The Pittsburgh Steelers are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs — yet. It is a near certainty that Pittsburgh will not be playing football come January, and with that comes several questions about how the team will finish out the season when there is no postseason to aim towards.
At Mike Tomlin‘s press conference, media asked if he would be playing more reserve players to get a look at them in live game situations before the offseason begins. Tomlin was adamant that he would be playing to win and would not re-structure his lineup since the team is likely not headed to the playoffs.
The question remains, should Tomlin be supplanting some players that will most likely be seeing significant playing time these final two to three games rather than have the usual suspects in the lineup week in and week out with the same result?
To me, the answer to the above question is a resounding yes. The writing is on the wall that several players will not be returning to Pittsburgh next season for a myriad of reasons, so why not play the players that will be seeing time at those positions to give them game experience and better your team for next season and the future?
So, what moves should be made?
Safety Ryan Clark is a near lock to not be back in Pittsburgh next season. His contract expires and he will be headed towards retirement or to a new location to play football next season. With that being known, the Steelers would be smart to play rookie safety Shamarko Thomas more and in certain sub packages to give him experience playing alongside Troy Polamalu.
Brett Keisel is another Steelers player whose time in Pittsburgh is drawing to a close. His age and production are going in completely different directions, and that is something an aging Steelers defense can ill afford. Cam Heyward has already solidified himself as a starter, but playing players like Al Woods and Ziggy Hood more will not only give players like Woods a chance to prove himself but also let the organization make the correct decision in possibly trying to re-sign Hood or to let him test free agent waters.
On the offensive side of the football, putting rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton into the lineup more would not only give the offense more speed, but it would give the young receiver time to mature within the offense and develop a rapport with Ben Roethlisberger. Wheaton is the future at wide receiver for the Steelers, and putting him in the slot instead of Jerricho Cotchery and out wide for Emmanuel Sanders will only benefit the team in the long run.
These changes would not just change the lineup of the football team, but they would give the team a sense of what they have returning next season when certain players are bound to leave. It is the intelligent thing to do at a time when the season is over but games still remain on the schedule.
Roster moves are inevitable in today’s NFL with free agency, and the smart teams realize that and make the appropriate plans for the future. The time for the Steelers to make those moves is now.