2014 NFL Season Previews: Pittsburgh Steelers

2014 NFL Season Previews:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Pittsburgh Steelers

Last year the Steelers started off slow, with a 4 game losing streak, before righting the ship and going 6-2 over the last half of the season, winning each game by over a TD, and both losses were easily winnable, then they lost out on tie-breakers for the playoffs, but I’m not sure too many AFC coaches were upset to see them miss out. A second straight 8-8 season was pretty good considering the talent losses the Steelers have had to absorb. So are the Steelers going to make that last step to playoffs or do they need to bite the bullet and start over?

Offensive Line

The big get here is bringing in Mike Munchak in as line coach. He’s always been able to do great things with talent, and the Steelers do have talent.

Kelvin Beachum took over last year from Mike Adams, who has been having problems with pass protection. Beachum has very good footwork. Ramon Foster has worked his way up as an undrafted free agent, and has been in the NFL 5 years. All-Pro Maurkice Pouncey had his streak end in Hawaii due to an injury, and its a bit of a credit to the rest of the line that they didn’t miss him a lot. Adding him back healthy, is just going to make Munchak look like a genius. David DeCastro is a former first round pick, and came back strong from a ACL and MCL injury. Marcus Gilbert is a second rounder from 2011, and has been a mainstay, when healthy, and is almost as solid as it gets.

QuarterbackBig Ben

Ben Roethlisberger has got to be loving Todd Haley, he got hit less often, and put up very good numbers, going for 4261 yards and 28 TDs, and putting up the 12th best passing attack. Big Ben needs some balance to his life, but its hard to argue that Pittsburgh still has one of the better QBs in the NFL. Problem is, he’s been getting beaten up for a long time, he’s 32 and if he goes down, no one wants to see Bruce Gradkowski out there.

Running Backs

Le’Veon Bell is the top back here, and even though he struggled at the beginning of the year, he came on strong during the closing kick. LaGarrette Blount is in from the Pats, and he can be a game changer as well, and the Steelers also drafted Dri Archer who is already the fasted back on the team. The Steelers have to improve this unit from its 27th ranked spot.

Receivers

Mike Wallace who? Exactly. Antonio Brown had another monster year- a few feet shy of 1500 yards and 8 TDs, and he’s not slowing down. The 2nd and 4th guys are gone- so last year’s third rounder Markus Wheaton has to come back and healthy. Lance Moore is over from the Saints to see what its like in the AFC again, and TE Heath Miller, if back to 100% is a consistent target, and he has to do better than his 1 TD from last year.

Defensive LinePittsburgh

Cameron Heyward is considered a guy that is going to be a Steeler for years, and a future building block. On the other side. Stephon Tuitt is a rookie that they have to get good production from.  He’s a Notre Dame guy, so he’s awesome.
Nose Tackle Steve McLendon took over for Casey Hampton, but was a bit of a disappointment, he is decent against the run, but can be single-blocked.

Linebackers

Jason Worilds did so well last year, that Woodley was allowed to leave town, and if he puts up the numbers all season that he did during the streak, they have a star. Jarvis Jones has to play better, bottom line. Over on the inside, Lawrence Timmons is a tackling machine, who might not be known on the Head and Shoulders posters, but is a pure lunch-pail guy. Ryan Shazier was a top 15 pick, who just has unreal speed. Its going to be interesting how they use him, does he drop into coverage with that 4.3 speed or does he use that to speed rush. I almost wonder if he needs to be moved to the outside, if Jarvis Jones is a disappointment.

SecondaryTroy Polamalu

Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen are the corners, and they are good players, but simply allowed too many big plays. Having slow guys at the safety position also hurts. The Steelers decided to go after front seven help in the draft, so it may bite them in the rear. I do like Shaquille Richardson, who has good size and could play nickel fairly quickly.
Troy Polamalu is slowing down, but he’s seen everything in 12 years, and if the corners can go, then they can cover for him and his ball-hawking.
Mike Mitchell pissed me off. Sorry, I’m a Carolina fan. Mitchell is not the guy that is going to make the NFL shake at Free Safety, but he will show up when you least expect it and just run a teams day.

Special Teams

Shaun Suisham is a very solid kicker, but punter is a different story, the Steelers just can’t find anyone- but thankfully, they haven’t dropped a fourth rounder on it lately. The coverage units are ok, but the return game is horrible. HORRIBLE. If Dri Archer blows a knee out, this unit is screwed.

Draft

The Steelers had a solid draft. Taking need position after need position. I can see first rounder Ryan Shazier and second rounder Stephon Tuitt starting day 1, and third rounder Dri Archer not even allowed into the running backs room and placed with Suisham as Special Team Only players. Beyond that, I only see Richardson making an impact.

Outlook

Something about this team I just don’t like. They have plenty of talent, they ended the season on a high note, but I really don’t like the secondary. looking at the schedule, they get the NFC South, so we could be looking at 2-2 there, since they get to go to Carolina. The AFC South should be an easier sledding for the Steelers, with a 3-1 record. The hard part is how do they do against the AFC North again? Bonus games against the Chiefs and Jets should also spell .500 for another year.

Second Look

DJ:

The Steelers have suffered through back-to-back 8-8 seasons and this is a big year for the team and head coach. Mike Tonlin is a solid coach, but if they miss the playoffs for a third straight season he may start to feel the heat, despite the Rooney’s loyalty to their coaches.

Big Ben has gone from a game manager winning Super Bowls to a player that an actually go out and win games when needed. The Steelers always seem to find WR’s when they need one, Antonio Brown had a break-out season and Steeler fans seemed to forget about Mike Wallace. Brown is Ben’s new best friend and the dynamic duo should have another great season together. However, they don’t have much depth at this position and that could be a concern. They were desperate enough to sign bust Darrius Heyward-Bey.

They need to rejuvenate their running game, they averaged just 86.4ypg (tied for 27th) and 3.5ypc (29th) last season. While Big Ben can sling it and win games, he is most effective when he has a running game to take some pressure off him and doesn’t have to impersonate Brett Favre.

Le’Von Bell is the workhorse back that will try and make fans forget about Jerome Bettis because he’s about to see the type of workload Bettis was given. As a rookie, Bell had some peaks and valleys, but he ended the season with back to back performances (26 carries for 124 yards against GB and 20 carries for 90 yards against Cleveland) that should give the team hopes for this season. The team added LeGarrette Blount in the offseason, but he will backup Bell, unless Bell gets hurt.

When you think Steeler football you think defense. But, the defense has been averagere the last few seasons, they allowed 23.1ppg last season (14th) and are a team in transition. He’s no spring chicken, but a healthy Troy Polamalu is still a great leader for their defense, kind of like Ray Lewis was for the Ravens even when it was clear he wasn’t the same dominant player he once was.

Lawrence Timmons is going to want nametags on his fellow linebackers after DE/OLB LaMarr Woodley and ILB Larry Foote were both allowed to leave in the offseason. Timmons is the undisputed leader at this position since he has been here the longest and he’ll be the mentor to the youngsters in Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier. However, Timmons will have a nice player next to him in Jason Worilds (63 tackles and8 sacks).

I think the Steelers will surprise some people that think they’ll be rebuilding and I can see them going 9-7 or 10-6 and fighting for a wild card spot.

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