The Steelers are an intriguing team of sorts heading into the 2013 regular season. Many pundits believe that their status as a rebuilding club will lead to another postseason-less year in Pittsburgh. Others like Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports.com believe that the Steelers have enough working in their favor to surprise teams in their ultra-competitive division.
Although Kirwan picked Pittsburgh to finish the 2013 campaign as the third place team in the AFC North, he still had the Steelers finishing the season with a 10-6 record and qualifying for postseason play as a wild-card. I for one was very intrigued when I read Kirwan’s analysis and thoughts, so I decided to share some of my own regarding whether or not the Steelers have the potential to finish with 10 regular season wins.
Why The Steelers Will Finish With 10+ Wins
- From a talent perspective, the Steelers have the ability to finish with 10 regular season wins. Having a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback is always a great “ace in the hole” for a franchise to have at their disposal, and Ben Roethlisberger was on his way to a “career year” before he sustained that scary injury against the Chiefs on “Monday Night Football” last fall. Although the offensive line is young and inexperienced at the left tackle, right tackle, and right guard positions, there is enough talent in Pittsburgh’s offensive trenches for this unit to emerge as one of the best in the league if they can gel and stay healthy.
- The wide receiving corps looks like a solid quintet at the moment. Despite the fact that Mike Wallace skipped town, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, and rookie Markus Wheaton should be able to replace Wallace in the statistical aggregate as a foursome. Plus, Sanders should have some added motivation since this is a contract season for the soon to be fourth-year pass-catcher.
- On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers should also be helped by the return of a (hopefully) healthy Troy Polamalu. As I pointed out earlier today, Pittsburgh’s defense has suffered greatly in the “takeaways department” when Polamalu has been out of the lineup in years past. A healthy Troy will almost assuredly equal more takeaways for Pittsburgh’s defense which actually ranked number one overall in yards allowed and passing yards allowed, and number two overall in rushing yards allowed last fall.
- I should also add that Pittsburgh’s schedule is not particularly daunting either. The Steelers will have the chance to play the likes of Buffalo, New York (Jets), Miami, Detroit, and Oakland. While Pittsburgh struggled against some inferior foes last fall, the added motivation plus a third-place schedule should help the team as the 2013 campaign progresses.
Why The Steelers Will Finish With Less Than 10 Wins
- The absence of Heath Miller could destroy the Steelers’ passing game, particularly in the red zone. Miller hauled in 71 passes for 816 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2012, and he was far and away his team’s most reliable red zone threat. Without Miller and Matt Spaeth in the lineup as well, Pittsburgh’s running game will also struggle. David Paulson and David Johnson are nowhere near the run blockers that Miller and Spaeth are, and both will be forced to pick up the red zone slack (along with Will Johnson) until the veterans can return to the lineup.
- The stability of the running back position is also an enormous issue as well. Due to injuries and poor play, it looks like Pittsburgh’s offense will employ a “running back by committee” this fall, or at least until the fragile Le’Veon Bell can come back from his sprained foot. With Isaac Redman nursing a stinger, it looks like Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, and LaRod Stephens-Howling will be the “go-to” backs early this year. This position has the makings to be even less productive in 2013 than it was in 2012. And yes, I realize that the Steelers finished 26th in total rushing yards and 28th in yards per carry last year.
- The cornerback depth behind Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen scares the piss out of me. How or why the Steelers’ brass believed that adding William Gay to the roster when they allowed Keenan Lewis to walk for less-than market value was a good choice I have no idea. Even after Gay left Pittsburgh, he was picked on mercilessly in Arizona when he played alongside Patrick Peterson. Opposing offenses will once again force Pittsburgh out of their base defense and attack with three and four wide receiver sets this fall like they did so many times when Gay was a sub-package cornerback earlier in his career.
- Pittsburgh’s special teams units appear to be nothing short of the massive “dumpster fires” which we have grown accustomed to watching over the last few seasons. New special teams coach Danny Smith will have his work cut out for him if he wishes to turn his dreadful coverage units around in 2013. This preseason has already featured a blocked punt, shanked punts which have led to points, a blocked field goal, and a kickoff return for a touchdown.
At least to me, this team has the talent to finish 11-5 but could just as easily see 5-11 if their glaring issues throw a wrench into their season. Having a franchise quarterback in the form of Roethlisberger is always a plus, and I am sure that “Big Ben” will pull out a late-game victory or two this year.
Pittsburgh’s current deficiencies are in some extremely important areas though, and I am not about to just automatically pencil them in for double-digit wins like I have become accustomed to in years past. While I have yet to settle on a final prediction on how the Steelers will finish, my final predictions will come next week, I was still happy to see that Kirwan predicted Pittsburgh to finish with 10 wins and a postseason berth this year.
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