The Pittsburgh Steelers come in to the 2013 season looking to bounce back from an 8-8 season in 2012 that saw them miss the playoffs for just the third time in 9 seasons. The offense could not establish a running game which more than likely cost them a few victories because they couldn’t run the clock down in games they held a lead. The defense on the other hand, which many said was over the hill last season, was able to still put up top 5 numbers in most categories. The major factor for success this season will be establishing a running game and staying healthy (especially at QB).
Obviously the key to this season rests in the hands of the Steelers best player, Ben Roethlisberger, and his ability to stay on the field. Roethlisberger has not been able to play a complete season since 2008, which was his only complete season in his career, and has missed more than one game in 4 of his 9 seasons. The Steelers lack of a running game makes Roethlisberger that much more important to their chances to win.
Ben is also very important because the offensive line is a complete sieve and his ability to make plays while under pressure really helps make up for the lack of protection. This season the team brought in noted Steeler-beater Bruce Gradkowski , so that is one less QB that the defense needs to worry about beating them (Gradkowski beat Pittsburgh with a terrible Oakland team in 2009 that cost the Steelers a chance at the playoffs, not good times). The Steelers also drafted Landry Jones from Oklahoma to help bolster the QB position in case of injury. Long story short Steelers fans need to hope that Ben stays healthy or it will be a terribly long season.
The running back position is probably the weakest link on the roster at this point given the injury to rookie Le’Veon Bell in the preseason. Pittsburgh will have to make due with the three-headed monster of Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, and LaRod Stephens-Howling, if this collection of backs doesn’t strike fear into the heart of defenses then I don’t know what will. The Steelers averaged a whopping 96.1 yards per game last season which was good for 26th in the league. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley will need to figure out some way to develop the running game with this murder’s row of running backs. Editor’s Note: For some reason the Steelers decided to cut Jonathan Dwyer and keep Felix Jones, the only reason I can come up with is that the tape they had on Jones was 5 years old and nobody told them.
This is the most injury ravaged part of the roster at this moment with Heath Miller out at least another month with the knee injury he suffered last December and his replacement Matt Spaeth is out 8-10 weeks with a foot injury. That means the starting tight end is going to be… drumroll please… David Paulson!!! Paulson is a former 7th round pick that caught 7 passes last season for 51 yards. The bigger issue with these injuries is the ability of Miller and Spaeth to stay at home and block for Roethlisberger and help out the porous offensive line.
The elephant in the room for the wide receiving corps is the loss of Mike Wallace to the Dolphins, but I don’t think that will be that large of a loss with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders stepping up to take his spot.
Brown and Sanders both had a semi-breakout year last season combining for 110 catches and 1,413 yards and without Wallace on the field those numbers should rise, especially for Sanders who will become the second option for the offense. The Steelers also brought back Palxico Burress for this season but that experiment ended quickly when he injured his rotator cuff in training camp and will be out for the season. While that is disappointing news, it led to the emergence of rookie wide out Markus Wheaton from Oregon State who has looked pretty solid in the preseason and should be able to make an impact
The offensive line has been a sore spot for the Steelers the last half a decade or so (just ask Big Ben) and this year that will not change. The O-line will feature two players with limited experience this year following the loss of Max Starks to free agency. Mike Adams is in his second season out of Ohio State at left tackle protecting Roethlisberger’s blind side and David DeCastro is back from injury to finally play a snap in the regular season at right guard. The offensive line should be able to generate more push for the running game, but could have massive problems with pass protection given what has been seen during the preseason.
The D-line has been a dominant piece of Pittsburgh’s defense for as long as I can remember and this year they will have to do it without the big nose tackle Casey Hampton who departed this offseason. The onus for line play will fall to the ever reliable Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood. For Hood this could be his last chance to prove that he belongs with this team after having an underwhelming season last year and Cameron Heyward waiting in the wings.
The linebacking corps of the Steelers has been the stalwart of the defense since the days of Jack Lambert and Jack Ham. This year they have the difficult task of replacing former Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison. The team drafted Jarvis Jones out of Georgia to help ease the transition and hopefully LaMarr Woodley well be 100% healthy this season and back to his dominant form. It appears as though Jason Worldis will be the immediate replacement for Harrison and will have to step his game way up to even come close to replacing the production of Harrison.
The secondary has been a minor issue for this team for the past few seasons mainly because the backbone of it cannot stay on the field. Troy Polamalu has not been completely healthy for most of the last five seasons. Hopefully this year he can remain on the field and play up to his Defensive Player of the Year caliber. The loss of Keenan Lewis to free agency will be an adjustment but the coaching staff must feel like Cortez Allen will be able to fill his shoes given only what they have seen from his limited role in nickel packages last year. The Steelers also have high hopes for safety Shamarko Thomas whom the team drafted out of Syracuse this past draft. Thomas, who ran an unofficial 4.38 40-yard draft at the combine, could fill in quite nicely if something happens to either Polamalu or the hard hitting Ryan Clark.