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January 9, 2013

STAIRWAY TO 7: Steelers need to take steps to return to NFL playoffs

0pinion — BY NOW, WE’VE all had a chance to come to grips with the Steelers not making the playoffs and digest a Black and Goldless Wild Card weekend.

We’ve all heard from the beat writers and columnists about how the Steelers tumbled from 6-3 and controlling their own destiny to 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

Today, I’m here to tell you what the Steelers have to do between now and the start of training camp to ensure this doesn’t happen again next year.

I’m going to break it down in just three easy steps.

ä Step 1 — Find a quality running back

The Steelers need to either sign a quality free agent running back or select one fairly high in the draft this spring.

Considering the Steelers are roughly $12 million over the cap, I’m guessing they won’t be able to sign a good running back, so they’ll have to draft one.

Rashard Mendenhall is out of the question largely because he’s worn out his welcome in the lockerroom and with the Steelers’ front office and coaching staff.

I won’t be throwing out any names for who I think the Steelers should take or where, because I haven’t had time to start analyzing who will be available.

But, it is safe to say I think they need to take a running back in either the first or second round -- someone who can come in and start pretty much from Day 1.

Way too often, opposing defenses knew what was coming from the Steelers option and only had to focus on the aerial attack.

A balanced offense that features a viable threat at running back would go a long way towards erasing that and making the offense more potent.

ä Step 2 — Teach the defensive players how to strip the ball.

The Steelers had so very few ‘splash’ plays this year on defense this year and one of the reasons is they rarely try to strip the opposing team of the football.

They focus on hard hits jarring the ball out of the offense’s grasp. That doesn’t work as well as it did back in the day.

Yeah, I know fumbles are only half the story and the defense also needs to work on catching the football, but lets work on one thing at a time.

Troy Polamalu is the only player on the defense as it is presently constituted that is any good at a strip tackle and he is hurt half the time, so other guys have to improve their skills.

Forcing fumbles — at worst — can stall a drive if not create turnovers and potentially keep points off the board, which would come in handy considering the Steelers lost 5 games by three points and another by less than a touchdown.

This defense already does a great job of limiting yards gained. Just imagine what it could do once it starts forcing turnovers again.

ä Step 3 — Find a way to keep Ben Roethlisberger healthy all year.

There has been all kinds of talk of getting rid of offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but if the team does, it’s because Haley and Roethlisberger can’t coexist and not because of the offense’s shortcomings.

Remember through nine games, Haley’s offense — while not producing eye popping point totals — had Roethlisberger in the conversation for league MVP.

That was because Ben was healthy — I can’t remember a season where he made it through completely unscathed — and the grumblings of getting rid of Haley only came when the Steelers played like dog doodoo over the final seven weeks with three different starting quarterbacks including a not completely healthy Roethlisberger.

While I want the Steelers to cut ties with Haley, I like the quick strike offensive philosophy — or dink and dunk as Roethlisberger so eloquently called it — he installed.

When Roethlisberger got rid of the ball quickly, he wasn’t taking the hits and sacks that he took under Bruce Arians’ tutelage.

The Steelers will be back in the playoffs in 2013 if they follow these three simple steps.

If they don’t?

Like the old saying goes, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

Agree, disagree or just want to comment? Contact Corey at gcsportsguy@yahoo.com.

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