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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Tags: Pittsburgh Steelers

  • PJ_CA

    So we get back to relying on the running game and an improved front 7 (hopefully) – in other words: “Steelers football” – the exact style that does succeed in the AFC North. I am good with that. Ben has shown he can carry the team if he’s healthy and needs to (see the final 8 games of last season), but eliminating the NEED for him to do it only means good things for the Steelers. A good running game, even in today’s pass happy NFL, chews up clock and lets the D rest, no way to find a downside to that.
    Now, if the D can produce more takeaways, we can easily win this division. I am just not optimistic of seeing more TOs by the D this year. Most TOs come from INTs, and with Ike’s hands of stone, and Gay’s 9 INT in all his 8 years, we have to rely on Cortez Allen to bring in more balls since they didn’t bother to address the CB position seriously in the draft.
    If the front 7 is as improved as everyone seems to think it will help the secondary immensely. A great front 7 will cover for a mediocre secondary and a great secondary can cover for a mediocre front 7 (see Seattle last season, their front 7 was not exceptional, but the secondary made them look good).

    • SDAZT_STEEL

      Time of Possession is not Pittsburgh’s problem. In fact, this team has had to use the pass to win the TOP battle recently:

      2013: 7th in TOP
      2012: 2nd
      2011: 1st

      2013: 27th in Total Rushing
      2012: 26th
      2011: 18th

      Once Haley realizes that he needs to utilize his speedy weapons properly to allow for sub-packages and un-stacked boxes for Bell & Blount in the run game, this unit will be fine. Unfortunately, if he keeps running his slow backs out of jumbo formations w/extra OL & useless TEs, we’ll be subjects to more 8-8 seasons. Look at last year, the team constantly dug themselves in early graves due to the golf coach’s desire to play “Stiller Football.”

      The D also won’t create more turnovers if Dick keeps employing his “catch and tackle” defense which can be easily shredded by even the most mediocre passers. As you can see above, Pittsburgh’s defense has had plenty of time to “rest” in recent seasons.

      • PJ_CA

        I agree on Haley, he needs to do a way better job of using the playmakers he has, or he needs to go. I think the running game will be helped a lot more this year by a (hopefully) healthy o-line than by Haley having an epiphany, which I don’t think will happen.
        Last year they were 27th in rush defense. And uncharacteristically, mid pack overall.
        2012 – they were 6th in team D
        2011 – they were #1
        The D is getting younger, which is good, but doesn’t guarantee it being better. They only managed 15 TOs in 2011 with the #1 team D, so they were good for fantasy players, but they don’t give out Lombardis for fantasy football. We need more TOs, period. Which usually means playmakers on the back end, Troy in his prime turned entire seasons with timely TOs – sadly, the best years are behind him.

        • SDAZT_STEEL

          More playmakers on the back-end is nice, but w/o a zone & off-man heavy scheme as their base offenses will continue to dink-and-dunk the archaic defensive system to death and set themselves up in favorable running situations (2nd & 5 or less).

          Pittsburgh’s defense performed well against the run in the past because their front 7 was so strong teams were liable to dink and dunk them when they had the right personnel. Last year, w/o the strong front 7 their issues were only exacerbated. It won’t matter how strong the front 7 gets though, turnovers and stopping the dink and dunk passing game will be problems for this defense because of scheme as much as personnel.

      • Anthony Chiado

        With Shazier and Mike Mitchell being added to the defense hopefully they will be better at defending with his awful scheme. If they can stop the short passes they will force the defense to throw some longer passes and get the pass rush involved. His pass defense scheme is terribly awful, though.

        • SDAZT_STEEL

          They’d better. If he keeps them playing off, opposing O’s, with any smarts, will take 4-6 yards on every play and make Pittsburgh’s defenders try to tackle in space.

          • Anthony Chiado

            When they are playing and executing well, that scheme could work very well. If they play bad though, the scheme is just awful in every way

          • SDAZT_STEEL

            Agreed, although when they did play & execute well with the right players in the system, they were still dinked and dunked to death by the teams with the appropriate personnel.

    • Craig

      I’m not so sure that the AFC North today is the same as it was just a few seasons ago. The other three teams are going pass heavy and tailoring offenses around their QB…. even though all Dalton and Flacco are average, and who knows what Manziel will be like next season.

      So while the Steelers keep chugging along at trying to assemble a dominating ground game, their opponents in the division are assembling offenses that can strike quickly and rack up a lot of points. The Steelers have yet to show that exists within their capabilities with last year’s roster and now this season’s. I agree with Dom, TOP does not = wins. You have to score first, then hold onto the ball. The Steelers (for the most part but not entirely) struggled getting points on the board early and often. TOP means nothing if you are outscored 14-3 by the end of the half.

      • PJ_CA

        As I recall, the Ravens won the SB with Ray Rice running very well 2 years ago, last year? He didn’t run, they went 8-8 as well. The Bengals have Gio Bernard and “the law firm” and won the division last year. Ben put up over 4200 yds passing last year – didn’t help us at all. Everything in the NFL is cyclical, it’s a pass happy league – yes, but a running game is far from being moot.

        • Craig

          Ray Rice 2012: 1,100 yards in 16 games. Not bad, but Bell was almost there and the Steelers went 8-8. What was Rice like in the playoffs? Dreadful except for one game. The Ravens relied HEAVILY on big passing plays. Ravens’ points in playoffs? 24, 38, 28, and 34 – most came from passing plays.

          Bengals won the division because the rest of the AFC North shot itself in the foot with poor and inconsistent play. NOT because of a dominant run game. 80 some yards and no TD’s in that WC loss to San Diego is not good on the resume either.

          It is a pass happy league. And you’re right that a good solid running game is far from moot. I never said that.

          What you said thought is that Steeler Football is the style that will win the North. I disagree. None of the AFC North teams won the division based on good ground games – Cincy 18th last year, Ravens 11th in 2012.

          It comes down to balance and execution. Both of which the Steelers have yet to do with Haley.

        • SDAZT_STEEL

          Nice try, Rice averaged less than 4 yards per carry during the postseason (3.64 ypc). Their hot as fire quarterback, who led all passers in the major throwing categories, is what won them their Super Bowl.

          Also, Cincinnati finished 18th in the league in rushing and 27th in ypc.

          Might want to do some more research. Hahaha.

          • David Dedo

            Well here’s some research: what did the Chargers do to the Bengals? Shut down the run and dared them to pass. How did that work out?

          • SDAZT_STEEL

            Daring a QB the caliber of Andy Dalton to pass, even with his weapons on the outside, is a worthwhile gamble. Also, teams didn’t have much trouble shutting down Cincy’s anemic running game as I alluded to above. The Chargers were simply a better team across the board at that point in the season.

            Oh, and what happened to the Chargers the following week when they tried to run the ball to the tune of 18 carries for 65 yards? That’s right, they tried running the ball 16 times instead of attacking Denver’s defense as they dug themselves in a 17-0 hole after three quarters of play trying to “establish” a non-existent run game with a hobbled Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead.

          • David Dedo

            SDAZT:

            1. 18 carries isn’t many.
            2. But this still proves my point. Denver shut down the run, and they won easily. Even in this passing era, making a team one-dimensional is an advantage.
            3. But if you’re #1 back is “hobbled,” what’s the sense of trying to establish a running game? That’s really a different issue than the point I was trying to make.

          • SDAZT_STEEL

            Actually, you made my point. SD was so concentrated on establishing a non-existant running game instead of attacking a defense littered with holes in the secondary that they played patty-cake and wasted three quarters of Philip Rivers’ time by not having him target his playmakers in the passing game which finished 4th in the league last year. (Seattle proved this two weeks later when they used the pass to set up the run on offense in dominating fashion.)

            15 of Rivers’ 27 pass attempts occurred in the 4th quarter, and had to occur because the team tried to “establish” the run and “achieve balance” instead of taking advantage of the matchup issues they had at their disposal.

            Whomever decided that it would be a good idea to “establish” a running game with an injured Ryan Matthews deserved to lose after the team dug themselves in a 17 point hole after 47 minutes of play.

            I do hope you enjoy watching Haley waste the prime of Big Ben’s career though, because this team will languish in mediocrity as long as the golf coach is calling the plays.

          • David Dedo

            Again–that’s a coaching issue. Pretty hard to “establish the run” when you have an injured running back. I agree–in that instance–that it wasn’t a good idea. My simpler, larger point, was that teams that can run and throw will be better than teams that are one dimensional.

          • SDAZT_STEEL

            Point taken. I guess my point is that the Steelers have the personnel at their disposal where they are more dangerous to utilize the pass and their explosive weapons outside & Miller and the backs to force teams into sub-package sets to set up their run game.

            Bigger backs like Bell and Blount are at a distinct advantage with their skill-sets when they face 6-7 man boxes as opposed to 8-9 man ones. With a head of steam, they are far more dangerous at the second levels of defenses, particularly ones with smaller personnel on the field which must account for the likes of AB, Moore, Wheaton, Bryant, Archer and a reliable tight end like Heath.

            Running the jumbo sets & packing things in with a shaky OL hurts backs like Bell & Blount with their skill-sets when it comes to them being fully effective, and shackling Ben & the type of speed he has at WR is frustrating to watch.

          • David Dedo

            Your point taken as well. Again, my point is that third and goal (for example) doesn’t suggest/allow for a wide-set. (I have to say that I don’t see much point running 4 wide sets when it’s 3rd and goal.

          • SDAZT_STEEL

            Why not? Denver had plenty of success with it last year w/Moreno. Defenses were spread thin and Denver took advantage when defenses were kept honest. Plus where did I say they needed to go 3 wide at all times? They acquired Blount for a reason, and Johnson & Miller are good goal line passing targets as well.

          • David Dedo

            I can’t say I watched Denver enough to know their formation/play calling tendencies on third and goal situations. Some think you lessen the effectiveness because you can’t really stretch a defense “thin” in such a restricted amount of space. Of course, if the defense is stretched “thin,” so is the offense because that extra receiver means one less blocker.

            You seem to be suggesting I put words in your mouth with the “all times” comment, but you’re putting words in my mouth. I never suggested you said that. (But I do know Denver, for example, ran spread formations the majority of their offensive snaps.)

          • SDAZT_STEEL

            If the defense wants to be bunched in to defend the possibility of a run with three or four quick wide receivers on the field so be it, go to the pass. But if they elect to dedicate people to stopping the pass, the wide splits create more space for the RBs.
            Eight of Moreno’s 10 rushing TDs were from inside the 10 and all four of Montee Ball’s rush TDs were from that spot as well.

          • David Dedo

            1. For every team, the majority of rushing TDs are short runs. (And that wasn’t a high number of rushing TDs.)
            2. The defense, to a degree, is already “bunched” because there’s not as much field to cover, and the pass patterns are also limited.

          • SDAZT_STEEL

            The defense can still be spread and forced to employ smaller and quicker personnel due to the personnel the O (WRs & RBs) puts on the field.

          • David Dedo

            We’re talking in circles. It’s a question of degree. Yes–the defense can be spread horizontally, but receivers can’t go deep when you’re at the goal line. Therefore, there’s simply less field to cover.

          • SDAZT_STEEL

            But sub-package personnel must be brought in to defend the quicker receivers who can create space.

      • SDAZT_STEEL

        Like that Denver game in 2012, Pittsburgh can rack up all of the yards, rushing attempts and TOP they want on offense. If their OC can’t coach worth a darn, utilize his personnel effectively, rely heavily on the QB pulling miracle 3rd down conversions and the defensive schemes are easier to decipher than a 1st grade word search you’re fighting an uphill battle.

        Sadly, that has been the status quo over the last two years.

      • Anthony Chiado

        I wouldn’t count out the other teams in the division having good pass offenses though. Flacco and Dalton are both average, or maybe even below average, QB’s and whoever starts for Cleveland shouldn’t be anything other than a low end QB. I’d be very surprised if all of the offenses in the division don’t rely heavily on the run game. The Steelers might actually in place to have, hopefully, the best pass offense in the division.

  • bk

    I just dont see much improvement… The run game will be better overall, but, still not sold on OL, especially the tackles… D will crowd the line as there is not a lot of wr firepower…
    Tomlin is still the HC, that means they will not be able to make any adjustments during a game and unless he hires a Jr HIgh backup QB to help him with clock management and the use of replay challenges there will not e much difference…

  • Rick Eger

    We should have resigned Jerricho Cotchery, it wouldn’t have broken the bank and Ben would have a familiar receiver in the red zone,

  • richard

    The emphasis on the run game is more abour balance, then going back to the days of the Bus. With Ben as the QB, it would be crazy to think that Pittsburgh believes,that they have a better chance of winning by taking the ball out of his hands. An improved running game will take some of the pressure off the offense, and make it more difficult for defenses to key on one player. It would be nice to see Pittsburgh get back to power running in short yardage, and goal line situations.