Numerology, Stillers style
As it is a foregone conclusion that the Stillers will off the Bolts this weekend, playoff fever has gripped the Burgh. It is reasonable to hope that the Ravens can ground the Jets and that the Vikes might hobble their mirror image, the dome-bound defense-challenged Colts. If all goes well, the Stillers roll into the playoffs at 9-7. This would be amazing, but not unprecedented.
In 1989, the Stillers closed with a rush, got some help and entered that playoff round at 9-7. This team beat the Oilers (remember them?) before going down at Mile High. The '89 squad had come off several poor seasons and did overachieve to finish above .500, let alone with a chance at the Big Bowl.
Remember the posters featuring Brister, Lipps, Hoge and Worley? Better these had shown Woodson, Lake, Nickerson and Lloyd since those men made more significant contributions to the Stillers next winning season, 1992. On defense, the '89 squad featured a pretty talented Back 8 but Gerald Williams was their only legit D-linemen. The O-line had two promising players (Dawson and Jackson); the others were headed out. The '89 team did rebound from a couple early thrashings; that showed character. However, this was one thin roster and their playoff appearance did not presage any dynasty.
In '93, the Stillers got out of the gate well but crumbled at the mid-point and crept home at 9-7. That edition, hobbled by injury and bad chemistry, was whipped by KC in the opening round. The year before, the Stillers had been 11-5; more was expected of this team.
Still, the pieces were in place. On defense, the Back 8 remained strong with Woodson, Lake, K. Green, Lloyd, Kirkland and Brown. Figures, then not wounded; was in the wings. Joel Steed had established at NT allowing Williams to move out to LDE. In the off-season, the Stillers would add Seals and Buckner and, shortly, Bill Johnson. In 1994, these men would form the most powerful D-group fielded here since the Steel Curtain.
The offense relied on Foster and E. Green. Those two, along with Rig, were on their way out. However, with the D-unit intact, the Steelers were able to draft for need, selecting Morris ('94) and Bruener/Stai ('95) to fit in. In the short term, this strategy was successful; down the road, diminished capacity at these, and other, positions had its effect.
In sum: At the end of their season, the '89 team "had some momentum" but, throughout, lacked talent. In contrast, the '93 team stumbled home but remained a squad with enough roster strength to overcome various defections. Building from one powerhouse unit, the defense, this team either contended, or ruled, for several more years.
My own view is that the Y2K Stillers resemble the '89 group. This team has taken a step forward but that movement did depend more on toughness and cohesion than on ability. This group is a year, or two, from having the talent to consistently contend. This off-season, the biggest question facing the FO is what to do with the Bus. You know the options; for one week, let's consider an alternative.
For the Bolts, the Bus should be put in the barn. It really is time to see what Hunt, and Amoz, can do with something at stake, behind the first unit O-line, out of the base sets, etc. From this, there are two outcomes; both good. Assuming Hunt/Amoz succeed, either may be tradeable (if the Bus is signed) or the FO may turn from Jerome to other roster issues. As a bonus, we will get to see the Stillers as Kordell's team and, you know, whether Bettis is resigned or not, the chances are that #10 will be here when the Bus has finally rusted through.
If Hunt/Amoz fail utterly, well, then the FO knows what it has to do. I don't think that will happen; I do think that it is time to turn the page. Win or lose in SD, playoff or no playoff, who cares? What goes on after this season is over will have far more consequence to the Drive for Five. It is twenty years and counting on One for the Thumb.
The Steel Phantom