The Pittsburgh Steelers should not be considered likely to experience a repeat of the issues that plagued them from the opening salvos of the 2011 NFL season. The 2012 season holds much promise for one of the premier teams in the AFC.
Here are 10 reasons for you to believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers will improve their record by at least a game in 2012.
Farewell, Bruce Arians, and welcome aboard, Todd Haley. The ushering in of a new offensive boss should by itself be a reason for optimism. Haley masterminded some of the best offenses in recent years and was only undone last season by an injury-riddled group.
The Steelers were 21st in scoring last season, a big reason for their four losses and their early playoff exit. That should be the focus of Haley's work this season.
I would expect him to bring a more balanced and thoughtful offensive system, something that could benefit a team that seemed to lean far too heavily one way the last two years.
Stevenson Sylvester will likely step in for James Farrior. Ziggy Hood has permanently displaced Aaron Smith. Alameda Ta'amu could work his way in to spell Casey Hampton or start in his place if he's not ready. Sean Spence could add a new dynamic to an already dangerous defense.
All in all, there's a lot to like about this new-look defensive roster. While the Steelers will miss the leadership of Farrior and could spend a significant time without Hampton, the pieces are here for a highly successful season.
Last year, the Steelers were maligned a few times for being too old. At other times, they didn't seem to be able to make plays. This year, the Steelers should be able to feature some new young guns.
Ask Ben Roethlisberger how he feels about the Steelers' focus on the offensive line during the draft's first two rounds. I'd be willing to bet he's happy as a clam. He's netted a new starting guard in David DeCastro that will both protect him and help the rushing attack.
He's also got a new backup tackle that could end up being a future star and all but ensures that Jonathan Scott will never be seen protecting Roethlisberger again.
The offensive line improves two things that have been problems for the Steelers in recent years.
First, the rushing attack has often suffered from a lack of blocking. It will be interesting to see Rashard Mendenhall behind this line if he can get healthy.
Second, the passing game has been beset by sacks and hurries because the line has been too weak. Now, their elite quarterback might have some time to find open receivers. That is a scary thought for the rest of the conference.
I think that Isaac Redman will be a better starter than Rashard Mendenhall. That's not really a reflection on Mendenhall, but rather a reflection on Redman's style of play. It is much more suited to this division and this roster.
Redman is a bull. He's one of the stronger players on the team and can slip or push his way through smaller cracks of daylight better than any of the team's other backs.
If Redman continues the work as a starter that he's done as a backup, it will be very interesting for the Steelers' rushing attack. The supporting cast remains unsettled (more on that later), but the starting job is safe as long as Redman stays healthy.
Any team that is quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger has a chance to win every game. The Steelers won 12 games with him limping around for a long period at the end of last season. This year, if he's healthy and behind an improved offensive line, the Steelers could improve on that.
Look for Roethlisberger to thrive behind an offensive line that should prevent the problems that plagued him in the first loss to Baltimore last season and in their loss to Houston. The Steelers probably win at least one of those games with Roethlisberger able to stand in the pocket.
Still, there's much reason for optimism because Roethlisberger has proven in recent years that he's a truly elite passer with an ability to win games regardless of the situation.
The Steelers approach each game with the same high level of preparation. They also have the attitude that they can win every single game. Mike Tomlin has instilled that in them. In 2011, they had a chance in all 16 contests.
The Steelers and Tomlin learned a difficult lesson in 2011 (maybe re-learned is a better way to put it): They cannot play down to competition or take another team lightly.
All but one of their losses was the result of this attitude failure. The Steelers will likely be able to spin that into a more successful 2012 season. All that is needed is the understanding that they must play 60 minutes every week without fail.
If the Steelers want to really use the 2011 season to their advantage, they need to remember how things ended. They walked off the field in Denver after having been beaten by a team that was decidedly less talented.
They went into the year coming off a Super Bowl appearance and after having dominated their division. They ended it being bested by the Baltimore Ravens in the division and exiting the playoffs in only the first round.
This year, they'll likely not be the front-runner for the AFC North title. They also won't be the favorites in the conference. The target is off their backs and the underdog tag has been attached. The Steelers can certainly use that. They often perform better when asked to prove themselves.
A year after facing a schedule full of tough matchups, the Steelers have a slate of games against teams that are decidedly at a disadvantage. The most difficult games figure to be their two against Baltimore and their date with the defending champion New York Giants.
The Steelers need to use that schedule to their advantage. They'll miss teams like Houston and New England. They're facing a normally difficult division from the NFC in the East, but the Redskins don't figure to be a major threat, and the Steelers should match up well with the other three teams.
The Steelers have a chance to be 13-3 or better this year and certainly should be no worse than 12-4 again.
Defensively, the Steelers should be better against the run. Stevenson Sylvester and Sean Spence should shore up the issues the team had when James Farrior faltered slightly. I feel good about Alameda Ta'amu playing more often than Steve McLendon did last year spelling the aging Casey Hampton. These players will be major improvements in the run defense.
On offense, the supporting cast behind Isaac Redman will be much younger and likely more versatile. I love what Baron Batch and Chris Rainey bring to the table on the speed front. Batch also is a great receiver and should be on the final roster.
With improvements in the run department on both sides, the Steelers have a good chance to win at least one more game than they did last year, when their rushing attack was a bit of a disappointment.
The Baltimore Ravens lost Terrell Suggs, their best pass-rusher, for at least a significant chunk of the 2012 season. That should come as good news for the Steelers, who have been on the receiving end of his punishment for years.
The Steelers lost both of their games to Baltimore last season. This season, they have a good chance of facing them at least once without Suggs. They also match up better than in previous years with their most bitter rivals.
The Steelers should be optimistic about the Ravens games this season and should be able to take at least one of those contests. If you're looking for one game's worth of improvement, it might come from within the division.