Today's absurd prediction:
The Steelers will not be a top 10 defense for the first time this millennium.
Anyone who's read my blog with any regularity has figured out by now that I put a lot of stock in continuity, especially on the offensive line and among the coaching staff. Of course, there are times when a new coach takes his team to a surprisingly good season; last years' Jets and Saints, for example, and the Tampa Bay-Oakland Super Bowl featured two coaches in their first year. Of course, both of those teams were largely intact from the previous regime. It's possible the same thing will happen to the Steelers this year, since they've only lost a few crucial players, but I'm predicting there will be some serious chemistry issues that cost the team several games.
Here's the breakdown for the Pittsburgh Steelers:
Coaching Changes: C
Hiring former disciples of Tony Dungy is the "in" thing these days, and the Rooneys' hiring of Mike Tomlin as head coach is the latest case. He seems to be a sharp guy, with strong motivational skills, and in time I think he'll be a great coach. But I also think he needs to bring up his own players - he's not the sort of guy to be successful with an inherited team. I think that's why he was the choice, ultimately. Dan Rooney hires for the long haul - if he wanted someone who could keep going with Bill Cowher's team and Cowher's way of doing things, he would have hired one Cowher's assistants; Russ Grimm or Ken Whisenhunt. But now there's an interesting situation: Bruce Arians was promoted from WR coach to offensive coordinator, and Dick LeBeau remains as defensive coordinator. Thus we have two Cowher guys assisting the new coach. I think LeBeau will move on after this year, because no matter what Tomlin says about running a hybrid 4-3/3-4 scheme, he's phasing the 3-4 out, which also means phasing LeBeau out. For losing a great proven coach and offensive coordinator and replacing them with unproven ones, C isn't a bad grade.
First-rounder Lawrence Timmons is one piece of evidence that Tomlin plans a 4-3 switch eventually. Timmons is an undersized, speedy linebacker much like those Dungy uses in Indianapolis. Second-rounder LaMarr Woodley is the sort of defensive end Cowher or Bill Belichick might draft to become an outside linebacker in a 3-4. Put together, they're evidence of the identity crisis Pittsburgh may be about to go through. I don't know about picking TE Matt Spaeth in the third round. With 24-year old Heath Miller on the roster, there were positions that needed depth more. RB Tony Hunt, who went later to the Eagles, would have been a great complement to Willie Parker at that pick.
Player Movement: B
Joey Porter became the latest in a string of star LBs that Pittsburgh decided they didn't want to pay for. They signed Kevan Barlow, who is long past his prime but may change the pace enough to help out Willie Parker. Other than that, there hasn't been much change to the roster. And continuity is good; but I can't shake the feeling that I'd rather see Tomlin run Tomlin's team, not Cowher's.
One of the easier schedules you'll find in the AFC. They play the NFC West, the AFC East, and draw the Broncos and Jaguars - pretty average, all things considered. However, the schedule is very imbalanced. They play three of the NFC teams consecutively after opening at Cleveland and at home vs. Buffalo. So if they don't have a winning record before the bye, they should start panicking. All four games against Cincinnati or Baltimore come after the bye, as do the contests vs. Denver, New England, and the Jets.
I don't like what I've been hearing out of Pittsburgh this year. Tomlin runs one of the league's toughest camps, apparently, which seems to me like a dictatorial effort to establish himself as, and history is filled with coaches and kings who have done the same and it's backfired. Most of these players have been under Cowher for some time, and are loyal to him. And if Cowher comes back into the league next year, how many of them are going to want to rejoin him? Also, there are the issues of Alan Faneca's contract dispute, players voicing disagreement with how Porter's situation happened, Ben Roethlisberger's burning his bridges with Cowher, and even assistant coach Larry Zierlein's forwarding porn to the entire league - it all stinks of dysfunction.
The Record: 6-10
Yes, I'm crazy. But that has nothing to do with this. I think that in time, Tomlin will build a great team around Roethlisberger, Parker, and Troy Polamalu. But this team is going to need to be broken down and rebuilt first, and that's ultimately what Rooney was signing off on when he hired Tomlin in the first place.