The expectations were extremely high for the Pittsburgh Steelers this past season, after reaching the AFC Championship game last year. Ben Roethlisberger and the killer Bs, along with an exciting young defense, were to travel the road to greatness. They were destined for their seventh Lombardi Trophy, in honor of Dan Rooney. Unfortunately, the Jacksonville Jaguars ended their season. Many blame Mike Tomlin as the sole cause of the Steelers failures. Keith Butler has caught some blame as well. The truth is, everyone on the roster and coaching staff must each share a bit of the blame. Tomlin and Butler deserve to keep their jobs, and there’s no need for radical or knee-jerk changes. The simple fact is, the Steelers must become extraordinary at doing ordinary things.
The Steelers have arguably the most talented and explosive offense in the NFL. Two of its players, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, are the best in the league at their positions. Roethlisberger is still playing at an elite level. Martavis Bryant, the fourth Killer B, came on strong down the stretch following a year-long suspension. Last but not least, the Steelers offense found a new weapon in JuJu Smith-Schuster. The NFL’s youngest player led all rookie receivers in yards and receptions. The offense struggled early on while developing chemistry, but was hitting on all cylinders by the end of the season.
The defense, led by Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier, led the NFL with 56 sacks. They ranked 10th with 14 interceptions. The defensive line is the strength of this unit, with Stephon Tuitt and Heyward being one of the best pairs of ends in the league. T.J. Watt, Artie Burns, and Sean Davis represent the future of a defense that has come a long way. They are fast, athletic, and young, but are still learning and developing. Having said that, why did such a talented team fall short of its championship goals? The most frustrating questions are, what do they need to do differently and what is keeping them from another title? These Steelers must become extraordinary at doing ordinary things.
Players Must Become Students of Their Positions
The Steelers are proof that exceptional talent will only take you so far. While they have championship talent on paper, they haven’t found a way to translate it on the field. There are many theories as to why, which all tend to focus on a particular aspect, from coaching to positional liabilities. So what’s the difference between this Steelers team and the one that won Super Bowl XLIII? The coaching staff is similar. Tomlin has proven he can get the most out of a talented team, so it’s unfair to say he can’t. The players on this team are just as talented overall as those on the Super Bowl XLIII team.
So, if it isn’t the coaching or the talent, what is it that is holding the Steelers back? These Steelers players have yet to become the students of their positions that the 2008 players were. Why? Possibly because this is a much younger team that doesn’t yet understand what it takes to be a champion. It doesn’t mean they don’t work hard, they do, they just have to work smarter. That’s the difference between a paper champion and a Super Bowl champion when both teams are equally talented.
The Steelers Must Do Ordinary Extraordinarily Well To Be Champions
The hallmark of the Steelers of the 1970s was that they mastered the ordinary details of their jobs. Nobody was going to block, tackle, or execute their assignments better than them. Chuck Noll believed that the key to success was doing the little things better than anyone else. He understood that big plays were great, but championships were won by doing the ordinary things extraordinarily well. The 2017 Steelers were very good, but they weren’t good enough to win the Super Bowl. Not because they aren’t good as a team, but because there were too many breakdowns doing basic things. That’s not a coaching issue or a talent issue, it’s a mental issue, a desire issue.
The defense was the Steelers Achilles heel this season. Too many players missed tackles and blew assignments all season. Losing Shazier exposed these flaws. Perhaps it’s a result of everyone wanting to make the big play, or not trusting in the system. Either way, being extraordinary at the ordinary has to become a priority. It means each player doing what he is supposed to do, and being where he is supposed to be. It means trusting that each person will do their job. It is up to Tomlin and his staff to steer the team towards this mindset, but it’s up to the players to trust in it.
Last Word on Steelers Being Extraordinary at the Ordinary
The Steelers have issues that they must address this off-season, including finding a safety and Shazier’s replacement. While that will certainly aid the defense, the biggest thing they can do to help themselves comes from within. They need to master the little things and consistently do the ordinary things extraordinarily. That is the foundation for every champion and dynasty in every sport. How much better would Roethlisberger and the offense be if the defense could give them three to four extra possessions a game? If the defense could get off the field more on third downs, that’s fewer chances to give up points.
The defense gave up 41 percent of the third-down conversions against them (88/214), ranking 23rd in the NFL. They ranked 18th in giving up 11 of 21 fourth down conversions (52.4%) on the season. If the Steelers were extraordinary at doing ordinary things consistently, these percentages would drop drastically. And chances are the AFC Championship would’ve been played at Heinz Field this year. Each player in that locker room is responsible for doing his job and executing his assignments. When they master the minute details of their job, the Steelers will return to the Super Bowl, not until then.
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