Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Quick Fixes for the Steelers in 2013
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 8-8 record this year left Steeler Nation disappointed and searching for answers. However, all is certainly not lost, as this team is a only few moves away from getting back into the playoffs next season.
Pittsburgh has some simple concrete steps to take to improve for next season. After missing the postseason this year, the Steelers should try these quick fixes to launch themselves right back into contention in 2013.
1. Draft a Starting Running Back
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The committee approach to the ground game failed to produce the results many fans expected. The Steelers’ running attack was abysmal, ranking 26th in the league at just over 96 yards per contest as per NFL.com. Even worse, the backs averaged fewer than four yards per carry for the first time since 2008.
While injuries and inconsistency on the offensive line are partially to blame, the Steelers are definitely in the market for a premier workhorse-type back. With tailbacks traditionally undervalued on draft day, Pittsburgh can find an impact player at several points in the draft.
The top two rushers in the NFL last season—Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Washington’s Alfred Morris—came from opposite ends of the draft spectrum. Peterson went seventh overall in 2007, while Morris had to wait until the sixth round to hear his name called a year ago.
In a similar vein, there are players that would fit the bill for the Steelers up and down this year’s draft board. If the Steelers address this need early, look for names like UNC’s Giovani Bernard or Eddie Lacy of Alabama to wear the Steelers baseball cap.
If they wait unil the middle rounds, they could bring Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, Pitt’s Ray Graham or Jonathan Franklin from UCLA into the fold.
If they opt for a late-round flier, Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina and Michael Dyer, formerly of Auburn national title fame, would be low-risk, high-upside candidates.
It seems obvious that the current backfield in Pittsburgh will be in search of a lead dog when Rashard Mendenhall leaves for free agency, with neither Isaac Redman nor Jonathan Dwyer seeming candidates to shoulder a full load.
Regardless of where they draft a runner, there are plenty of playmakers up for grabs in this draft. By shoring up this weakness, the Steelers will have rectified a glaring deficiency from 2012.
2. Hire a Proven Offensive Line Coach
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The offensive line has been a sore spot for Steeler Nation since the departure of Russ Grimm before the 2007 season. To make matters worse, Sean Kugler, Pittsburgh’s offensive line coach, has accepted a head coaching position at UTEP for next season.
The team’s window of opportunity isn’t getting any wider, and the Steelers need a steady hand at the controls of the offensive front. They should look to hire a coach with a track record of success managing the offensive line.
The name that immediately jumps to mind is Juan Castillo. He served 13 successful years as offensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, and coached up such players as Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan and Jermane Mayberry. He may not have been the perfect choice to run the Eagles defense, but there is no arguing with the success the offensive line enjoyed under his watch.
With young talents such as Marcus Gilbert, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Mike Adams entrenched on the line for the Steelers, Castillo’s intensity and know-how could be just what the doctor ordered to accelerate their growth.
3. Find Some Safety Help
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Santa Claus must not come around Heinz Field very often. No matter how good defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is every year, he never gets any new presents to play with.
Troy Polamalu was drafted in 2003, and he has been absolutely breathtaking as a Steeler. He lines up all over the field, he blitzes, he picks off passes and he’s an absolute nightmare to face.
The sad truth is that we are currently watching the twilight of Polamalu’s career. He is racking up injuries at an alarming rate, and he has more football behind him than ahead of him.
The Steelers should give LeBeau another weapon like they gave him in 2003. While Polamalu is obviously a very special player, there are others who could potentially be the next wild card in the Steeler defense.
If they look to the draft, Florida’s Matt Elam and LSU’s Eric Reid have been impressive in the college ranks, and each show flashes of play that call Polamalu to mind.
4. Land a Wide Receiver
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The pass-catchers for the Steelers left something to be desired this year, both catching the ball and holding on to it. According to NFL.com, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ wideouts led the league in fumbles with 12, three more than the second-worst Tennessee Titans.
Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders have all shown the ability to be deep-ball threats, but each is still finding his way in offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s ball control, quick passing offense.
Wallace is likely taking his talents elsewhere, so that leaves at least one opening available in the Steelers receiving corps. As with the safety solution, the Steelers have a few options for filling his spot.
This year’s draft is a certified embarrassment of riches at the wide receiver position. There is no excuse for a receiver-needy team like the Steelers to complete this draft without finding a suitable prospect.
There are no fewer than 10 prospects that I would rate as elite, excellent or great at the wideout position this year. Some names that might be unfamiliar to casual fans include three receivers with Tennessee connections.
Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson are near mirror images of each other on Tennessee’s squad. Both stand 6’3” or taller, possess blinding speed and can make the highlight reel catch.
A third former Volunteer, Da’Rick Rogers, takes a more circuitous route to the NFL. Rogers was kicked off the team for failed drug tests just before the season, and moved on to Tennessee Tech. He is quick and physical, with the same build as Hunter and Patterson.
However, if the Steelers are looking for a possession-type chain mover for Haley's short passing scheme, some targets could be available as free agents. Wes Welker will likely be leaving New England, but Danny Amendola’s play style reminds me so much of Welker’s that it could be worth it to pursue him as a younger, cheaper option instead.
5. Kick the Tires on Kickers
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Go ahead, laugh it up.
However, one of my biggest gripes this year was that the Steelers failed to find a kicker with a big leg. I was high on Blair Walsh coming into the NFL draft, and he rewarded the Vikings for selecting him by drilling nine kicks from 50 yards or more and landing on the All-Pro team.
I know that there are other things to worry about than the kicker, but in Pittsburgh’s case it is a pressing issue. The Steelers were 3-5 in games decided by a field goal or less this season. Shaun Suisham was very accurate this year, but he did not hit the long kick with consistency.
Furthermore, this affects the decisions that head coach Mike Tomlin makes as well.
In several instances, Tomlin was forced to go for it on fourth down or punt in situations when several other teams would put up three points more often than not. Other times, such as against Tennessee and Cincinnati, he opted for a long field goal that Suisham did not convert.
Tomlin’s decision-making has been criticized at length since Pittsburgh has been eliminated from contention, but in these cases he might have looked a bit smarter with a long-range kicker.