As much of an undisciplined slop-fest as it was, I have now put the Steelers’ 2012 season in my rear view mirror. All I can say is that it was truly a shame to see what could have been a promising transition year go down the drain due to undisciplined play, a lack of accountability, and piss-poor decision making.
But enough of me rambling, because it is “On To The Next One” readers as our boys in Black & Gold will face the Browns on Sunday afternoon. Although the game might seem to be a tad “meaningless” and hard to get excited about for many in “Steeler Nation,” I look at this weekend’s contest as an important stage for some of Pittsburgh’s deserving and key backups to shine and earn some quality playing time.
Why Numerous Backups Should Play
For those of you in Steeler Nation sitting on your ivory towers’ who decry this idea and equate benching multiple starters automatically with losing, I can ask only two questions: “Why?” and “What Difference Does It Make to You?”
Think about it for a second. The Steelers are playing Cleveland, a 5-10 team, on Pittsburgh’s home field. Although the Browns have vastly improved this season, Cleveland is not on the same level as other 2012 juggernauts like Houston, Denver, or New England. The Browns currently rank 20th in Pass Yards per Game (216.9), 25th in Rush Yards per Game (97.0), 27th in Pass Yards Allowed per Game, and 19th in Rush Yards Allowed per Game (130.5). So while they are not pushovers by any means, they are still the same team that needed 8 Turnovers and a bad day by Pittsburgh’s 3rd String Quarterback just to beat the Steelers one month ago.
As far as playing multiple backups goes, Pittsburgh’s starting lineup on both sides of the ball has been littered with them all year. Players like Will Allen, Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian, and Chris Carter have all seen significant amounts of snaps due to multiple starters going down at various points this year. Most importantly though, the Steelers are and will be in a rebuilding phase over the next two to three years. Thus, would it not behoove the franchise to see exactly what they have in terms of depth and future starters and evaluate how they perform in game situations before they go out and acquire more players? So why I pray tell does it matter if some guys ride the pine?
Finally, what sense does it make to see another important starter (cough*Heath Miller*cough) go down with a serious injury? Especially in a game with zero postseason implications. Losing a Pro Bowler like Miller was awful, but what happens if other starters suffer serious injuries this weekend as well?
Who Deserves More PT & Who Deserves More Pine
What has LaMarr Woodley brought to the table all season besides an expanded waist line, assorted injuries, and the penchant to be single blocked by Right Tackles, Tight Ends, and some Running Backs? It does no good to play the $61.5 Million Dollar Man in Week 17 when a perfectly healthy and capable Jason Worilds is ready to contribute off of the bench. Worilds is actually ranked tied for 1st on the team in Sacks (5.0), and has flashed some solid pass-rushing ability this season in spot duty. I say give the 3rd year guy another shot to start and prove himself even more.
Steve McLendon & Cameron Heyward
Do not get me wrong, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel deserve to start and play on Sunday. Each player has been a warrior for this franchise, and at the very least both deserve to start what could eventually be their final home games with the Steelers. Nevertheless, both “Snack” and “The Beard” (along with Ziggy Hood) could stand to lose some reps at the expense of youngsters like Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward (and possibly even Al Woods).
McLendon is the Nose Tackle of the future for Pittsburgh and has played some solid football for this team over his four year career. Heyward, the team’s 2011 1st Round Draft Pick, will continue to have an increased role in the Defense in the future and also deserves more reps after an improved 2nd season. The next two seasons will likely feature some serious restructuring in the trenches on the Defensive side of the ball. Thus the more significant playing time that the backups and future starters receive in the present, the better I believe the team will be as they head into the future.
David Gilreath, Jerricho Cotchery, and Plaxico Burress
Like Woodley, why does Mike Wallace deserve a chance to start, let alone play in the Steelers’ final home contest? Seriously, why? Remember fans, this is a guy who refused to show up like a petulant child until the preseason was essentially over because of his lack of a long-term deal. But not only did Wallace whine about his RFA status, he also admitted to a “lack of focus” during this season because of a “lack of targets.” You know, despite the fact that he is on pace to set a career highs in Targets (119 currently).
With these things in mind, I certainly do not want to see #17 suiting up on Sunday afternoon. I personally hope that veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress, and the young David Gilreath receive nods to play in Wallace’s place. Although Cotchery and Burress are known entities as players, it might be wise for the Steelers to take an extended look at the speedy Gilreath to evaluate whether or not he is worth re-signing next season.
If you have not found out already, I just want to see only two things happen this weekend: the Steelers to win, and some backups to receive extended playing time. Is it a bit of a “having one’s cake and eating it too” mentality? Heck yes, but I say that it is high time give guys like Worilds, Heyward, McLendon, and Gilreath chances to contribute and prove themselves on Sunday afternoon. Plus, it also should be a chance to let Woodley and Wallace know that they have not “cut” the proverbial “mustard” this year and do not deserve to play or suit up for the final home contest.
And hey, if Pittsburgh happens to drop Sunday’s game to the Brownies, does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? Sure, some of you fans will whine because you can’t troll on message boards and poke fun at the long-suffering Cleveland fans and type phrases like “SIXBURGH” or “FACTORY OF SADNESS.” Sure, maybe Browns fans would have “bragging rights” over our collective fanbase the next nine months. But guess what? Those poor suckers have seen their team win only three games against the Steelers over the last 10 seasons! Heaven forbid you have to go through an offseason in which Cleveland bested Pittsburgh twice during the regular season. Does anybody remember most of the 1980’s or the 51-0 disaster on Opening Day of 1989? It is just sports everybody, and for a solid organization like the Steelers, “next year” always brings hope.
I’m not one of those people who wants the Steelers to “win by losing.” But I would rather see the franchise drafting at #14 with a better understanding of their personnel than at #17 with less understanding of their personnel in game situations.
So, I will say it again: “Give Some Steelers Backups Their Chances!” And who knows? They might surprise us as well.