By Nick DeWitt,
The Pittsburgh Steelers approach every season as if they are ticketed to be in the Super Bowl. That’s not to say they’re pompous or arrogant, just that they are always looking to win and contend for a title.
The Steelers don’t rebuild. They reload.
After a disappointing 8-8 campaign in 2012, there’s a lot of reloading to be done before the Steelers can make that title run. Here’s a blueprint for getting to and winning the Super Bowl in the 2013 season.
Beat the Bad Guys
In 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to a myriad of teams that had trouble beating anyone. Games against the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers that should have been won made the opponent look more like the top-talented team.
That cannot continue. If you give the Steelers those four victories, they finish 12-4 and solidly make the playoffs as the AFC North champion and a props betting man would have given the Steelers decent odds to have done well in said play offs.
If you add in victories against the Baltimore Ravens, Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals, which were lost because of a mix of bad coaching or ineffective play against a struggling opponent, the Steelers are suddenly 15-1 and the best team in the NFL.
In 2013, the path to the Super Bowl for the Steelers begins and ends with how the team performs against the Browns, Raiders, Titans, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions and New York Jets.
Those are teams they will have to play.
Those teams and eight games comprise half the schedule. If the Steelers win all of them, there is no reason they shouldn’t be among the AFC elite once again.
Score More Points
This could easily be filed under “have a more effective offense” or “move the football more” because both were major issues last season.
Todd Haley’s first season as Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator accomplished one thing: It gave fans a new appreciation for the Bruce Arians offense they were so quick to demand discarded.
Haley’s offense is predicated on a couple of concepts. First, he wants his unit to go on long drives to kill the clock and keep opposing offenses away from the field and thus unable to score points of their own.
Second, he wants the running game to pave the way for the passing game.
Neither of those was accomplished in 2012, where the Steelers slumped to 21st in the league offensively and frequently failed to convert a first down for long periods of a game.
In 2013, the offense needs to do more.
It needs to open up, embrace a passing attack that features an elite quarterback and several breakout candidates at receiver, rebuild a rushing attack that was among the league’s worst and move the ball more quickly. It needs to allow one of the league’s best defensive units the opportunity of handling an opponent’s offense.
If the Steelers are more successful on offense in 2013, there is no doubt that the defense can seal the deal. This offense is built to outscore teams. It is time that the scheme matched that ability.
Generate More Pressure
The offense isn’t the only unit to blame for a substandard 2012 season. The defense must bear some of the blame for a slow start and a year-long struggle to get near quarterbacks.
The pressure game has always been a Pittsburgh strong point. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are the latest in a long, long line of Pittsburgh sack masters.
Unfortunately, in 2012 they struggled to make any real impact. Harrison’s age seemed to catch up with him some. Woodley had trouble staying healthy but was just barely decent when on the field.
In 2013, the Steelers have to do whatever it takes (including altering the scheme they employ to get pressure) to get quarterbacks under duress. Everything begins with pressure.
If the Steelers can garner some sack numbers that resemble 2010 or earlier, they can get to the Super Bowl and make their opponents pay for every snap of the football.
Reload on the Run
In case it wasn’t obvious under the pass-first scheme operated by Bruce Arians, the Pittsburgh running game was proven dead as a doornail in 2012. A backfield that, on paper, looked brilliant with Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Rainey, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman as the key contributors was an absolute bust.
By the time the 2013 season opens for business, expect Dwyer to be the only member of that group still wearing the Pittsburgh uniform.
Mendenhall is a free agent and the team has no interest in him. Rainey is already gone. Redman is a restricted free agent and could be kept, but he isn’t worth the price of a tender with Dwyer, a similar player, on the roster.
The Steelers need to reload this unit with the draft. Running backs like Wisconsin’s Montee Ball will be available after the first round and would give the Steelers a feature back they can lean on.
Another key ingredient needs to be the signing or drafting of a big back that can take the punishment of short yardage. One of those is available in the draft in the form of Pitt star Ray Graham. Bringing him on board would be a big boost to a sagging unit.
Get Younger in the Middle
Pittsburgh’s defense is getting old.
There. It’s out—in case the play on the field last year didn’t give it away. James Harrison, Larry Foote, Casey Hampton and Troy Polamalu all are aging fast and, in some cases, too injury-prone to be depended upon in 2013.
Harrison is too expensive and must be released. He could be brought back on a reduced salary, but Jason Worilds looks more than capable of replacing him in the lineup. Polamalu needs to be reduced in salary as well.
Hampton and Foote simply need to be let go for good. Both are free agents. Another team might take a flier on them, but it cannot be Pittsburgh again.
The time is now to get younger. The draft is rife with defensive talent from safety Matt Elam out of Florida to a slew of linebackers and defensive tackles.
The Steelers have Hampton’s replacement waiting in Steve McLendon. He just needs to be tendered and then kept. McLendon is certainly ready to go.
Foote’s replacement should be Sean Spence if he’s healthy again. The Steelers can reload with some backups at linebacker in the draft.
Elam could spend a year behind Polamalu and replace him in 2014.
It’s all there if Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau are ready to let go of the past.