The Pittsburgh Steelers finished the 2012 season with an 8-8 record.
This offseason, Pittsburgh has seen more departures to their roster than they have new arrivals.
The Steelers let running back Rashard Mendenhall, wide receiver Mike Wallace, outside linebacker James Harrison, offensive tackle Willie Colon and cornerback Keenan Lewis go in free agency. All five of these players started last season for Pittsburgh.
The only two notable signings the Steelers had this offseason were quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who will back up Ben Roethlisberger, and running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, who will return kicks and battle for the starting RB job.
The Steelers have a winning tradition, and going 8-8 last year was definitely a disappointment. Here’s the Steelers 2013-2014 season preview.
Roethlisberger’s biggest issue has been his ability to stay healthy. Roethlisberger only played 13 games last season, and has only played all 16 games in a season once in his nine-year career. Even though it’s usually minor injuries that force Big Ben to miss a few games each season, he needs to stay on the field. The Steelers offense is abysmal without Roethlisberger at the helm.
The Steelers are experimenting with their offensive line in training camp right now, trying out Mike Adams at left tackle and Marcus Gilbert at right tackle, switching their positions from last year. David DeCastro, the Steelers first-round pick in 2012, missed most of last season after tearing his ACL in a preseason game, but has looked very impressive so far during camp. Getting him back on the Steelers line should help give Big Ben some more time in the pocket.
Rashard Mendenhall was the Steelers starting running back last season, but he’s now in Arizona, leaving the starting job open. Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, LaRod Stephens-Howling, Baron Batch and rookie Le’Veon Bell are all fighting for not only the starting job, but playing time in general.
None of these running backs are Pro Bowl-level backs, but they each bring a different skill set to the table.
Redman and Dwyer are power backs that love to run between the tackles. Stephens-Howling is more of shifty, quick back and is most effective on the sidelines and in open space. Bell was a standout running back at Michigan State last year, and may have more potential than any other back on the Steelers roster.
Pittsburgh will most likely end up using a committee of backs, and each of these guys should get a chance to get the brunt of the carries.
Losing Mike Wallace is definitely going to hurt the Steelers this year. Wallace constantly took the top of the defense which gave single coverage to the other receivers, and was Roethlisberger’s favorite target.
Without him, the Steelers are going to need Antonio Brown to step up and become a No. 1 receiver. Brown has been a great No. 2 receiver, and it’ll be interesting to see how he does this year against opposing team’s top cornerbacks.
Behind Brown, the Steelers are going to need Emmanuel Sanders and Heath Miller to continue to be productive, because after those two, the rest of the Steelers receiving core is weak.
Pittsburgh finished the 2012 season with the top-rated pass defense and the No. 2-rated rush defense in the league.
When you look at the Steelers defense right now, most of the same guys are returning from last year’s squad. The two biggest names that aren’t still in Pittsburgh are James Harrison and Keenan Lewis.
Pittsburgh drafted Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft to replace Harrison, and even though he has seen limited reps in training camp so far, he should start at right outside linebacker in Week 1.
All reports indicate that the Steelers really like Cortez Allen, and believe that he has more potential than Keenan Lewis did, which is why they let Lewis walk. This all sounds good in theory, but if Allen doesn’t turn out to be as good as Pittsburgh had hoped, letting Lewis go will come back to haunt them.
Lewis had turned into a solid cornerback and he will certainly be missed in Pittsburgh. The Steelers re-signed William Gay to be their slot corner, and Steelers fans can’t be to thrilled about that. Gay isn’t an awful cornerback, but he certainly isn’t a top-notch one, and he gets burned a lot.
Even without Harrison and Lewis, and most of the Steelers defensive core getting older, Pittsburgh’s defense should be very good again in 2013.
It doesn’t matter who is on their roster, because it seems that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau can turn any unit into a top defense.
2013 Prediction: 9-7
The offensive line should be improved in 2013, which will really help out Roethlisberger try to find the open receivers. He’ll need that extra time even more this year without Mike Wallace.
The defense won’t be as good in 2013 as it was in 2012, but it will still be one of the better defenses in the NFL.
Wins: Tennessee, Chicago, @New York (Jets), @Oakland, Buffalo, @Cleveland, Miami, Cincinnati, Cleveland
Losses: @Cincinnati, @Minnesota, Baltimore, @New England, Detroit, @Baltimore, @Green Bay