After going 8-8 last season, the Steelers are hungry to make it back to the postseason in 2013. The biggest thing standing in their way: The AFC North. It is a rarity to see the Steelers projected as the division winners no matter where you go on the internet. You will sometimes find them ranked second, but almost never first.
This is of course with good reason after loosing players such as Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall, James Harrison, and Keenan Lewis. When the Steelers on paper have gotten worse, teams like the Ravens and Bengals, in my opinion, have improved their rosters. Hearing something like that, should the Steelers just throw in the towel now? No way! I still believe the Steelers have a fair chance at beating both teams. Will it be a cake walk? Not even close, but to me, the scariest thing about the Ravens, Bengals, and even the Browns, is their pass rush.
All three teams have improved their pass rush in my opinion. The Ravens brought in Elvis Dumervil whom excells both as a defensive end and an outside linebacker. They will be pairing him up with Terrell Suggs, who is a year removed from being the defensive player of the year.
The Bengals already had a very scary pass rush, but they brought in former Steelers James Harrison to pair with defensive end Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins. While in my mind Harrison has lost a step, I feel like he can still wreak havoc in the backfield.
Finally, the Browns have even improved their pass rush quite a bit by signing Paul Kruger and drafting Barkevious Mingo. It will be interesting to see how these two rotate with Jaball Sheard, but they all have the ability to get to the quarterback.
While there are obviously other factors that play into beating these three teams, I believe if you can contain the pass rush of these three teams, your chances of winning just skyrocketed. Ben Roethlisberger will make plays, if he has the time to do so. This is why I firmly believe the success of the Steelers against the AFC North rests on the shoulders of tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams.
In OTA’s and mini-camp, Marcus Gilbert lined up at left tackle with Mike Adams on the right side. While in a post a while back addressing the situation I felt it should be the other way around, I did state that both men could play both positions. Usually the right tackle is a dominant player in the run game, which Mike Adams is. Mike Adams had some technique issues, so I can see where the Steelers would want the better pass blocker at left tackle, which is Gilbert. Even though Gilbert isn’t as athletic as Adams, he has better technique and footwork.
The potential for these two players is there, but the question is: can they actually become Pro bowl players in the immediate future? While this is yet to be determined, the potential of this offensive line just gives me goosebumps. When I see an offensive line like the 49ers, I see what the Steelers could be possibly in the future. The 49ers have invested high picks on offensive lineman, much like the Steelers. In 2007, the 49ers selected Joe Staley who has been a Pro Bowl left tackle for them. Also, in 2010, both Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati were drafted in the first round. Much like the Steelers who have spent two first round picks on Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro, as well as two second round picks in Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams. The 49ers know the importance of having a dominant offensive line, and make no mistake, the 49ers have gotten good just when the offensive line took off in the last couple of years. While both teams have valued taking offensive lineman early, they also can find value in the late round. The 49ers signed guard Alex Boone as an undrafted free agent, and drafted center Jonathan Goodwin in the 5th round. Like the 49ers, the Steelers have found great value in guard Ramon Foster.
I firmly believe a lot of the Steelers success depends upon the performance of the offensive line, but I feel like we know what we will be getting from the interior, but there are still major questions with Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert. If these two talented men dominate against the AFC North this upcoming season, you could very well see the Steelers sitting very well at the end of the regular season, heading into the playoffs as the AFC North champions.
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