Cincinnati Bengals' fans have to be smiling at least a little bit at the developments going on this off season up the river in Pittsburgh. The reviled Steelers' franchise, which has seemingly had fortune smiling on them since Franco Harris plucked the "Immaculate Reception" off his shoe tops, appears to be in a state of disarray.
It started in the final week of the regular season when running back Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL in a victory against the Cleveland Browns. Without Mendenhall, the Steelers were defeated by Tim Tebow and the Broncos the following week in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs. It was during the Denver game when the Steelers' aging roster started to show its signs of wear. Not only was the team without Mendenhall, but Ben Roethlisberger could barely move with a high ankle sprain. Then in the first quarter they lost both Brent Keisel and Casey Hampton to injury, decimating the defensive line. Safety Ryan Clark had been held out of the game due to a medical condition that prevented him from playing in the thin air of Denver. His absence exposed a thin Steelers' secondary.
Now they face an offseason where they must address these depth issues. The Steelers' unenviable task is to sign their own free agents, fill in several holes and have a productive draft from the 24th position, all while trying to reduce their already bloated salary cap number.
If that weren't enough, there's some bad blood developing as well. It started when the Steelers did not offer to resign long-time offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who departed for the same position with the Indianapolis Colts. That didn't sit well with Big Ben, who had worked with Arians since entering the league. The Steelers compounded that friction by publicly stating they wanted to get back to "Steeler football" by running the ball more, not exactly what your all-pro quarterback wants to hear. Todd Haley, whose NFL reputation wasn't built on being a "players' coach" was brought in to run the offense. Roethlisberger let it be known yesterday that he's not pleased that Haley hasn't reached out to contact him yet.
Throw in Mendenhall's questionable return for 2012 and the Steelers' release of legendary receiver and team leader Hines Ward, and Mike Tomlin has a mess on his hands as the Steelers prepare for next season.
Bengals fans can send their sympathy cards care of Helen Waite in the team's front office. If Pittsburgh expects sympathy from the Bengals or any of their other AFC North rivals, they should go to Helen Waite immediately.
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