Pittsburgh Steelers Season Preview: What to Expect from Passing Game in 2012
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley is expected to put a greater emphasis on the Pittsburgh Steelers rushing attack in 2012, but that doesn't mean the passing game won't have a productive year in the process.
Last season, the Steelers averaged 253 yards per game through the air, good for 10th in the NFL.
While those numbers are fairly decent, the Pittsburgh passing game could easily be more efficient in 2012, and an improved running game can help quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Co. do just that.
Let's take a look at how some of the key contributors to the Steelers passing attack will fare in 2012.
Things will be a little different this season for Ben Roethlisberger, as the 30-year-old quarterback heads into the prime of his playing career.
Roethlisberger is no longer going to hear what he wants from former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, but rather Haley is going to tell him what he needs to hear.
This will be the most important training camp for Big Ben since he entered the league, as it will take time and reps to get him and his wide receivers up to speed on Haley's playbook.
While Haley's emphasis on the run will be designed to wear down the opposing defense and control the clock, it will also help free up the passing attack through the play-action pass.
Roethlisberger is one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL at running the play-action, and there should be plenty of opportunities for him to hit a wide open Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown streaking towards the end zone after a fake to the running back.
Another key aspect that Ben excels at is the no-huddle offense, something Arians was hesitant to use during his tenure with the Steelers.
Haley will most certainly open up the no-huddle to Roethlisberger as he sees fit, and will provide Pittsburgh with a different tempo to the offense.
In 2012, a healthy Ben Roethlisberger will throw for 3,988 yards to along with 25 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.
As a more efficient quarterback, thanks to Todd Haley, Roethlisberger could reach his third Pro Bowl as well.
Mike Wallace is a big wild card for the Steelers right now, as it remains to be seen when he will get signed.
While nobody can blame Wallace for holding out into training camp, this is not an ideal time for the 25-year-old receiver to be skipping out on practices.
Learning a new playbook and being in sync with your quarterback takes time, and Wallace's regular season numbers could suffer as a result of his holdout.
Even towards the end of last season, it seemed like Antonio Brown was taking over as the top receiver, catching more passes than Wallace over the second half of the season.
The sooner Wallace signs that contract and gets out on the practice field, the more prepared he will be to repeat his 2011 Pro Bowl season.
I believe Wallace will sign a contract sometime within the next two weeks, and it shouldn't have any adverse effects on his understanding of the playbook and rapport with Ben Roethlisberger.
Wallace will do his best to justify the contract he is given and put up career-highs in catches and yards with 79 and 1,310 to go along with seven touchdowns.
Antonio Brown had a breakout season in 2011, going for over 1,000 yards and making it to the Pro Bowl in just his second season in the NFL.
An excellent route-runner and possessor of probably the best hands on the team, Brown should build upon his breakout campaign and continue his rise as one of the best young receivers in the game.
He should benefit greatly from the no-huddle offense, as Brown is an intelligent receiver who will be able to exploit a defense on its heels.
Expect Brown to catch 74 passes for 1,256 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns to lead the Steelers in 2012.
With Hines Ward retired, it is time for a healthy Emmanuel Sanders to step up and fill the void left at the slot receiver position.
There was a time when it seemed like Sanders was going to be the better of the two electrifying receivers taken in the 2010 draft, but instead it was Antonio Brown who had the breakout season.
He has similar speed and intelligence to Brown, which should allow him to exploit mismatches in coverage from the slot.
Sanders gives the Steelers one of the best receiver trios in the NFL, and he is looking at a 51-reception, 763-yard, and four-touchdown year in 2012.
Heath Miller has had a few somewhat disappointing past couple of seasons, and he will look to change that in 2012.
An excellent possession tight end who thrives down in the goal line and across the middle of the field, Miller should be utilized to the full extent by Todd Haley.
While his initial numbers of 56 catches and 698 yards are similar to 2011, his four touchdowns will double his previous amount, as Miller will be counted on to come up with some big plays down in the red zone this season.
Chris Rainey shouldn't be expected to be a key contributor in his rookie season, but he is an interesting option to look at in Todd Haley's offense.
Rainey is similar to Dexter McCluster, a small, speedy back who Haley used out of the backfield and in the slot to throw a different look at defenses in Kansas City.
In the past two years under Haley, McCluster caught 67 balls for 537 yards to along with 267 yards on the ground.
While Rainey shouldn't be counted on for consistent numbers game in and game out, don't be surprised if you see him bust out a few big plays during 2012, as Haley utilizes his speed in the offense.
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