convert a 3rd down, Artie Burns’ second career pick on 3rd and 17 to end the drive 3-plays later was the right dose of medicine needed to get this much maligned unit moving in the right direction.

The second drive began with a sack by Stephon Tuitt, his 2nd of the season and ended with another sack by Javon Hargrave six plays later. On the day, they finished with a season high 8 sacks, one of which led to a fumble recovered for a touchdown by Hargrave. The 8 sacks is the tied for the most in the NFL this season. They came into the game with only 13 sacks in 9 games, which was tied for dead last with the Oakland Raiders in that category. For only the third time this season they held a team under 300 total yards.

This week’s game ball goes to Stephon Tuitt and Lawrence Timmons. Tuitt had 6 tackles to go along with 2.5 sacks, and will need to come close to replicating this performance weekly in the absence of Heyward. Timmons also showed his veteran leadership with 8 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, and 3 hits on the QB.

Offensively, it appears Todd Haley has finally realized the best weapon he has, and in my opinion the most lethal in the entire NFL, is running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell had 11 touches (8 rushes, 45 yards; 3 receptions, 34 yards) for 79 of the 87 yards and converted 6 first downs on the first drive that started at their own 4-yard line and ended with a Chris Boswell 32-yard field goal. For the day, Bell finished with 28 carries for 146 yards and a TD, 8 receptions for 55 yards. Using Bell they way they did allowed them to play ball control, and win the time of possession battle 33:58 to 26:02 with 4 drives of over 11 plays. Most importantly, they kept the struggling Pittsburgh defense on the sideline.

But, settling for 3 field goals after two 16-play drives (9:18, 9:28), a 15-play drive (8:02), and struggling to get into the end zone from inside the 5-yard line at the end of the 1st half versus the second worse total defense in the NFL, is still highly concerning. I don’t care what the weather elements, Pittsburgh can’t go 1 of 4 inside the red zone. I don’t need to tell you that’s not going to get it done if they hope to make a playoff run, which is what this teams only focus should be.

However, a win is a win. And right now this team will take them.

Next up, at the Indianapolis Colts (5-5) on Thanksgiving Night. Last season the Steelers beat the Colts 45-10 at Heinz Field on the strength of Roethlisberger’s 24 of 39 for 364 yards and 4 touchdowns performance.

OTHER NOTES

  • Pittsburgh’s 4th sack of the day registered by James Harrison made him the Steelers all-time career sack leader with 77.5, passing fellow #92 Jason Gildon, when he sacked Cody Kessler on 2nd and goal early in the 3rd quarter.
  • Le’Veon Bell passed Jerome Bettis for the fewest games to 5,000 scrimmage yards in Steelers history. It took Bell 42 games, “The Bus” Jerome Bettis did it in 52.
  • Ben Roethlisberger passed Fran Tarkenton and Philip Rivers for 12th and 11th on the all-time completions list in NFL history. He now has 3,704.

Brown continue to set NFL records, he’s the fastest to 600 career receptions. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

  • Antonio Brown set an NFL record for the fewest games (96) to reach 600 career receptions on his 5th reception of the day. Brown had 8 catches for 76 yards against the Browns.

 

If Not Tomlin, Than Who?

In the midst of a four-game losing streak, many in Steeler Nation want the 10-year coach to be fired. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

I never thought I would say this about a fan base with so much tradition and knowledge of the game of football, but Pittsburgh Steelers fans have got to be some of the most delusional and irrational in the NFL. Many are calling for Mike Tomlin’s tenure in the “Steel City” to come to an end after the 35-30 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that extended the Steelers losing streak to 4-games.

The overwhelming venom spewed towards the 10-year head coach is nothing new. He always gets it no matter what type of season the team has or is having. He gets hell when they don’t win a Super Bowl, hell, even a playoff game. They can’t stand his cliché press conferences. Which by the way are no less informative than Bill Belichick’s. How’s that worked out for him and the New England Patriots?

If Steelers fans got their way—they won’t if you know anything about the Rooney family—and he was fired, Tomlin would have a job the next day. One presumable landing spot would be in the AFC North with the heated rival Cincinnati Bengals replacing the underachieving Marvin Lewis. Tomlin would haunt the Steelers like Belichick’s firing still haunts the Cleveland Browns organization. But, I bring up the Bengals head coach to make this point, that’s what a team that needs a coaching change looks like. 12-seasons no playoff wins, and us Steeler fans, I say us because I am a die hard fan of the Black and Yellow, need to look no farther than their collapse against Pittsburgh in the AFC Wild Card game this past January to know what dysfunction looks like. The Steelers are not dysfunctional, they’re struggling.

Bengals aside, an unemployed Tomlin would be pursued by 27 NFL owners immediately upon receiving a pink slip. The only teams that wouldn’t need to call would be the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. And I only say Dallas because we all know Jason Garrett is just Jerry Jones’ puppet, he’s really the coach. Who is out there good enough to take over for Tomlin? I’ll wait. [sounds of crickets]

Tomlin detractors constantly bring up that in addition to the on-field struggles, off the field issues created by Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant would never have happened under his predecessor Bill Cower. Um, as a life long Steeler fan, who is 36 years old, I am old enough to remember and say “yes they did!” One example, remember running back Bam Morris? And there were others.

The “Tomlin haters” constantly say he inherited a Ferrari from Coach Cower. How easy they forget Cower didn’t exactly inherit an empty cupboard from the Hall of Fame legend, Coach Chuck Knoll. Do these names ring a bell; Greg Lloyd, Rod Woodson, Dermontti Dawson, Barry Foster, Carlton Haselrig, David Little? All those guys were on the roster when Coach Knoll retired  after the 1991 season and Cowher took over. Except for Little, they were all Pro-Bowlers in 1992, Little was the previous season. The roster also boasted a young Carnell Lake, Ernie Mills and Merrill Hodge. The cupboard wasn’t bare. That’s how that ’92 team was able to win a division title.

Since Tomlin’s haters love to say Cower was a better coach than him, let’s look at it. Tomlin now has a fair body of work to put up next to Cower. So let’s compare the two.

In Cowher’s first 9 seasons (1992-2000), Pittsburgh went 86-58 with 5 AFC Central titles and one second place finish. The team went 5-6 in the playoffs, lost 2 AFC Championship games at old Three Rivers Stadium, and lost Super Bowl XXX to the Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers missed the playoffs 3 consecutive seasons (1998-2000) which included two losing seasons (7-9 in 1998; 6-10 in 1999).

In Tomlin’s first 9 seasons, the Steelers went 92-52, won 4 AFC North titles (came in 2nd 3 other times that led to the playoffs). He’s currently 6-5 in the playoffs, won one Super Bowl XLIII, and lost another one Super Bowl XLV. He’s only missed the playoffs 3-times and never had a losing season. Still think Cowher had the better run through his first 9 seasons?

I agree changes need to be made in the organization, but head coach isn’t one of them. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler doesn’t appear to have been ready to take over for the Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau. If his unit doesn’t drastically improve over the next seven games, regardless if the team makes the playoffs or not, he’ll likely be sent packing. If so, this defense could use some Rex Ryan attention as the D-coordinator after the Buffalo Bills cut bait with him when they miss the playoffs. Tomlin has the personality and relationship with Rex, to manage having the boisterous coach on his staff.

The other change, is a shift in draft philosophy from General Manager Kevin Colbert. I’ve been clamouring for Colbert to use first and second round draft picks on defensive backs since Super Bowl XLIII, when Kurt Warner and Larry Firzgerald carved up that aging secondary. Before drafting rookie Artie Burns with the 25th pick in the 2016 draft, Pittsburgh hadn’t drafted a defensive back in the first round since Troy Polumalu in 2003. All we heard on draft day year after year was “linebacker or defense end from _____ university.” Now is the time to start a run of drafting defensive backs year after year, round after round until they get it right. Don’t allow this explosive offense to be wasted because the defense can’t stop a faucet.

I still believe in Mike Tomlin, and I think most knowledgable, reasonable Steelers fans do as well. Everyone can’t be Bill Belichick and win a watered down division every year. But who’d want to, we don’t need a “Deflategate” or “Spygate” cloud over the Three Rivers.

Anyway, with everything I laid out, if you still don’t like Tomlin, it’s not a football issue. I’m left to wonder what it is, but I think I already know the answer.

While I’m ranting about stuff Steelers fans should stop saying, stop chanting “HEEEEEEAAAAAAATH” every time Jesse James catches as pass. It makes you sound ignorant and foolish as to who’s on your team. For goodness sakes, James played at many of yours beloved Penn State! All tall, athletic white guys don’t look alike.