And things don't look to get any easier. A month ago all the talk was about Pittsburgh's brutal first-half schedule followed by eight weeks of mostly cakewalks. Forget about it. Now, every game is the Super Bowl, and honestly, with guys going on injured reserve like it's some kind of competition, the Steelers best chance to even sniff the postseason probably involves signing John J. Rambo. ("Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don't turn it off!" Come on, we need this kind of element in the locker room, right?)
So, short of bringing in a mentally unstable Vietnam war vet, what can the Steelers do to turn things around? I'm glad you asked. Here you go, ten ways to fix the season, post-haste:
10. Unplug Bill Cowher's headset during games ... or at the very least just have a recording of all the assistant coaches saying, "Yeah, that sounds like a great idea, coach!" after he makes a predictable hair-brained suggestion during a crucial part of the game.
"4th-and-8, four minutes to go in the first quarter, ball on our 36-yard-line? We're going for it."
"Yeah, that sounds like a great idea, coach!"
(Punt team takes the field, Chris Gardocki gets off his one millionth successful punt-without-a-block; Cowher forgets he even called the fourth-down play.)
I'm half-kidding when I write this but Cowher has a knack for screwing things up at the worst possible time. My favorite example was the 2004 Washington Redskins game. The Redskins were awful, but their defense kept them in most games; at least until Mark Brunell – and later Patrick Ramsey – managed to submarine their efforts.
Anyway, Pittsburgh, leading 13-0 in the third quarter, had just stuffed Washington three times from the Steelers' one-yard-line. The Redskins, with nothing to play for, went for it, Dick LeBeau made his call and Cowher, after some consideration, overruled him.
The result? Touchdown pass from Ramsey to Chris Cooley.
Now, there's nothing to say that the Redskins wouldn't have scored anyway, but until that point LeBeau was three-for-three (stopping two runs and a pass).
Yeah, somebody should really look into unplugging that headset idea.
9. Trade for Chidi, Andre Frazier stat I admit it, I'm a Chidi Iwuoma fan. And I have been since the team signed him. He's undersized but plays special teams like he just did enough cocaine to kill a small horse, and right now that's exactly what Pittsburgh needs.
Andre Frazier made a living knocking the crap out of people during punts and kickoffs. Now filling that role ... nobody. James Harrison is injured, Brett Keisel graduated to defensive starter, and while Sean Morey and Clint Kreiwaldt are good complimentary special teamers, they'll never be confused for guys like Harrison, Frazier or Iwuoma.
Again, I'm sorta kidding here – I don't really think Pittsburgh should trade for these guys, but it does raise the question: Why were they released in the first place? I know, I know, Ben Roethlisberger's appendectomy threw a monkey wrench in things, and Andre Frazier's personal issues didn't help his chances, but – and I said this during the summer – special teams are kinda important. Right Kevin Spencer? Which leads me to this ...
8. Fire the special teams coach I'm quite certain it's not all Kevin Spencer's fault, but he's the special teams coach and right now that unit stinks. If the Steelers aren't last in the league in average starting field position, I guess we should again be thankful the Arizona Cardinals are still in the NFL. And the coverage teams are a joke. I mean, at this point it might be a really good idea to only draft special teams players next April. It's that bad.
I'm usually all for keeping the 'ol gang together – I thought Cowher should've kept Tim Lewis even though it was pretty clear he wasn't getting the most out of the defense – but at 2-5 what's Cowher got to lose? If nothing else, it sends a message: "Coaches, just like players, will be held accountable." (Right Kendall Simmons?)
Another 2-5 team, the Redskins are arguably the most disappointing team in the league and even though their season ran directly into an iceberg a few weeks ago, Captain Joe Gibbs refuses to make any changes. And you know what? Mark Brunell will lead that team to the bottom of the Atlantic with Gibbs right there with him because he was too stubborn to change things up. And if things don't change in Pittsburgh, the ocean floor could get crowded.
7. Make Willie Parker carry a football with him at all times ... even outside of practice -- just like Omar Epps in "The Program." Hey, it worked for Eastern State University, it can work for Pittsburgh. And as long as we're at it – and with depth concerns at linebacker – the Steelers should give serious consideration to signing Steve Lattimer. There's your special teams maniac right there; plus, he's already got the random drug test thing figured out.
6. Start fining wide receivers and tight ends for dropped passes I know Roethlisberger's four interceptions were the reason the Steelers lost, but right before his third pick (or maybe it was his fourth, I lost count) was returned 100 yards for a touchdown, Heath Miller didn't snag a pass in the end zone. That one play could've changed the complexion of the game more than the two interceptions. Obviously, we'll never know but I'm pretty sure Miller would say he should've made the play.
If fines don't work, maybe take a page from my junior high basketball coach's playbook and make players run laps around the field ... during games. If they aren't embarrassed into catching the ball, well, then the season's already lost.
5. Fine Big Ben for really dumb decisions; double for really dumb interceptions By my count, he owes the Rooney's about $10 million dollars. Seriously, it's got to stop. Even Tommy Maddox is making fun of him.
4. With Verron Haynes done for the season, Run Duce ragged When he gets tired, run Najeh ragged. In seasons past, Jerome Bettis allowed the Steelers to run with some success even with teams stacking the line of scrimmage. Without a big fat guy to dole out punishment -- even on two- and three-yard gains – opponents don't fear Pittsburgh's running game. And when it becomes obvious that the Steelers must pass to win, defenses blitz Roethlisberger silly. It's a lose-lose.
If Ben can't find open receivers with teams stacking the line of scrimmage early in the game, maybe there are bigger concerns ...
3. Get some new tests to measure Big Ben's game-readiness Whatever doctors currently use to determine if a player is game-ready isn't working. In fact, from the looks of it these tests aren't very good at measuring much of anything.
How about having Ben solve one side of Rubik's cube in a room illuminated only by a strobing black light? Or at the very least, give him the OTT (the Odell Thurman Test): shotgun a six-pack in 15 minutes, walk a straight line and say the ABCs backwards.
If Big Ben passes, he plays; if not, he sits and it's Chaz Batch time. It's that simple.
This isn't a quarterback controversy because the Steelers would only have one healthy quarterback.
And given last week's performance, if you think Ben's 100 percent -- or even 75 percent -- let me ask you this: What do you think the Steelers' record would be if Batch had started every game this season? Okay, don't think about that, it'll just make you really depressed.
2. Get the young guys involved I'm against throwing in the towel -- even during that 2003 debacle -- but it's important to know who can do what as the Steelers start planning their draft strategy. And as of last Sunday at 7:30 PM EST, preparation for the 2007 draft started in earnest. Offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, cornerback, running back and quarterback are all needs (loosely ranked by importance).
Chukky Okobi will get a chance to prove if he's a capable starter, but if the game circumstances dictate, let's see what Marvin Philip and Kendall Simmons can do. Give Trai Essex some time at both guard and tackle; and let Willie Colon pimp-slap some opponents around like he threatened to do to Clark Haggans during training camp.
I say all this with one caveat: if Roethlisberger is healthy – I mean truly healthy, not him being able to remember his cell phone number – or Batch takes over starting duties while Ben recovers (for real this time) the Steelers shouldn't change anything up. At 2-5, the funeral procession is getting ready to make its way to the cemetery, but until the Steelers drop one more game – and let's be honest, that reality could be hours away – there's still a chance, no matter how seemingly remote.
1. The organization should pee or get off the pot concerning Bill Cowher's future with the team I never thought Cowher's contract situation had anything to do with his coaching abilities ... until now. If the Steelers want to keep him around, extend his contract past 2007. If they don't, let Cowher know that he's done at the end of the season. No need in him dragging things out another year, only delaying the rebuilding process. I'm not saying he should be fired – allow him to leave on his terms as long as that happens to be sometime in February 2007 if that's what the Rooney's want.
The team should then move quickly to hire Whisenhunt or Grimm or whomever they think would be best for the job.
Whatever the Rooney's decide to do is fine by me, but they just need to do it. If the team's winning such things are a nuisance; at 2-5 it's officially a distraction.