Following one of the most disappointing Pittsburgh Steelers seasons in recent memory, many are asking what is next. When arguably the most talented team in the NFL fails to make the postseason, there are clearly problems. Not to mention, Pittsburgh failed to win a division where two teams started rookie quarterbacks and one ended up having Jeff Driskel as their starter. Obviously, the standard did not work this season. So what changes need to be made? What can Pittsburgh do to right the wrongs of the 2018 season? Most importantly, what needs to happen for Pittsburgh to compete for a championship in 2019?
Pittsburgh Steelers Need Culture Change and Balance Going Into Next Season
A Return to Team
For this team, the number one issue all season, and in recent seasons, has been the culture. That starts with head coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin is a very good coach, that can’t be disputed. But the culture of the locker room is a direct result of the head coach. It is all fine and good to be a “players coach” while tension is low. But now, it is an issue when players fail to show up for work and create unneeded locker room drama. From Le’Veon Bell’s hold out to Antonio Brown’s disappearance, the “Me” mentality has to fall on Tomlin.
While this entire season has been a fireable offense from the start, Tomlin will probably keep his job. The Rooney’s just do not fire head coaches. So with Tomlin coming back, there needs to be a change in approach. It has come time to give up the schtick. No more mister nice guy. Whatever you want to call it, Tomlin needs to stop trying to be a friend to the players on his team. Being the “cool parent” has not really worked. It is time for Tomlin to be more authoritative in the locker room and bring a little order.
While Tomlin won’t be fired, the majority of his staff needs to be. And no, it does not stop with the linebackers and running backs coaches. Mike Munchak needs to be promoted to offensive coordinator. While Randy Fichtner only got one year, he displayed a basic inability to run a balanced offense. Fichtner simply did not show enough to prove he has a grasp on how an NFL offense should operate. Mike Munchak, with his knowledge of the offensive line, could bring a fresh approach to the running game.
Pound the Rock
Behind an offensive line that ranked fourth in the NFL this year, the combination of James Conner and Jaylen Samuels should run free next year. The production from the rushing attack was there this year when not abandoned early. With Munchak at the helm, patience for the run game will go up and create a more balanced attack in 2019. If Munchak needs extra incentive to stay in Pittsburgh, promote him to Assistant Head Coach. Mike Tomlin’s seat will surely heat up, which could lead to more positive change.
In addition to Fichtner, Keith Butler and Danny Smith both need to go as well. Pittsburgh’s special teams were especially awful this season. Pittsburgh finished in the bottom half of the league in kicking, punting and returning. Additionally, there were too many careless penalties to dignify bringing Smith back.
The defense, while showing improvement up front, is still weak. Tackling did not improve. Key developmental pieces such as Artie Burns and Terrell Edmunds failed to show coherence at most points. A still weak secondary and linebacker corps bogged down a stellar defensive front. Butler still seems too confused to scheme properly and displayed a lack of game planning yet again.
While Tomlin will not be fired, a major overhaul of his coaching staff and approach needs to occur this off-season. If a new offensive coordinator can utilize a strong running game, the offense can be a more balanced attacked. An authoritarian defensive coordinator is needed to instill fundamental tackling and higher level schemes to what is a limp defense. Special teams needs to help the Steelers win games, not lose them. Most importantly, winning championships needs to return to the top of Pittsburgh’s list of priorities for the 2019 season.