Dec 29, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin (left) and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) react during a time-out against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 20-7. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Could Steelers Be In For Rebound Year?

The Steelers and their fans could be in for a pretty good year, and that isn’t just my constant optimism as a Steelers fan.  Many experts are predicting them to finish atop the division, and rightfully so.  They improved every position on their roster this offseason, save cornerback and wide receiver.  Not to mention that the other two contenders in the division regressed.  The Browns probably improved the most in the division, but they still aren’t viable contenders in an AFC North division that is jam piled at the top.

Perhaps the biggest reason that the Steelers are considered as favorites  is because they made noticeable improvements to the front seven.  Ryan Shazier should be an immediate starter along Lawrence Timmons, and he should remind fans of the days where James Farrior was part of the tandem with Timmons.  As long as the defensive lineman can do their job to occupy blockers and keep them away from the second level, Timmons and Shazier should be able to roam free.  They both do a fantastic job at playing see-ball get-ball and they also excel in coverage.  They can’t be effective in the areas a game where they could disrupt the most, if they are being disrupted by offensive linemen who should be occupied by the defensive line.

Shazier also excels as a pass rusher, which should be a huge asset to Dick LeBeau’s zone blitzing scheme.  Inside linebackers need to be good pass rushers for LeBeau to fully maximize their skillset in his scheme and while Timmons is a good pass rusher, he isn’t as good as Shazier is.  While he is only a rookie, Shazier has the potential to be one of the best pass rushing inside linebackers in the league if he can improve his slight weakness of taking on blocks.  I expect Shazier to put up rather big numbers for an inside linebacker in the pass rush department.

December 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Steve McLendon (90) reacts to a defensive play against the Cincinnati Bengals during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Cincinnati Bengals won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I expect the defensive line to be another reason the Steelers could be back in the division winner slot this playoffs.  If Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon, Stephon Tuitt, and Camaron Thomas can all play up to their abilities then the defensive line has the potential to be a very strong unit.  That being said, if they all descend to mediocrity then the defense could be in for a very disappointing year.  The front seven is the key to the defense, because we all know that the cornerbacks can’t survive on their own this year.

No matter how good the defense is, however, the team won’t be able to have sustained success if the offense doesn’t produce.  It looks more and more like they will be relying on the running game every day.  Other than Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger’s only familiar target in the passing game is Heath Miller.  Markus Wheaton spent much of the season last year injured and Lance Moore is new to the Steel City, so they shouldn’t have an overwhelming amount of chemistry.  That all points to the fact that Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount will have to shoulder a pretty large portion of the load the season.  Luckily, they both are more than capable to do that.

If the defense and offense can simultaneously produce, then we, as fans, should be in for a pretty good year.  Obviously, you can’t expect much more out of a team than to play up to their full potential.  That’s all I expect out of them this year.

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