2012 NFL Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

One of our last stops on our tour of NFL franchises is the much hated team from Pittsburgh. The Steelers are coming off an up and down year that ended with an early exit from the playoffs.

I expect that most Seahawk fans aren’t even going to read this preview. I know how much the wounds of SBXL still hurt. The thing is, for some reason I no longer hold any ill-will against this team. It’s not their fault the zebras handed them the Super Bowl. They just took advantage of the gift that was given them. Perhaps its the impartiality that comes with covering the league as a sportswriter, or perhaps I’m finally growing up. Who know, but I just can’t hate the Steelers anymore for what happened.

Not that I’m trying to tell you how to feel; don’t think that. If you want to hate the Steelers, then hate away. The scars from that game will never go away. I will forever understand why some Seahawk fans can’t stand them. It just that I no longer count myself among their numbers. I still hate how badly the Seahawks got robbed in that game. More than 6 years later it still hurts.

Doing the heavy lifting for this article is Craig Gottschalk from Nice Pick Cowher.

Biggest Team Need Heading Into Offseason: The biggest need heading into the offseason was the offensive line, and the Steelers addressed that during the draft.  With the addition of G David DeCastro and T Mike Adams, the Steelers have significantly lowered the age of their line and boosted up the talent.  The team also needed to address the aging defense by acquiring depth at the defensive line and linebacker positions – again, something they addressed in the draft.

Key Free Agents Retained: QB’s Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, RB Isaac Redman, WR Jerricho Cotchery, CB Keenan Lewis,

Key Player Additions: TE Leonard Pope

Key Players Leaving: WR Hines Ward, DE Aaron Smith, LB James Farrior, DE Chris Hoke

Quick Thoughts on Draft: The draft was excellent this year for the Steelers.  Grade of A- at least.  They addressed all needs and got some potential gems.  I’m excited to see the play of DeCastro and Adams and how they impact the offense line immediately.  DT Alameda Ta’amu will also be exciting to watch as he backs up DT Hampton, or even splits snaps with him.  Sean Spence will also be exciting to watch as he matures as a 3-4 linebacker for the Steelers.  The Steelers got some help with a versatile speedster at RB with Chris Rainey – he will more than likely make a huge impact at the special teams and take some returns away from WR Antonio Brown.

Quick Thoughts on 2012 schedule: The schedule is a bit of an up in down for the Steelers as far as challenging games go.  Lately, the Steelers tend to play down to their competition.  Was that a fault of former OC Bruce Arians?  We’ll see with Todd Haley taking the helm of the offense if that is still the case.  The bye week comes very early, which will be a huge challenge for a defense that licked its bruises as they limped off the field at the end of last season.  The game against the Giants will be a huge game – it could be the game that decides the division as the other teams of the AFC North have a strong chance of falling to Eli.

Most Interesting Roster Battle: The running back battle will be the one focused on the most at camp.  Can Redman carry the full load for the team?  Will Dwyer, Batch or Clay be the best backups?  Will Chris Rainey surprise everyone and pass them all?

Biggest Strength Heading Into 2012: Biggest strength is the leadership and abilities of Ben Roethlisberger.  The guy is the face of the franchise and can win a game anywhere, anytime – even when he’s playing with five injuries…. well at least most of the time.  We saw that there are some limitations to what injuries he can overcome and what injuries he can’t (see 49’ers game).  With Ben on the field, the Steelers will always have the greatest chance of winning.

Biggest Weakness Heading Into 2012: Special Teams.  Always has been and seems like it always will be.  Punter can’t stay healthy.  Kicker is kicking in the hardest stadium to kick field goals in.  And kick coverage always appears to fall apart when needed the most.

Biggest Question Still To Be Answered: Mike Wallace – will he or will he not sign before camp?  Will he even play a snap in 2012?  The two sides seem to be miles apart on money and contract length.  The Steelers are holding firm to their tender offer.  Wallace wants more money than Larry Fitzgerald (scoff).  Who caves first?  Does either side even give in?  Regardless, the team has no need to panic.  Antonio Brown has stepped up immensely and Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are primed to have very good seasons.

2012 Prediction:  It will be a bit of a bumpy season with the ‘newness’ of Toddy Haley’s offensive system.  But I don’t think it prevents this highly talented offense from lighting up the scoreboard frequently.  The defense will also have some pains as it tries to find the best match of old and new.  Dick LeBeau will need to find some great schemes to beat some of these NFC East teams and redeem himself from the lack of good play calling in the Wild Card game from last season.  I think the Steelers stay strong and finish 10-6 and tie the Ravens for the division.  The Steelers take the tiebreaker with the better NFC East record.  What happens in the playoffs is anybody’s guess (as we unfortunately saw last season).

I have to agree with Craig in the thinking that this is going to be bit of a down year for the Steelers. The Talent is still there, but as Seahawks fans we understand what happens early in the season when you have 2 rookies on the offensive line and a brand new offense. Plus, the defense was already old last season, and while they found a couple of young players to start the process of rebuilding this defense, it still has a long way to go.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still one of the most talented teams in the NFL. If anything it’s actually more talented than it was last season. The problem is that talent alone isn’t enough in this league, you also have to have continuity and a good mix of veteran and young players, and those are 2 things that the Steelers are lacking right now. I expect this team to “disappoint” and end up 9-7 and out of the playoffs. I also expect 2013 to be the beginning of another long run of continuous playoff appearances.

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Tags: Ben Roethlisberger Pittsburgh Steelers Steelers

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