Do you want to know one of the reasons that the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to make the playoffs in 2012? Name the team’s playmakers.
And that would be it.
They lack any player who can consistently step up and make plays with both of these players in the lineup, let alone when they are injured and miss several games at a time.
The downfall on offense began with one of the most disappointing units on the team—the wide receivers.
Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders were supposed to make up one of the best receiving trios in the league. Instead they underachieved and were noticed more for their drops, fumbles and overall lack of physicality than their big plays and touchdowns.
No longer were these receivers making big plays downfield on a consistent basis and they were not using their speed and quickness to take a short pass and make it into a long gain.
Wallace’s and Brown’s average yards per reception resembled that of a possession receiver rather than a big play threat. Sanders did average 14.2 yards per catch, but only had a long reception of 37 yards.
As a result, the Steelers had to use Heath Miller as their primary receiving option. That isn’t necessarily a problem, but Miller should be a secondary playmaker for the offense, not the primary one.
Not only did Miller lead the team in receptions with 71, but he also tied for the team lead with eight touchdowns and 11 receptions of 20 yards or more.
Miller can scare a defense, but not in the same way that one of the outside threats should be able to, particularly Wallace.
Wallace has elite speed that few in the NFL can match and yet was unable to make the deep catch nearly enough this year. A lot of that can be attributed to his lack of opportunities, but he also didn’t make the most of those opportunities.
As disappointing as the wide receivers were, the running backs were even worse.
Jonathan Dwyer led the Steelers with a paltry 4.0 yards per carry and scared no one as a big play threat. Neither did Isaac Redman.
Rashard Mendenhall was supposed to be that guy, but it took him awhile to get healthy from an ACL injury that he suffered last season and he was never able to fully establish himself.
Chris Rainey could have been another potential weapon out of the backfield, but was limited to only 40 touches and isn’t even going to be on the team next year.
Which position is most important for the Steelers to add a playmaker?
Things weren’t much better on defense where the Steelers top two playmakers—LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison—were not very productive, combining for only 10 sacks.
They had injury issues that slowed them down for much of the season and as a result, the Steelers failed to generate a consistent pass rush.
Lawrence Timmons stepped up his game some with six sacks, two forced fumbles and three interceptions, but four of those sacks and one of the forced fumbles came in the last two weeks of the season. He failed to make his presence felt throughout the entire season.
The lack of playmakers in the secondary is not exactly a surprise as Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark are both solid players, but also known for their lack of interceptions.
Polamalu is the only player that can ever be counted on in the secondary to make big plays and he did when he was actually on the field. The problem is that he spent more time off of the field than on it.
So is there help coming?
It doesn’t look like it.
There isn’t much promise on offense as the Steelers will likely lose Mike Wallace in free agency and thus will be losing their biggest threat. Brown and Sanders can step up their game, but if they couldn’t be the primary playmaker with Wallace on the field, how can they do it without him?
The running back situation is even worse as Mendenhall is a free agent and may not return. Even if he does, he has failed to live up to his potential.
The defense doesn’t have much help on the way, either. Jason Worilds may have to step into a starting role if Harrison is released. Though he had five sacks with very limited snaps, Worilds is not an elite pass-rusher and has some holes in his overall game.
But there may be some hope in the secondary where Cortez Allen flashed some upside as a potential playmaker.
Allen was thrust into an increased role over the final quarter of the season and played fairly well.
The highlight for Allen came against the Cincinnati Bengals in what—at the time—was a must-win game for the Steelers.
Allen came down with two big interceptions as he showed tremendous ball skills. That is exactly what the Steelers’ secondary needs to go from a very good secondary to an elite one.
With the lack of potential playmakers on the roster, the Steelers will have to fill the void via the draft. That may mean that the Steelers pass on linemen and look to offensive and defensive skill players.
Besides Roethlisberger and Polamalu, who is the Steelers best playmaker under contract beyond 2012?
Considering that the Steelers have spent high picks on Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro and Mike Adams lately, it may not be a bad thing.
The Steelers need to add players on both sides of the ball that their opponents need to plan for. Roethlisberger and Polamalu are getting older and can no longer do it on their own. They need explosive players on both sides of the ball.
Just look at the two Super Bowl teams.
The Steelers used to be stacked with these types of players; however, they got old. It is time to replenish the playmakers on this team.
If the Steelers want to get back to the playoffs and compete for a championship, they must add dynamic players who can make big plays on a weekly basis.
Pittsburgh does have plenty of talent in place, but there is always room for improvement. Most importantly, there is always room to add explosive playmakers to the roster and the Steelers are in dire need of several of them.