The Steelers have been here before. And it’s no coincidence.
The people change in Pittsburgh. The head coaches, the quarterbacks, the defensive playmakers. But the system implemented by the Rooney family stays the same. That’s what has made them different from any other team in the National Football League, and that’s what had made them more successful than any other team in the National Football League.
ICONDan Rooney and Art Rooney II set the course for Mike Tomlin and the Steelers.
“It’s the continuity, the philosophy from the Rooneys all the way back from the 70s,” Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert told me. “From Chief [Art Rooney], to Mr. [Dan] Rooney, to Art [Rooney II], it hasn’t changed. The type of coach they hire hasn’t changed. It’s the continuity that allows you to bring people in to fit their philosophy and the coaches’ philosophy so hopefully you don’t have any bumps along the way when you have to make changes.”
When the Steelers go looking for a head coach, they aren’t in the market for the best coach money can buy. They are in the market for a coach who can conform to the Steeler way. They knew when they interviewed Mike Tomlin that he was willing to fall in line with the way things were being done in Pittsburgh. Even though Tomlin had run a 4-3 defense and played Tampa Two, he kept the Steelers’ 3-4 and retained defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
“One of the things my dad [Dan] and brother [Art II] have done is try to find a coach who understands the way we try to do business,” Steelers scout Dan Rooney told me. “Mike has been fantastic. He’s a real good football mind.”
It was the same thing when Colbert was hired. The Steelers didn’t change the way they evaluated players from when Dick Haley or Tom Donahoe was in Colbert’s chair. “The overall philosophy, general philosophy always stays the same,” Colbert said. “When I came on board, I was able to add some ideas that I had learned through my years in Detroit and Miami working with coach [Don] Shula. But it was understood the Steelers have been successful. They know how to do this, but we want you to add to it, not necessarily change it. Everyone who comes in the organization understands that.”
Steelers scouts certainly have to be flexible depending the desires of the coaches. But there is a limit to their flexibility. “Each head coach has their own approach to what kind of players they want,” Rooney said. “We have to react to that, adapt to some of the things they do. The guy who doesn’t get much credit is Kevin Colbert. He has a really good system the way we evaluate, the way we line up our board and bring everything together.”
The real star of the Steelers isn’t Colbert or Tomlin or Ben Roethlisberger or Troy Polamalu.
It’s the system.
Things I Didn’t Used To Know
*Clay Matthews sounds like he’s becoming Peyton Manning-ish. Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene told me Matthews’s excessive game tape study has enabled him to call out offensive plays correctly presnap depending on personnel grouping and formation. Watch for it in the Super Bowl. “It’s remarkable that he’s able to do it so early in his career,” Greene said of the second year player.
*Between the 44 players who are expected to start in Super Bowl XLV for the Packers and Steelers, only four were signed to their teams as unrestricted free agents. They are Charles Woodson and Ryan Pickett for the Packers and Ryan Clark and James Farrior for the Steelers.
*One of the reasons Rashard Mendenhall has been more effective this year is he’s been more patient. His running backs coach Kirby Wilson tells me the Steelers runner understands defenses more, and subsequently is setting up his blocks better. Mendenhall has so much burst that his tendency is to want to slam it in the crease on every carry. But he’s fought that urge as he has matured as a player. Wilson said he thinks Mendenhall’s understanding will continue to improve for another couple of years.
*The Bengals were thrilled to see Carlos Dunlap make the all rookie team with 9.5 sacks, but a lot of people still are holding their breath on Dunlap. The potential problems with Dunlap aren’t about talent or intelligence. The potential problems are about conformity and doing things the right way. It took Dunlap awhile to get into the Bengals’ rotation, partly because of injury, and partly because he didn’t understand he needed to work at a higher tempo in practice. Once he figured that out, he took off.
*Matt Cassel has Drew Brees to thank for his success last season. Cassel’s coach Todd Haley made Cassel watch a lot of tape on Brees’ footwork and his pass drops, and rode Cassel hard about trying to do it the way Brees does it. Brees is known for having the best footwork in the league, and Haley wants Cassel as close to that as possible. Haley asks some of the same things of Cassel that Sean Payton asks of Brees. Haley and Payton were co-workers in Dallas.
My Sunday Best: Super Bowl Cities
Ice and snow have made for an unpleasant Super Bowl experience for those of us on the job. These conditions are highly unusual for Dallas, but they would be impossible for Miami. Dallas is not an ideal Super Bowl city, more because of the way the city is so spread out than because of the weather.
Having been to 24 Super Bowls, I have some strong opinions on where they should and should not be played. I detest Super Bowls in Northern climates. A Super Bowl city should be a place where fans can escape and enjoy the weather. At the Super Bowls in Minneapolis and Detroit I’ve attended, everyone worried about the weather all week. I wasn’t a fan of Super Bowls in Jacksonville or Houston, either, even though the weather was better. Jacksonville just isn’t big enough for this event, and Houston is too spread out. You never felt you were at a Super Bowl.
These are my best Super Bowl cities. If the NFL wanted to put the five of them in a rotation and not bring the big game anywhere else, that would be fine by me.
1. Miami. This is a party city. There is plenty to do, and South Beach is an ideal place for fans to convene. The overflow crowd can hang at Coconut Grove or Fort Lauderdale. The weather is as close to a guarantee as you’ll get in the continent. The only drawback: traffic.
2. San Diego. One problem: it doesn’t have a Super Bowl stadium. But everything else is perfect, especially the weather. There is plenty to do in the area, between outdoors activities, the Gaslamp Quarter and La Jolla, but visitors also can make easy drives to and from Los Angeles and Tijuana.
3. Tampa. It’s slightly on the small side for a Super Bowl, but it’s big enough. Tampa has sunshine and water, and it knows how to throw a party. Great stadium, too.
4. New Orleans. This city has the best layout for a big event. Almost everything happens in one big area where you can attend the game, stay in a hotel, eat a world class meal and drink Hurricanes until you swear them off for life. Not that I’ve ever done that.
5. Phoenix. The downside is it is spread out too much and can be a little overwhelmed by an event the magnitude of a Super Bowl. But the weather is about as good as it gets, and there is plenty to do.
Numbers Games: Pass masters
The greatest passer of all-time is playing in the Super Bowl, if passer rating is a statistic to be counted on. Aaron Rodgers has the highest passer rating of any player with at least 1,500 attempts at 98.4. But he’s not who I’m talking about.
Antwaan Randle El throws a touchdown pass against the Bengals.
The highest passer rating of all-time for a player with at least 12 attempts also is playing in this game. Let’s call Antwaan Randle El the greatest non-quarterback passer of all time. The wide receiver’s passer rating is 156.1. Over his career, Randle El is 22 of 27 for 323 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Two of those touchdown passes came earlier this season.
Not included in those stats is the 43-yard touchdown pass he threw to Hines Ward in Super Bowl XL.
Who are the other greatest non quarterback passers? LaDanian Tomlinson has the second highest passer rating at 146.9. The Jets running back has thrown seven touchdown passes over his career.
Also in the top 12 are former Browns running back Jim Brown (No. 9 with a passer rating of 110.1) and former Raiders running back Marcus Allen (No. 12 with a passer rating of 106.8).
Other notable non quarterbacks: Frank Gifford (92.5), Ronnie Brown (91.3), O.J. Simpson (82.8), Walter Payton (69.6) and Paul Hornung (67.5).
Scout Talk: Hall of Famers
We now know that the five non-seniors who will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame are Richard Dent, Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Ed Sabol and Sterling Sharpe. I thought it would be interesting to ask five veteran scouts who they thought the best candidates were, not including the two senior nominees. Here are the five who received the most votes in my poll. I took this survey before the actual hall of fame voting occurred Saturday.
Sanders and Faulk. Said one scout of Sanders, “his ability to cover and return kicks was unparalleled, even though he wasn’t a very good tackler.” Another said of Faulk, “He was a great player for a long period of time.”
Dent, Tim Brown and Chris Doleman. Of Dent, one scout said, “He was a great all-around defender.” Another called Brown “a complete player who could hurt you as a returner as well as a receiver.” Asked why he voted for Doleman, one scout said, “He had so much body control and was so good at batting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand.”
Sharpe, who was voted in, received one vote. Sabol, the NFL Films pioneer, received no votes, but that’s not surprising considering I was polling personnel evaluators.
One Man Yelp: Green Hornet
The new Green Hornet movie is a far cry from the old TV show I watched as a kid. Wasn’t everything better in the 60s?
The new Green Hornet is about a party boy turned super hero, which is a little bit too much like Iron Man. Seth Rogan’s Britt Reid character is a dullard (Throwing a fit over a cappuccino? Really?). Jay Chou’s Kato is a far cry from Bruce Lee (KatoVision? Really?). Cameron Diaz, whose sole purpose in the movie appears to be as eye candy, plays a confusing Lenore Case (Fresh out of journalism school, this secretary knows how to run a newspaper. Really?).
The star of this move is Black Beauty, the car Kato built for fighting crime. It has more weapons in it than approximately 1/3 of the world’s countries.
The makers of this film reportedly spent more than $100 million on it, and it has been a box office hit. But I found it very forgettable.
*I’m not much of a Super Bowl party guy. Usually don’t have a lot of time. But I did enjoy the commissioner’s annual affair very much at the Hilton Anatole Friday night with my buds Jeff Dickerson from ESPN-Chicago and Jeff Joniak from WBBM in Chicago.
It was called Pride of Texas, and the décor was all about the host state’s imprints on Super Bowl history. It was nice to say hello to many of the movers and shakers in the league and many of my media friends who got there through the snow. The crowd seemed sparse, which meant shorter lines for the nice Tex-Mex offerings, as well as the carved beef and turkey.
Highlight of the night was Martini McBride onstage. She sounded great live performing all her upbeat hits, including This One’s For the Girls. She even ventured into Journey territory with Don’t Stop Believing during her encore.
*I thought Bill Belichick deserved coach of the year based on regular season play. But if the vote was held today, I’d vote for Mike McCarthy. I was stunned to see he didn’t receive a single vote for the award. Even based solely on the regular season, I thought McCarthy should have been runner up.
*You know the Chiefs are missing Lamar Hunt when they show the door to Pete Moris, a 17-year employee and one of the very best public relations men in professional sports. In one move, they demonstrated a lack of class and a lack of competency.
*The NFL is losing me on the Pro Bowl. I think the game needs to be moved back to the week after the Super Bowl.
*If both Andy Reid and Jack Bechta tell me an offensive line coach can be a defensive coordinator, I'm on board.
*It was refreshing to see Super Bowl participants such as Aaron Rodgers, Troy Polamalu and Kevin Greene expressing their faith during the week.
*I'm going Packers 16-13. Team that makes the fewest mistakes wins.
*Wake me when a new CBA is in place.
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune at chicagotribune.com.
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