Predicting who will sit atop the statistical charts for one of the league's most stable franchises might seem like an easy business, but sometimes the statistics can be influenced by a number of things. A new offensive style could shift some of the statistical leaders, for example.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are deep and talented, so there might just be some surprises. Read on and see my predictions for the top stat leaders in many important categories.
Not really any big surprise here. If Roethlisberger is healthy, he will lead the Steelers in passing. If he's not healthy, he'll probably still lead the Steelers in passing because he doesn't leave the field for any reason unless he's forced off of it.
Roethlisberger figures to at least get close to another 4,000-yard campaign in 2012. Todd Haley's offense, even if there is some increased focus on the rushing attack, isn't going to move away from a quarterback who can get the ball anywhere and a receiving corps that can catch anything and everything. Anyone who thinks that smash-mouth football has returned to town is misguided.
Others Who Could Be in the Mix
I wouldn't say anyone else will be in the mix to challenge Big Ben, but you will probably see passing lines for Byron Leftwich as the backup quarterback at some point. Even if it's just mop up duty, Roethlisberger has never taken every snap in a season.
I would also throw out that Antonio Brown will probably throw a few passes, and I'll give him a nod for at least one surprising touchdown pass to someone.
With this position, we'll break it down a little bit more since there are multiple ways to be a top rusher for a team.
Yardage: Isaac Redman
This will be Redman's chance to have a big season while playing for his first shot at some really big money. I don't think he'll disappoint. Given his ability to run through the tiniest of holes and to generate a lot of yardage after contact, this should be a no-brainer unless something unpredictable happens.
If you're looking for a challenger, I do expect Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch to get significant carries. With Rashard Mendenhall on the shelf, I wouldn't be surprised if there was a lot more of a running back by committee style used.
Touchdowns: Jonathan Dwyer
While he isn't a classic goal-line back, he's a bull. Redman will get his carries down there too, but if the team wants to bring in more of a hammer, I like what Dwyer brings to the table in that area of the field.
The only challenger I can see here is if John Clay miraculously makes the final roster. At that point, he'd be the classic goal-line back who simply would carry the ball when the team was inside the five.
Again, we'll break this down a little bit.
Yardage: Antonio Brown
Apologies to Mike Wallace, but this is Brown's big year. He came close to surpassing the team's other big-name receiver in 2011 while starting for the first time. This year, I think he'll edge Wallace in a close competition.
If you want a prediction on how much yardage, I'll say both will be over 1,000 yards, but maybe not by a large amount. I think with Emmanuel Sanders healthy that the Steelers will spread the ball out a lot to their four receivers, their tight ends and their runners. So let's say about 1,200 yards should do it, with Wallace just behind at 1,150.
Touchdowns: Jerricho Cotchery
This seems a bit of a reach, but if you think about it, it makes some sense. Cotchery was a huge weapon in the red zone for the Steelers. While Heath Miller should also make a comeback on the touchdown charts, Cotchery is the other go-to guy inside the 20.
I think this will be close because, again, the team will spread out the passing. Cotchery seems like a safe bet, though, since he will be a possession guy whose best work is in close quarters.
I could break this down similar to wide receivers, but I think Miller will win across the board with what will be a comeback season of sorts. He sort of seemed to fall off the board last year as Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and other receivers gained reps.
I think that will change this year in large part due to Hines Ward being gone. Roethlisberger frequently found Ward when no one else seemed open. Those opportunities in the middle will likely now go to Miller, another safety valve for Big Ben.
Miller should return to his 2010 numbers if all goes well and could be even better than that.
The Steelers are still very good on the outside. Up the middle, however, there are concerns. The best way to counteract that is to disguise it by using the outside linebackers and defensive ends more aggressively. The inside guys will get better opportunities simply because teams aren't as focused on them.
Woodley doesn't need help to have a great year. He and James Harrison have been among the NFL's best tandem of linebackers ever since Woodley took over the starting job from Clark Haggans.
Last season was rough because both players spent time on the bench with significant injuries. That should mean that both will be out to avenge themselves upon the AFC and remind everyone who they are when it comes time to pick Pro Bowl rosters.
Woodley gets my nod because he just seems to be the better overall player. Harrison has the nasty edge and the feared style, but Woodley is the better athlete and he makes the better, more sure tackle when he gets near the quarterback.
I think it'll be close, so I'd bet on each player being within the 10 to 13 range.
This could end up being one of the most difficult battles on the team. Last year, Ryan Clark finished with the top total of 100. Polamalu was third with 93. Lawrence Timmons was in the middle. I would expect James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley to get into the mix again next year.
But my nod goes to Polamalu, who should benefit greatly from a healthy corps of linebackers and hopefully from some lessons taught last season by opponents who found ways to make him guess wrong slightly more often.
The Steelers will likely work to better disguise Polamalu's plan on each play and may change things up more often. I think he'll be involved in almost every play next season and that he'll consequently have the most tackles on the team. He'll slightly beat out Clark and Woodley this time.
I know you're thinking I'm crazy. On a team that features Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor, I'm going with the new guy. Yes I am, and I really have good reasons for it.
Teams will not throw at Ike Taylor very often unless they catch him napping. He doesn't pick off many passes as it is, but he doesn't get a lot of throws his way because he utterly crushes opposing receiver numbers. There were games last year where maybe one pass went his way.
Lewis will get targeted more because he's likely to be the new starter. That always draws fire. He has the ability to make a lot of plays, so I think he'll bring down more than people might expect covering the second receiver on each team.
Last year, nobody had more than two interceptions. Three players (Taylor, Polamalu and the departed William Gay) tied for that. This isn't a tough field. The trick is to make the most of the opportunities. That's what Lewis can do.
It's time to give him some love. Harrison has a vicious move when he goes for the ball, punching it out like he's delivering a hard right hook in a boxing match. He had two last season, tied with several others for the team lead.
This year, fully healthy and hopefully without another freak injury, he should get a couple more. I'd say four should about do it to win the title, and he could have five or six.
Harrison's aggressive style helps with creating those kinds of things. Quarterbacks and runners forget to protect the ball because they're too busy trying not to get themselves killed by the league's meanest linebacker (apologies to the almost-equally mean Ray Lewis). Mean, in the case of any linebacker, is a very good thing.
I think this might be the team's biggest opportunity in forcing turnovers in 2012. They don't ever bring down a ton of interceptions. Fumbles are much easier to create with this cast of players in the front seven.