December 30, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer (27) carries the ball past Cleveland Browns linebacker Craig Robertson (53) during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Realistic Expectations for the Steelers in 2013

People who are Steelers fans don’t understand how passionate Steeler Nation is about their team and why.  You’ve probably seen the jokes on Twitter and other social media about how Steelers fans are stuck in the past.  I could retort that at least we have a past to be proud of – oh wait I just did.  But, I digress…

Until the 60s, the Steelers record really wasn’t something to brag about.  Based on the stats I found online, the Steelers didn’t even make the playoffs between 1947 and 1972.  (Remember, the Superbowl Championship as we know now it has only been around since 1967.)  However the team embodied the feel of the city and the surrounding area.  The coal mines and the steel mills had been the main industry since the second half of the 19th century and it was (and still is) dangerous back-breaking work.  The fans liked that their team represented their values outside of Pittsburgh, regardless of record.  However, when you have stuck with a team for decades and they have an incredible win streak to surpass any of the other teams for number of Superbowl championships, you are going to have a fan base with high expectations.

So, Steeler fans have come to expect more than a mediocre season from the team.  They have come to expect hard work and dedication to match the passion the fans project.  Last season was bitter for many fans because the roster was full of talented players and “on paper” looked like they should win more games than they did.  Ok, we’ve rehashed that quite a bit.  Take a look at Nice Pick Cowher staff writer Dominic DiTolla’s run down on that.  Let’s move on.

What is a realistic expectation for 2013?

Well, that crystal ball I ordered from Madam See-It-All, purveyor of reliable clairvoyant tools, doesn’t seem to be working properly.  Perhaps I need a crash course in crystal ball interpretation, but frankly I think it’s broken.  I guess I will have to try to stick to the facts.

Facts.  Well, we have very few we can put toward a prediction for 2013.

Player Turnover:

The Steelers had a chunk of veterans who left for greener pastures during the offseason, including James Harrison and Mike Wallace.  I think change can be good.  It’s possible that somethings had become stagnant and it’s time to shake things up.  However, there is a continuity issue.  The Steelers had good attendance during all the training activities so far, including veterans who want to help the new guys get settled.  However, I think that we won’t know how much the change out of players has affected the Steelers until we see how the first few regular season games turn out.

Coaching Staff Turnover:

While the Steelers have the same “Big 3″ (HC, OC, DC) that they had last year, there was still a fair amount of movement among the positional coaches.  There are 4 new position coaches:  Danny Smith, the Special Teams Coordinator; Carnell Lake, the Defensive Backs Coach; Jack Bicknell, Jr, the offensive line Coach, and Richard Mann, the Wide Receivers Coach.   I know that you can agree that Tomlin sets the tone and it shouldn’t matter if coaches swap out, but let’s be realistic.  That’s a lot of turnover.  Communication could still be an issue but perhaps will be ironed out by the first regular season game.

Veteran Input to the “System”

Both Todd Haley and Dick LeBeau seem to dislike the work system in relation to describing how they set up the plays.  Yet, it’s still a system.  Haley came in last year and changed so much of the terminology that the veteran players couldn’t keep things straight.  Sometimes it was simply a name change.  I don’t know if any of the Nice Pick Cowher readers have experienced a new boss who changed things for the sake of making it his or hers, but you can imagine the frustration.  Haley also had to do it without the input from the players because of the rules about communication between the teams and the players during the off season.  Now, Haley has invited input from the veterans.  There is a management theory about how if you give the workers a chance to “own” the process, their production is higher.  I’ve seen it in several different management systems, so I’ll forego quoting you an exact reference, but if you browse the management books at any book store, you’ll find it.  I’ve seen that approach have great success and this should work toward improving communication between the players and the coaches.

Back to Basics, Discipline Fundamentals

Tomlin new mantra for the players this year is about stressing working hard on the football basics.  He is stressing discipline and keeping the players focused through all four quarters.  I agree that that players need to do all this.  I question how they got away from it in the first place.  This is Steeler football.  I saw a comment on one of Scott Sinclair’s blogs about Cowher versus Tomlin that fits here.  I’m sorry that I don’t know exactly who said it – please comment on this article to take credit – but one reader commented that Tomlin has consistently set the Steelers up to play down to the level of their competition.  I completely agree.  There is adjusting the game plan based on opponent, which is all well and good, but this was more like deciding which games you could back your foot off the gas. Consistency suffered.  The Steelers have a reputation in the league and beating the Steelers during a regular season is similar to winning a championship game for some of these teams who have no other hope in their season.  They will save it all up for that one game.  The Steelers have to play like they are defending something big every game.  They are – the franchise legacy.

So, what is a realistic expectation?

It is NOT realistic to expect a championship.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t go into the season hoping.  We all have hope.  However, after an 8-8 season in 2012 and the significant amount of turnover among players and staff, it is realistic to expect to see the Steelers struggle a bit this season.  If you look at how strong the teams are in the AFC North right now, the Steelers have a challenge ahead of them.  It is entirely possible that the Cincinnati Bengals have gotten to the point this year that they will take this division.  Their wide receiver corp is impressive.  What will that struggle amount to in the end?  I think the Steelers could have a winning season, perhaps that 12-4 record some players felt they should have had last year.  However, I think they will need to be at a consistently high level of performance all year to get to the division championship and beyond.  I’m not sure the Steelers can maintain that this year.  I think the adjustments will continue this year.  I would expect progress on the running game, but I’m not expecting it to be a big contributor yet. I think the Steelers are at least another year away from the dominance the fans so expect and enjoy.  However, keep you Terrible Towels handy.  Anything can happen in the NFL and I’d love to be wrong.

What do you think Steeler Nation?


Any reference to an actual company or name called “Madam See-It-All” is unintended and purely from the imagination of the author. 


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  • k33ger

    Um…You should do a little more research when you compare cowher vs tomlin. I seem to recall that Cowher had the same knock on him, that the teams would play down to their competition.

    One thing that changed late in Cowher’s tenure (after he got a franchise qb) was instead of playing tough defense to keep a game close, wear down the opponent, and win the game in the fourth quarter; the steelers started attacking more early on to get an early lead, and then ride tough defense and play keep away on offense to win. Tomlin seems to be continuing this approach, however our defense had some serious lapses and our offense went to sleep too often.

    I think the emphasis on conditioning will help with that. I also think being the underdogs helps too.

    • Lori P.

      Thanks for the comments. I didn’t actually compare Tomlin to Cowher, but I see what you mean. I referenced someone else who did and was trying to credit someone else with the comment.

  • disqus_wdLdx4W76r

    Tomlin needs to get back to his old approach..he’s always been know as a players coach but the lack of focus and discipline especially on offense was the downfall of this team..and Ben missing games AGAIN didn’t help.The Offense was good between the 20s but bland and inefficient in the red zone.The Defense was OK..not given up big plays or yards per game..but really was passive and “Predictable” in their approach..unable to get off the field when it counted..unable to get to the QB and create turnovas.Like I’ve said if you can’t get to the QB you can’t afford to play a weak zone defense in today’s NFL..the QBs are to good.Can’t play 15 yards off the ball and allow WRs N TEs off the line clean and just run free. Steelers D use to be strong up front allowing the DBs to sit back the front 3 is a weakness and needs the DBs and LBs to be more aggressive on the backside. LeBeaus D dosent bring fear or the element of disguise or surprise anymore. Anyway..the days are gone when we could win game with 17-20 ppg and that is a lot to put on a defense year after year. Ben..Haley and Tomlin have to find away to put up 7s instead of 3s. The talent is there 11-5

    • Lori P.

      Thanks for adding your comments. Well said – I like “7s instead of 3s.” Excellent point.

  • disqus_wdLdx4W76r

    I think the close games we lost last season we win this year..That will be the difference

  • Carl Eagan

    The reality is that since 2006 Tomlin has only been consistent in coaching the Steeler’s down to their opponents. The rap on Cowher was that he depended on the prevent defense and fortunately for the most part it worked because the offense simple scored too many points for the opponent to over come despite the stupid prevent defense. Recently the lack of preparedness, discipline and playing 60 minutes can only be on the head coach. The division in the locker room last year was on the head coach. This year despite the talent on the team and hopes of Steeler’s fans this team under Tomlin will be lucky to be 8-8 again but he will probably get a pass again.

    • Lori P.

      Thanks for adding your comment! I think there are some types of things that can get away from you in a locker room, like a poor attitude of one or two players. However, it all does fall on the head coach. I guess that’s why they get the “big bucks.”

  • jayman419

    For more than a decade, the Steelers have stumbled every third year. Before Tomlin joined the team, actually. Look it up.

    Do I think the Steelers will win the SB this year?

    Well I’ll say this … I’m not going to count them out until they are mathematically eliminated from the contest. They will be playing in January 2014 though.

    Change is the only constant in the NFL.

    • Lori P.

      Every 3rd year? Hmmm. Interesting. I’ve looked at the stats, but I haven’t noticed that pattern before. Thanks for the comment!

  • Jeffery Fierceblues Rahn

    10-6…wild card.