Pittsburgh Steelers: Will the Offense Carry the Team in 2012?
Traditionally, it has been the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense that has carried the team to success, but there may be a shift in philosophy evident by this year's draft.
Pittsburgh added two blue-chip linemen to the mix drafting David DeCastro and Mike Adams in the first two rounds. Even if only DeCastro starts, add him to the offensive line with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback and a team stacked with talent at the skill position, and the offense could enter the league's elite.
That is one of the reasons that the team brought in Todd Haley as offensive coordinator. He knows how to use his talent and adjusts his scheme to the talent on the team. Right now, the Steelers have the weapons to execute a high-powered passing game.
Lately, they have been held back by terrible play on the offensive line and the lack of production with Bruce Arians' offense.
Since taking over as coordinator, Arians has seen his offenses only finish in the top 10 once in points, and that was when he was in his first-year as coordinator, using primarily Ken Whisenhunt's offense.
Over the past four seasons, the Steelers' offense ranked 20th, 12th, 12th and 21st in points. By contrast, the defense has always been at, or near the top, of the league.
During Mike Tomlin's tenure with the Steelers, their defense has been the best in the league in points allowed three times and second once. Their worst ranking came in 2009, which also happened to be their worst season under Tomlin, when the defense was 12th in points allowed.
Which unit will rank higher in scoring this season?
But with the loss of Aaron Smith, James Farrior, William Gay and Chris Hoke, can the defense replicate its success?
Smith was injured for much of the season as was Hoke, while Farrior was a part-time player. Gay was a starter, but there are a number of young options vying for his spot in the lineup.
On the defensive line, the Steelers may be without Casey Hampton to start the season as he continues to recover from an ACL injury and even though Farrior was no longer a full-time starter, the thought of Larry Foote or Stevenson Sylvester starting does raise some concern.
The biggest issue may be whether James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley can stay healthy over the course of the full season. Without these two in the lineup, the Steelers have virtually no pass rush which was a big reason why they were unable to force turnovers last season.
Beyond this, it is difficult to maintain such a high standard from year to year, even though the Steelers' defense seems to defy the odds.
This offense, though, has the potential to be among the league's elite. The talent is there, now it just depends on the execution.
Last year, Roethlisberger may have had the best camp of his career, but that did not translate to the season and a lot of that can be attribute to the offense line and the lack of structure on offense.
Haley should fix the problem that the Steelers' had with their offense's structure and DeCastro along with a healthy Willie Colon will boost the offensive line. At this point, what is left to hold back Pittsburgh's offense besides how they are able to execute it?
They are equipped with receivers who would be excellent in a quick passing game, as evidenced by the game against the New England Patriots last season. But they can also go deep which can be perfectly set up by the play-action pass.
With Isaac Redman at running back, the Steelers have a back who will gain positive yardage on almost every carry, though he lacks the game-breaking ability of Rashard Mendenhall.
Even with the lack of big-play ability, Redman's style could fit perfectly into developing a play-action attack that suits Roethlisberger's skill set.
An improved offensive line should also allow Heath Miller to be better utilized in the passing game and the addition of Chris Rainey in the draft will give the Steelers an option out of the backfield.
The bottom line is that they have to improve their production and the talent is there to do it.
Last season, Pittsburgh ranked 21st in the league scoring 20.3 points per game. By scoring one more touchdown per game this season, they could vault into the top five in the league and alleviate a lot of pressure from their defense.
It will be a work in progress, but all signs point the the Steelers' offense improving this season and it may be the first time in a decade that they outperform defense.
If the Steelers offense can achieve their elite defenses level, Pittsburgh not only will contend for the AFC North, but will be back in Super Bowl contention.
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