Wilson: Sifting through the wreckage

It's official: the Steelers won't make the playoffs. And the fate of their head coach might be determined as soon as next week. Ryan Wilson shares his thoughts on the team as it heads into the off-season.

... I spent the Christmas holiday in North Carolina. My wife and I drove down Friday (it only took five hours to drive the 90 miles from DC to Richmond ... and it rained the entire way!), spent three uneventful days in the state of my youth, and returned to civilization yesterday. For the first time ever, North Carolina felt like it was 10-15 years behind the rest of the country. It's what I imagine it feels like living next to Fred Flintstone. My parents have cable, but it's one of the local companies, which means that the only way to find out what's on the tube is to either watch the TV Guide channel or actually read the TV Guide. How quaint. It also means they get about 40 channels and no NFL Network.

Oh, yeah, the parental units also have dial-up. As in, you have to connect through the phone or something if you want the privilege of waiting 15 minutes for Google to load so you can check your e-mail.

Making matters worse is that I wouldn't be able to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers - Baltimore Ravens game (which, in hindsight, turned out to be a good thing), but instead had to listen to the radio broadcast on the internets ... via dial-up. So that's what I did. Let me state that listening to your team get stomped is infinitely more frustrating than watching it. The good news -- as much as a 31-7 romp can be good -- was that I DVR-ed the game and would be able to watch it once I returned from the technological backwoods. Well, I got as far as the first quarter before accidentally erasing it.

(Before going on, I should note that my wife and I have been loyal TiVo users since 2002. I would often make fun of my friends using the clumsy DVR's the cable companies were hawking and accuse them of being part of the "Big Corporations Ruin Everything Good" problem that pervades segments of the U.S. economy. And then we got an HD television. I was all set to get an HD TiVo until they informed me it would set me back $799. Hello, Comcast DVR. To call it a piece of crap wouldn't begin to explain how inferior it is. Just imagine all the features, intuitive design and ease of use of TiVo and throw them out the window. What's left is the Comcast DVR. I mention this here because one of the features that would've been useful after I accidentally erased the game was TiVo's undelete option. But alas...)

Since I had no way to retrieve the now deleted game, I just shook my head and realized that God was taking mercy on me. No need to listen to the debacle live and then be forced to view it too. To which I can only say: Thanks, Big Guy.

... The good news -- if you want to call it that -- is Pittsburgh didn't get shut out this time. And Ben Roethlisberger only took five sacks. In two games against the Ravens, the Steelers were outscored 58-7 and allowed 14 sacks. So, does this mean the team needs an overhaul to compete with a suddenly very good Baltimore team? Nah. I wrote about this last month and my views haven't changed. Just because Pittsburgh laid two really big eggs against a division rival is no reason to overreact. This is virtually the same team that went 26-6 the last two seasons. Baltimore won six games last year with basically the same defense. The biggest difference has been the play of the Ravens' offensive line and Steve McNair.

Think about it: in the 2005 season opener against Tennessee, the Steelers hounded McNair for most of the day; This year, he was virtually untouched for seven quarters (remember, things got so out of hand in the first meeting that Kyle Boller actually played the final quarter) and he picked them apart. There's such a fine line between success and failure in the NFL that starting over from scratch is almost never the answer. Save blowing up the roster because of salary cap issues or rebuilding a team put together by Matt Millen, usually teams are only a few players and some good coaching away from the playoffs. Just ask the Saints, Jets and maybe even the Titans.

One last thought on this: the Ravens-Steelers matchup is always a tough one. This is the first time since 2002 that a team has swept the season series -- although the margin of victory is the largest ever -- but Baltimore is one of those teams that, no matter how the rest of the year unfolds, plays Pittsburgh very tough. I kind of liken it to the troubles the Patriots have playing in Miami. It's weird, but it's not necessarily indicative of anything more than how one team matches up extremely well against another team, won-loss records be damned.

... Coach Cowher made some vague comments about addressing his future sometime next week. I still have no idea what he'll do although a lot of folks are under the impression he's going to call it quits. That's fine. I've written before that I won't begrudge the guy for retiring -- people do it all the time -- and I wish him the best in his future endeavors as long as it doesn't include coaching another NFL team. But maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves. ProFootballTalk.com speculates that maybe Cowher might hang around a while:

"...one league insider thinks that maybe, just maybe, the Rooneys put a firm offer on the table before the 2006 season, and Cowher's announcement will be that he has decided to accept it."
That certainly is an interesting theory and if we're giving it odds, I'd list them at just better than the chance the Steelers make the playoffs this season. Which, I guess, puts them somewhere north of 0%. But not much.

... Assuming Cowher does retire, I only have two coaching-candidate requests: One, under no circumstances should Redskins' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams get an interview. For starters, he's a douchebag. I say this because I've been subjected to his pompous act since he arrived in Washington. Previously, he ran the Bills into the ground because the players got tired of his "It's not me, it's you" coaching style and the same thing is happening to the Redskins' defense this season. If you don't believe me, just read Tom Friend's scathing piece in The Magazine. Or, if you're too lazy to click the link, consider this passage:

I asked a Redskins player what he thought of defensive guru Gregg Williams, and he said, "Arrogant. Thinks he invented the wheel."

The problem, according to a notable Redskins player, is a scheme, a staff and a play-calling regimen that is flawed and predictable, and a sense that Williams is on too much of a power trip to adjust.

"Why are we the 30th defense in the league? I think coaches got arrogant, I think Gregg got arrogant," the player said Tuesday, asking not to be identified. "They thought they figured it all out. They thought, 'We can win with scheme, we don't need players.'

If there's one thing the Steelers don't need, it's an egomaniacal, predictable play caller. And yes, I've certainly given consideration to the fact that maybe the unnamed player quoted throughout the article might have an ax to grind but let me ask you this: Isn't it true that the Redskins' defense is predictable. I've watched almost all their games this season and they've been absolutely atrocious. Also, how many times have unnamed Steelers made similar comments about Dick LeBeau? Or even Bill Cowher, for that matter? Yep, I'll pass on Williams.

My second request: No college coaches. If history's any indication, it's just too big of a time commitment. I won't rehash my entire argument here (I wrote about it last month), but here's the Cliff's Notes version:

"... bringing in a college coach creates more problems than it solves. First, there will be an adjustment period to the NFL game. Don't think so? Just ask Butch Davis, Steve Spurrier or Dennis Erickson.

Then there's the issue of all the new assistant coaches who, if they don't have any NFL coaching experience, will also be adjusting to a totally different game. Unless you're willing to blow up the team and start over, I don't know why you'd want to introduce a new offensive and defensive philosophy with a bunch of new-to-the-NFL coaches (a new special teams philosophy would be welcome, however). And even if you did start from scratch, what guarantee is there that a college coach won't be a complete flop?

I know the same argument can be made about hiring an NFL coach (head coach or assistant coach) but at least there's a track record. You know what you're getting with Jeff Fisher, John Gruden or even Steve Mariucci, but a college coach with a great pedigree? Yes, Jimmy Johnson won a Super Bowl in Dallas after winning a national championship at the University of Miami but he might be the exception (plus, that was before salary cap era). In addition to Spurrier, Davis and Erickson, Pete Carroll, Dave Wannstedt and Al Groh have all struggled in the NFL and the jury is still out on Nick Saban."

Like I've written countless time before, I'll take Cowher. But if he's not an option, I'll be happy with the Steelers interviewing any candidates who (a) aren't named Gregg Williams or, (b) aren't currently coaching in college.

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