There will be plenty of time to look ahead at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2013 season.
This Steelers offseason is going to be about a month longer than we’re used to, and even a week longer than last year, when the Steelers at least got into the playoffs before losing in the first round.
If we start making 2013 projections now, the wait for next season will seem that much longer. It’s much less agonizing to throw one more tomato at the Steelers for their 2012 performance.
This tomato is directed at Antonio Brown, who hopefully can catch it and use it to help fill the giant Heinz Field ketchup bottle, assuming he doesn’t fumble it.
Sure, LaMarr Woodley had just four sacks this season. The last time he had less than nine sacks in a season was 2007, his rookie year.
Woodley deserves some blame for the Steelers’ failure to make the playoffs.
Mike Wallace caught just 64 passes, down from 72 last year, and averaged a career-low 13.1 yards per catch. He also dropped six passes and told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he loses focus when he doesn’t get the ball for long periods of time.
That’s not what anyone wanted to hear.
Wallace is another reason the NFL playoffs are beginning today and your Terrible Towel is stored away at the bottom of the drawer.
Brown, though, was the Steelers’ Most Valuable Player in 2011. So more was expected of him in 2012.
It’s hard to criticize Brown, who seems like more of a team player compared to Wallace. While Wallace was holding out during the summer, Brown was rewarded for his team-MVP season with a five-year, $42.5 million contract extension.
That might have been the problem.
Brown didn’t seem to have the same desire this season after signing that fat contract.
He led Steelers wide receivers with 66 catches despite missing three games with injuries. He also scored a career-high five touchdowns. There were times, though, when it seemed Brown didn’t want to get his hands dirty.
Brown’s complacency played a part in the Steelers’ most embarrassing lowlight of 2012. In their Week 14 loss at home to the Chargers, Brown merely bent over to pick up a live ball in the Steelers end zone instead of falling on it. He might have assumed the ball that Ben Roethlisberger doinked off David Paulson’s ass was an incomplete pass. But the Steelers already were trailing 20-3, and Brown felt no urgency to sacrifice his body just in case the play was ruled a fumble, which it was. It turned into a Chargers touchdown and a 27-3 San Diego lead.
Even if Brown had shown some hustle on that play, the Steelers probably still would have lost the game. The Chargers won 34-24.
However, the Steelers might have had two more wins this season if Brown had been tough enough to hold onto the ball.
In the Steelers’ Week 3 loss at Oakland, they led 31-28 early in the fourth quarter. Brown caught a pass to get the Steelers into Raiders territory, but fumbled it away. The Raiders turned that into a game-tying field goal and eventually won 34-31.
In Week 15 at Dallas, Brown again fumbled in the fourth quarter with the Steelers clinging to a one-score lead.
Brown fielded a Cowboys punt with the Steelers leading 24-17 and just over 10 minutes left. The Steelers could have at least milked the clock and put the Cowboys in a hurry-up situation to tie the game. Instead, Brown fumbled at the Steelers 38 and the Cowboys quickly tied the game. The Steelers lost that one 27-24 in overtime, making their game against the Bengals the following week a do-or-die situation.
Had Brown not lost those fumbles, the Steelers are quite likely 10-6 instead of 8-8 and probably in the playoffs.
Even when Brown held onto the ball, he wasn’t the same as a punt returner. He went from 10.8 yards per return in 2011 to 6.8 yards per return in 2012.
Brown also wasn’t as much of a go-to guy on third down in 2012. After catching 28 passes for third-down conversions in 2011, Brown moved the chains just 14 times with third-down catches in 2012, according to STATS LLC via the Washington Post.
In fairness, the Steelers’ offense suffered without Brown in the lineup. In the three games he missed, the Steelers needed overtime to beat the Kansas City Chiefs, who already are on the clock at Radio City Music Hall, and lost to the Ravens and Browns.
The Steelers wouldn’t have needed Brown in Cleveland had that game not turned into Fumblegate. If the Steelers had lost maybe three fumbles in that game instead of five, they might have beaten the Browns.
Then again, what do you expect considering the ball-security example the reigning team MVP set this season?
If Wallace leaves as a free agent in 2013, the Steelers will depend on Brown even more. He needs to have a fire in his belly next season.