The defense is really what has kept the Steelers viable for as long as they have been the last eight or so years, while the offense has been kind of an all-or-nothing proposition since Ken Whisenhunt left. We've covered this. In previous seasons when we've seen Ben Roethlisberger miss games due to suspensions or ouchies, the Steelers have emerged no worse for the wear because they've had stellar defenses and capable, short-term replacement quarterbacks. Now, they have neither. And to posit that the Steelers' record would be two games better now than it would be if they had Matt Moore or Jason Campbell or the decaying carcass of Donovan McNabb in there is to neglect the fact that this team lost to Tennessee (4-9), Oakland (3-10) and San Diego (5-8). And that's not even counting what should be considered a bad loss to Cleveland (5-8), who gets the benefit of the doubt for being a division opponent with a stacked front seven.
This isn't about Dick LeBeau being too old or the game passing him by or anything like that. LeBeau is a well-deserved Hall-of-Famer whose credentials as a player, coach and innovator are impeccable and well-chronicled. But the defense is old. The players on the defense are old. The base 3-4 the Steelers run is a very difficult defense to staff, and over the last several drafts, they've done a shitty job of restocking. On top of that, they way LeBeau has adjusted the defensive approach has seen them all but completely give up on trying to pressure the quarterback, and focused on tackling the catch. That's why the Steelers don't force turnovers and have ceased to be as a disruptive force. Organized chaos is no longer on the menu. I don't necessarily think the Steelers need to abandon the 3-4, move to the 4-3, or adopt some kind of amoeba hybrid like a lot of teams are using, but it's clear this iteration of the Steelers defense is a conservative one which lacks depth on the line, at linebacker and -- in a big way -- at safety. The defense needs a major facelift. That said, LeBeau should hop on the boat for Valinor and let LB coach Keith Butler, who has turned down job offers each of the last three offseasons to stay in Pittsburgh with the idea that he would ultimately succeed LeBeau, finally succeed LeBeau.
Ben Roethlisberger is 30 years old and takes a pretty steady stream of physical abuse. How long a window of time do the Steelers have to win another Super Bowl with Roethlisberger at the helm? Four years is realistic. Five is generous. As Ben ages, the guys chasing him don't. The rest of the league doesn't. The Steelers are about two years away -- certainly no more -- from needing to start looking for Ben's replacement. What's allowed the Steelers to succeed so much since drafting Roethilsberger -- apart from the man himself -- is that when he took over the starting job, the defense was ready to go. Half the football team was already built to compete.
The Steelers offense isn't in terrible shape. There's good depth on the offensive line. They have one of the game's best young centers, a solid guard and a guard prospect, and a couple of interesting project players at tackle. Their tight end is the best balanced one in the game. One capable running back and one more receiver and this is a solid unit. If the Steelers begin the rebuild the defense now, they'll not only maximize Roethlisberger's remaining years, they'll set themselves up to succeed immediately once they're ready to transition from Ben to whomever's next. This needs to happen.
- Heath Miller and Keenan Lewis are the only guys on this team who are pulling their weight week-to-week, and they're unquestionably the team's MVPs. If I gave a shit, I'd suggest the Steelers give them both Week 17 off, and have all the other players chip in and get them gift certificates to some really nice restaurants or something. Let them take their wives or girlfriends or parents or whomever to nice dinners. And yes, I feel like an appropriate reward for playing football well should be that you don't have to play football any more than absolutely necessary.
- 2012 has been a terrible year for music. I have a friend with whom I always exchange end-of-the-year best-of lists, and when I went to start making mine this year last week, I struggled to come up with 30 songs I even liked this year. Five albums is going to be a chore.
- A word to people who drive around with giant menorahs strapped to the roofs of their cars: stop it. The people who do this want to have it both ways. Anyone who puts a giant menorah on top of a car is observant enough to know that Hanukkah is the most ostensibly meaningless holiday on the entire Jewish calendar. The bastardized version of Hanukkah people celebrate today has nothing to do with historical or religious relevance and everything to do with Jews feeling left out whenever Christmas comes around. Knowing this full well, they're taking that holiday and assigning undue importance to it because 1) they don't like feeling excluded, but 2) they also don't like the thought of driving down the street without obnoxiously reminding people that not everyone celebrates some religious, secular, cultural or commercial iteration of Christmas. In essence, they're saying, "I want to be included in all this, but how dare you include me?" It also strikes me as madly hypocritical that the most religious faction among a people -- the ones dead-set on not assimilating -- would falsely augment the importance of a totally arbitrary holiday for the purpose of feeling less left out -- which, let's face it, is what they're doing.
- I'm going to let you all in on a lunch meat secret. The Santa Fe Turkey in the deli at Giant Eagle is unreal. On top of that, it's lower in salt than nearly other lunch meat typically found at said deli counter, and it's not terribly expensive. It's flavorful, zesty and spicy, but not too spicy. I like to go with a few slices of that on whole wheat toast with lettuce, tomato, a slice of provolone and a few dashes of hot sauce.