i saw an interesting blog post from ESPN blogger Jamison Hensley. He asserts that the Steelers problems and resulting mediocre record was the result of a lack of leadership, not just talent. They have lost many locker room leaders in the past few years, including Aaron Smith. James Farrior, Alan Faneca, Hines Ward, and before that Jerome Bettis. The resulting void has not been filled due to the flaws of the remaining stars. Big Ben's flaw is obvious- many players don't respect him due to his legal troubles. Polamalu is too soft spoken. Woodley is too loud. Ike Taylor would seem to be ideal, but he hasn't filled the void. Brett Kiesel, Larry Foote, and Casey Hampton are role players on their way out.
Players have been open about the issues: Safety Ryan Clark said there was a "fracture" in the locker room. Wide receiver Antonio Brown talked about a divided locker room. Even former Steelers receiver Hines Ward chimed in, calling it a locker room in "total disarray" last season.
This issue is also responsible for other problems. An anonymous player ripped LaMarr Woodley in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for being out of shape last season. Inside linebacker Larry Foote said there have been fights in the Pittsburgh locker room but that never leaked out to the media. Running back Rashard Mendenhall didn't show up for one game after being told he wasn't going to play. Nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu led police on a drunken chase through Pittsburgh. Running back Chris Rainey was waived after he was arrested and charged with one count of aggravated battery after slapping his girlfriend (In 2010, he was arrested and charged with felony stalking after threatening his ex-girlfriend too). Wide receiver Mike Wallace blamed his drops on a lack of focus from not getting the ball often enough.
These issues must be dealt with for the Steelers to go back to contending. However, I don't see it happening without a purge. Between the lack of leadership, minimal youth on defense (above average players on D under 30: Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Cortez Allen, and Keenan Lewis if they can afford to bring him back), and the cap purgatory they are in (eventually restructuring contracts every year can really screw you), I doubt they can return to be contenders within a few years. Looks like Cincy will be our main competition for the next few years