After finishing a disappointing 8-8 in 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be depending on several star players to improve their play in 2013 so they can return to contender status.
Several usually dependable veterans let the team down in 2012. These are the players that must improve or Pittsburgh will go through another long, frustrating season.
Here’s a look at five starters who need to up their game in 2013 for Pittsburgh to return to the AFC elite.
Ben Roethlisberger’s 2012 season was a tale of two halves. The first half, in which he appeared to be a dark-horse candidate for the league’s MVP award, was among the best football he’s ever played.
The second half, during which Roethlisberger was playing with a bad shoulder and busted ribs, was quite possibly the worst stretch of his entire career.
In 2013, Roethlisberger needs to improve late in games. This is an area where he has traditionally thrived, but in 2012 his decision making was awful and responsible directly for three losses (Denver, Dallas, Cincinnati).
Failure to make plays late in games was one of the many reasons why Pittsburgh failed to make the playoffs in 2012.
Jonathan Dwyer worked his way up the depth chart from a fringe player to the team’s starter.
Unfortunately, Dwyer’s time as the team’s feature back may be over already. His performance didn’t give the team any confidence in his chances for long-term success.
If he wants to hold onto the starting job in 2013, Dwyer has to be more explosive when he receives the ball from the quarterback. He must hit the hole harder and with more determination.
Too often, Dwyer would hit the hole quickly but without burst. That led to far too many one-yard gains or even losses.
When he signed a big extension during training camp, it seemed that Antonio Brown would be the next great Pittsburgh Steelers receiver.
While that still may happen, Brown’s 2012 season was a clear step backward after a breakout campaign in 2011 that established him as one of the league’s most dangerous players.
His 2012 season was marred by several problems. On special teams, he was unable to duplicate his success as the team’s punt returner. He frequently allowed punts to go over his head with no contest. This led to poor field position that left the offense hamstrung.
Offensively, Brown too often committed mental mistakes and dropped easy passes. He also became fumble-prone, something that seems to be an anomaly.
In 2013, Brown simply must revert to 2011 form and put the 2012 campaign out of his mind. The errors made are not hard to correct.
LaMarr Woodley followed a disappointing 2011 season up with another disappointing season in 2012.
The team’s star sack master and pass-rusher was felled in successive seasons by injury and was largely ineffective when on the field. While part of that is likely due to a weak effort along the defensive line, much of it seems to be an odd regression in his game.
Woodley needs to get healthy, improve his conditioning to strengthen his hamstrings and then head out onto the field and push his effort back to the levels we saw when he teamed up with James Harrison to leave opposing quarterbacks terrified.
Pittsburgh’s defense has many holes and will likely have a couple more in 2013. Outside linebacker does not need to be one of them.
Perhaps the most disappointing first-round pick the Pittsburgh Steelers have had in a decade or more, Evander "Ziggy" Hood has simply not been able to replace the production (hidden and on the statistic sheets) of Aaron Smith.
Hood does not take up blockers to free the linebackers on blitzes, and he does a terrible job of holding against the run.
If he’s to hold off Cameron Heyward and remain the starter in 2013, he must be stronger and more tenacious. If he can improve his fundamentals and be more effective at the point of attack, he can be a solid 3-4 defensive end.
Splash plays are not necessary (although they would be appreciated). Steady play is, however. That hasn’t happened since Hood has been the full-time starter.