It's appropriate here to pay tribute to TV's most famous coroner, Mr. Jack Klugman, who passed away Christmas Eve at age 90. Take care, sir, and remember: on those notes that Tony Randall left you in the beyond, "F.U." is nothing vulgar. In case you forget.
This week's stuffing of the stiffs provides a challenge for the Football Nation ME's office, as a quartet of optimistic battalions fell just short of a chance at the postseason. While there may be some glaring issues with the teams in question, some that stand out as Achilles heels, truth is they're practically no better or worse than a few teams hovering around the wild card range.
And so it is more due to overcrowding that these teams are eliminated, and not necessarily being outright awful. If the NFL had the expanded playoff bracket currently in discussion, a few of these bodies upon the slabs would still be upright.
But expanded playoffs is just another chance for more injuries, right? And Goodell would certainly want to avoid that, even if it means more money for him.
*sigh* A coroner's work is never done.
Subject: Pittsburgh Steelers
Date of Death: December 23, 2012
Record at Time of Death: 7-8
Contributing Factors to Death:
1. Running Game Bottoms Out
Casual observers of the 49ers a few years back may have had trouble reconciling the horrid play of Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey with the transcendent performances of Montana and Young for two decades prior.
The same can be said of the current Steelers running game, as those who remember Harris, Bleier, Morris, Foster, Bettis, and Parker are trying to make heads or tails of the fetid collection of backs playing there now.
With Rashard Mendenhall missing early season action with an ACL tear sustained late last year, the Steelers turned to Isaac Redman to fill in. With his own injuries, as well as inconsistent play between him and a returning Mendenhall, the likes of Chris Rainey, Jonathan Dwyer, and Baron Batch have either started or playing significant minutes.
Rainey is the only back of the five to have 4.0 YPA or more rushing. In fact, he has 4.0 YPA even (25 carries, 100 yards). Redman, Mendenhall, and Rainey range from 3.5 to 3.9 YPA.
As a team, Pittsburgh averages 3.77 YPA, the seventh worst average in the league. The offensive line has been a consistent problem (35 sacks among their injuries and generally poor play), but no back has stepped up as an alpha male otherwise.
2. Defense Caves Inopportunely
Even with defensive leader Troy Polamalu hampered by a calf injury for 9 games, the Steelers defense hasn't suffered too much, at least on the surface. They only give up 20.3 points a game, which is the tenth best average in the NFL.
In fact, they even have the seventh best defensive third down percentage in the league, a 35.71 kill rate. So how can this office conclude that the defense "caves"?
Look deeper. The Steelers have the eleventh worst "negative pass plays" percentage, which is how often they force a sack or a pick. At 8.02 percent, the team has a decent sack total of 33, but a paltry 9 interceptions. A linebacker, Lawrence Timmons, leads the category with 3 picks.
And while the third down percentage is tremendous, it doesn't tell the whole story. Pittsburgh has a poor "bendability" rating, which, according to Cold Hard Football Facts, is how many yards per points allowed they give up. Their 13.46 yard average (sixth worst in the league) means they give up 94.2 yards for every touchdown scored.
In other words, when an opponent gets on a roll, Pittsburgh is going to have a hard time making the big play to shut em down, and keep them out of the end zone.
3. The Free Fall
After beating the Chiefs 16-13 in overtime on November 12, the Steelers improved to 6-3, and looked to be mortal locks to make their fifth playoff run in six years.
But Ben Roethlisberger went down with injury, and thus began a horrific descent that doomed the Steel City into an early exit.
First, Baltimore upended starter Byron Leftwich. Then Cleveland beat the Steelers, forcing fellow backup Charlie Batch and company into making 8 turnovers. Batch miraculously beat the Steelers to try and right the ship the following week, but things would drop off again.
3 straight losses would be the ruination: a 34-24 loss to the dying Chargers, and then a 27-24 overtime defeat to the Cowboys that was wrought with clutch mistakes.
A must-win game took place at home vs. the Bengals the following week. With the game tied 10-10, a late interception led to Cincinnati scoring the winning field goal with almost no time left.
The Bengals made the playoffs, and the Steelers will only get to watch.
For other autopsies, including the Eagles, Jets, Dolphins, and more, click here