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Mark Madden: Steelers don’t deserve to make playoffs |
Mark Madden, Columnist

Mark Madden: Steelers don’t deserve to make playoffs

Mark Madden
| Monday, December 24, 2018 3:30 p.m
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin challenges side judge Dyrol Prioleau in the first half in New Orleans on Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018.

The Steelers’ defeat at New Orleans has four major talking points:

• The pass interference call on Joe Haden in the first quarter. Not a flag by any stretch of the imagination.

• Steven Ridley’s fumble. Why is a marginal talent with a history of fumble-itis in the game, let alone getting that carry?

• The fake punt call. If you want to go for it on fourth-and-5 because you’re afraid to put your defense on the field, keep your offense out there and use your legit weapons. Don’t direct-snap to a slow fullback. Better yet, just punt.

• JuJu Smith-Schuster’s fumble. The final nail in the coffin.

Chris Boswell probably would have missed the game-tying field goal, anyway. “I’ll bet you a hundred bucks you slice it into the woods!”

But the Steelers not making the playoffs has nothing to with Sunday’s loss to the Saints.

The Steelers (8-6-1) were 51/2-point underdogs at New Orleans (13-2). When Steelers fans evaluated the schedule before the season started, they marked that game with an “L”. The Steelers weren’t supposed to win that game.

The Steelers not making the playoffs has four major talking points:

• They blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead at Cleveland on Sept. 9 and tied 21-21. James Conner’s fourth-quarter fumble provided a dagger.

• They lost 24-17 at Denver on Nov. 25 when Xavier Grimble tried to prove his manhood instead of scoring a touchdown.

• They wasted a 16-point halftime lead at home vs. the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 2, losing 33-30. The Steelers had been 220-0-2 in home games where they led by 14 or more.

• They lost 24-21 at Oakland on Dec. 9 when coach Mike Tomlin and an old, broken-down X-ray machine conspired to keep Ben Roethlisberger out of the game for four series. Josh Dobbs probably isn’t the future, and definitely wasn’t the present. (Oakland is now 3-11. It’s fair to say that loss provoked the most outrage, and did the most damage.)

Those results will be why the Steelers don’t make the postseason, not the loss at New Orleans. (And not because Cleveland doesn’t upset Baltimore while the Steelers beat Cincinnati next Sunday. Relying on the required scenario is a bit far-fetched. Wouldn’t it be just like the Steelers to lose to Cincinnati while the Browns uphold their end of the bargain?)

The Steelers should have won all four of those games. Expecting three wins out of those contests is extremely reasonable. Winning two has them in control of the AFC North.

But Tomlin has never had a losing season. That’s what counts.

As has been often discussed in this space and on my radio show, Tomlin won’t be fired, and (probably) shouldn’t be. Whoever replaced him would (probably) be inferior and (probably) wouldn’t do as well. (This season’s disappointment merits parenthetical disclaimers.)

Also frequently written/talked about: These Steelers aren’t that good. They have lots of firepower on offense. But most of their defensive players are marginal. They didn’t come close to replacing Ryan Shazier, that platoon’s catalyst before his injury.

The last six Steelers games have come down to the final seconds. They’re 2-4 in those games.

As Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are.” These Steelers don’t deserve better.

This column has previously listed four things that should be done if the Steelers miss the playoffs:

• Fire special teams coach Danny Smith. Sunday’s blocked field goal aside, that platoon stinks.

• Fire outside linebackers coach Joey Porter. Coaches can’t cause chaos. Porter too often does.

• Hire a specialist to be in charge of clock management and replay reviews. He has final say in those situations.

• GM Kevin Colbert has autonomy on all roster decisions. Tomlin should concentrate on coaching.

At the least, owner Art Rooney II should drill down deep on why the Steelers are stuck in a rut. Why this year’s team failed. Why it plummeted from 7-2-1 to 8-6-1. Why the Steelers have won just three playoff games in seven years. Why the Steelers play down to the level of inferior foes, as exemplified by Tomlin’s 6-5 career record straight up when the Steelers are favored by nine points or more on the road. The rest of the NFL is 52-10 in that situation since 2007, the year Tomlin took the helm in Pittsburgh.

Talk to ex-players. Talk to former Tomlin assistants. What’s gone wrong? How could the Steelers do better? I’d love to hear what Troy Polamalu or Bruce Arians might say.

But Rooney will probably do nothing. Maybe defensive coordinator Keith Butler will be a sacrificial lamb, terminated because of his inability to polish excrement.

In 2019, the “Steelers way” will be based on inaction, and produce more mediocrity. Happy new year!

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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