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Draft will be important as Steelers must reload

December 31, 2012
By John Mehno ( , The Altoona Mirror

PITTSBURGH - It looked like the perfect atmosphere for a Cleveland Browns-Pittsburgh Steelers game.

There was snow on the ground, and people were using Terrible Towels to cover their faces against the nasty chill Sunday afternoon.

Only one thing was missing: Relevance.

The Steelers' 24-10 victory over the Browns at Heinz Field Sunday afternoon allowed the team to avoid its first losing record in Mike Tomlin's six-year tenure as head coach.

Of course, the other way to look at it is the 8-8 record they salvaged probably cost the Steelers a few spots in drafting order.

The draft is going to be very important as the Steelers head into 2013 looking to retool and avoid another season that falls well short of expectations.

There's no positive spin for what happened. The 2012 season was a huge disappointment for the Steelers, and beating a bad team with a lame duck coach and a third-string quarterback in the final game wasn't going to change that.

Predictably, someone asked Tomlin if there isn't some carryover effect to winning the last game. To his credit, he shot down the idea.

A lot of players who suited up on Sunday won't be back. That idea seemed to be on the minds of defensive veterans Casey Hampton and Larry Foote, who sat on the bench after the game and took a long look around.

The Steelers need a kick start, and this is going to be an interesting and important offseason. There are a lot of major decisions that need to be made, and there will be some serious wrestling with the salary cap.

Some veterans will be jettisoned, some contracts will be reworked, and some much-needed new talent will be imported.

The most fragile element is the new attitude that the Steelers need. When you have players who don't show up for games (Rashard Mendenhall) and players who let their contract circumstances get in the way of their focus (Mike Wallace), you have trouble.

Put Tomlin on the long list of Steelers who have to do better in 2013. This team's effort was spotty, and that's about as anti-Steelers as it can get. Strong leadership has evaporated as careers end, which means Tomlin probably needs to step up and take more control.

The foolishness of the initial cold war between Ben Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley never should have happened. Remember when Haley first joined the staff and Roethlisberger made a point to say he had not spoken to him?

Tomlin should have quelled that and brokered a meeting at which he explained what he expected from both of them. Art Rooney II never should have dictated the change at offensive coordinator. If an owner doesn't trust his head coach to assemble the right staff, he needs to get a new head coach.

The chaos was costly. The Steelers let too many leads get away, and failed in the crunch too many times. A lot of that starts with attitude.

The flat line performance at home against San Diego on Dec. 9 was one of the lowlights of Tomlin's years on the job. The Steelers traditionally expect to own December, not get beaten decisively at home by a bad team.

Will the Steelers learn from the mistakes of 2012? That's the challenge as planning begins on the 2013 season.

There's a lot of work to do.

Mehno can be reached at

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