Mueller: Steelers have a chance for change this offseason, but will they seize it?

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Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin watches from the sideline during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin watches from the sideline during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

It will not be more of the “same old, same old” for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022. Ben Roethlisberger’s imminent (if still unofficial) retirement ensures that.

That said, you’d be forgiven if listening to Mike Tomlin’s end-of-the-season press conference didn’t leave you with the notion that, quarterback aside, things will remain distressingly close to status quo next year.

-Of Matt Canada, whose offense was both awful and exceptionally hard to watch, Tomlin had this to say:

“I’m optimistic about Matt and what he’s capable of doing. I acknowledge that we took a step back. There are some obvious, tangible reasons why that occurred. I’m not going to get into all of that. I’m not going to seek comfort in that. We’ve got to be better. We intend to be. And that’s going to require a lot of planning and work, players and coaches.”

The Steelers will find some new players for their offense next year. Why not a new coach to guide them? Tomlin also said that Canada “brings things to the table that are attractive.” Like what? Is the fact that he’s so in over his head that it distracts from how bad Tomlin’s defense was this year an attractive quality?

-Of defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who notably did not call the defense on game day – Tomlin did that – the head coach said:

“Butts has had conversations about this potentially being his last year. He and I haven’t had an opportunity to sit down. I’m doing player interviews, he’s doing player interviews. We haven’t had a detailed conversation in that regard.”

My guess? Butler retires, and Tomlin further consolidates power on the defensive side of the ball. Despite the defense’s awful performance against the run this year, and mediocre-to-bad work overall, I think Tomlin is a high-level defensive mind. That said, I wish he’d hire someone to call the plays and actually let them do their job. The tunnel vision that that job requires is a detriment to the rest of his in-game duties.

Tomlin further expounded on players like Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins, Devin Bush and Zach Banner, not to mention Joe Schobert, and one theme became readily evident throughout; the head coach was measured and noncommittal, and did not want to employ a “sky is falling” tone with his comments.

There was no comfort seeking, of course, and Tomlin indicated that he knows the team has to be much better. There was no fire and brimstone, though. The overall tone of his comments conveyed disappointment and frustration, but also excitement about the unknown, particularly on the subject of replacing Roethlisberger.

“It’s a challenge, man,” Tomlin said of the quest to find Roethlisberger’s successor. “It makes you uneasy. But I’ve learned to run to those challenges. I’ve learned to appreciate those challenges. The uncertainty surrounding them is inspiring to me.”

Nice words, those, but will the dawning of a new era for the franchise really be a source of inspiration? I have my doubts. In answering questions about potentially hiring new coaches, Tomlin indicated that he always looks at those already on staff when comparing them with potential outside candidates.

That’s all well and good, but too often of late, those internal candidates have been elevated, and produced poor results. Adrian Klemm was a whiff, and so was Canada, regardless of what Tomlin says about him. My guess is that Klemm would still have a job here if he hadn’t chosen to go to Oregon on his own.

Either the Steelers don’t want to pay coaches not to work, or they don’t see the same poor performance that is readily apparent to fans and media alike. Or both. It’s a big problem, and one that doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon.

To wit, Chris Morgan improved the offensive line’s play once he took over for Klemm. It wasn’t a massive improvement, but it was something. Will he simply be rubber-stamped for the job moving forward? You’d hope that Tomlin and Art Rooney II wouldn’t settle for Morgan, that they would conduct a legitimate search of up-and-comers in that profession, but I’d put a little bit of money on Morgan getting the job.

Roethlisberger retiring is the kind of seismic change that, in theory, provides a perfect opportunity to step back and seriously re-evaluate the direction of the franchise, the way things are done, and what could be improved moving forward. Couple that with the fact that they’ll actually have some real room under the salary cap – they’re currently about $41.9 million under the cap for 2022, according to overthecap.com – and a swift, decisive overhaul is possible.

Possible, but not likely. Because Mike Tomlin’s season-ending address hit many of the same notes it has in the past, and Rooney’s state-of-the-franchise talk is likely to do the same.

Why is that, you ask? Because the Steelers still think the way they do their business is somehow different than, and better than, the way other NFL teams conduct theirs. A conservative, steady approach has been prioritized over everything else, even though the franchise is now mired in its longest stretch without a playoff win since the AFL-NFL merger.

If this franchise continues to do what it always does, it’s going to get what it has more recently gotten.

Not much.

This article originally appeared on Beaver County Times: Steelers have a chance for change this offseason, but will they seize it?

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