As a supposed ‘Negative Nancy,’ I tend to look at things from a glass half-full perspective. I tend to see this as a positive, especially since having an agree-a-thon within Steeler Nation is boring and creates zero debate.
Although there are plenty of negatives to take away from Pittsburgh’s second consecutive postseason-less campaign, I thought that I would briefly highlight a few positives to take away from another lost season:
1. Rookie and Youngsters Seeing Playing Time
Even though it was mostly due to injuries, the fact that Pittsburgh’s younger players saw the field this fall made me extremely happy.
On defense, it was great to at least see Jason Worilds take advantage of his first extensive opportunities to play. Worilds led Pittsburgh in sacks (8.0 sacks and 63 tackles), and Cameron Heyward (59 tackles, 5.0 sacks and seven passes defensed) established himself as an utter beast at defensive end midway through his third professional season.
In addition, it was nice to see rookie linebackers in the forms of Jarvis Jones (40 tackles and 1.0 sack) and Vince Williams (53 tackles) fight through growing pains and continue to contribute throughout the 2013 campaign. Heck, even UDFA Terence Garvin (11 tackles) was chipping in for Pittsburgh’s defense in sub-package situations by the end of the year while safety Shamarko Thomas (29 tackles) did so before he was injured at mid-season.
Instead of letting the rookies rot like he has done so often throughout his most recent tenure as the team’s defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau was forced to play his youngsters this fall. The added experience should serve to help this group of guys, and good things could potentially be on the horizon for them in 2014.
On offense, the biggest rookie surprise was of course Le’Veon Bell.
After being hobbled with injuries during the preseason, Bell missed Pittsburgh’s first three regular season games. The former Michigan State Spartan played well down the stretch for Pittsburgh, and the rookie even set a franchise record for the most total yards gained by a player during his first professional season with the Steelers (1,259 total yards and eight total touchdowns).
2. No-Huddle Offense, Production of Ben Roethlisberger & Antonio Brown
At midseason, offensive coordinator Todd Haley finally showed more faith in the no-huddle offense and Pittsburgh benefited greatly from it. The no-huddle helped the offense get off to fast starts and stay competitive in games, and it highlighted how effective of a signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger truly is.
Roethlisberger enjoyed one of the finest seasons of his career this fall from a productivity standpoint. Overall, Pittsburgh’s signal-caller threw for 4,261 yards and 28 touchdowns and played in all 16 of his team’s regular season games. Although Roethlisberger did not earn his team’s MVP award this year, he was one of the main reasons why his team was even competitive in 2013.
To his credit, Antonio Brown more than made up for the loss of Mike Wallace this fall. In fact, Brown earned the team’s MVP award for his play in 2013. Brown finished second in the league in receptions (110), second in receiving yards (1,499) and ranked second on the Steelers in touchdown catches (eight). Brown even logged a team-leading 388 punt return yards and one touchdown on special teams.
3. Strong Finish
To their credit, Pittsburgh finished strong this year with a three game winning streak. Despite being all but mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, the Steelers clawed their way to within a Ryan Succop field goal of earning a playoff berth.
While I do not believe that a team of Pittsburgh’s caliber deserved a spot in the playoffs, the fact that they won three straight games to finish the season with a .500 record was nevertheless fun to witness.
Although significant changes and improvements still need to be made, my hope is that the positive momentum will inspire the front office to do whatever is necessary to make sure that this team is well-prepared to make a postseason run in 2014.
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