The Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs in 2012, but they have a good chance to return in 2013.
Last season was mediocre for the Black and Gold. They ended with a record of 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. As if the regular season wasn't hard enough for fans to stomach, the offseason saw the departures of Rashard Mendenhall, Mike Wallace and James Harrison.
The Steelers have a lot to prove in 2013. If all goes well, they could win as many as 11 games. But if some of last year's issues arise, they could miss the playoffs again. For Pittsburgh to reach the postseason this year, it needs Big Ben to stay healthy, a balanced offense, Jarvis Jones to replace James Harrison and a strong finish.
Ben Roethlisberger's Health
Ben Roethlisberger's health has been an issue the past few years.
After Big Ben's injury in Week 10 last season, Pittsburgh won only two more games. While that isn't entirely Roethlisberger's fault, the Steelers need their franchise quarterback on the field if they want to return to the playoffs in 2013.
Roethlisberger has the ability to make something out of nothing and provides unmatched leadership. The Steelers need him on the field if they want to return to the postseason.
In an attempt to get back to full health, Roethlisberger had arthroscopic knee surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee during the offseason. Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that the surgically repaired knee was causing him some discomfort after the first few days of training camp. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spoke with Roethlisberger and got a different story, though:
Another reason Roethlisberger's health is at a premium is that the backup quarterback situation isn't as solid as it has been in the past. Rookie Landry Jones and veteran Bruce Gradkowski have the task of backing up Big Ben this year. While Gradkowski isn't a bad option, Jones isn't quite there yet. Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich bailed the Steelers out in recent years, but they aren't there to do so anymore.
Ben Roethlisberger is excited about the Steelers offense in 2013. He told Bouchette that this year's offense could be something special:
This offense is like a new toy. It's like I'm opening this present, and I can't wait to see what's going to come out of this thing with all these guys and this offense. I'm generally excited for this year.
While Roethlisberger is excited, fans wait with bated breath to see what this offense can actually do.
The Steelers will have a new starting running back and have to replace the deep threat of Mike Wallace, all while further solidifying their offensive line.
It has no choice but to grow. Last year was our first time in the system and guys were really uncomfortable at times in the game, because we didn’t really understand where he wanted us to be. Ben didn’t really understand certain plays. So this year, now, it’s year two. We’re familiar with the system, and we’re familiar with Todd Haley’s personality, and where he wants us to be, and things of that sort, so I’m looking forward to us taking off.
The key for this offense has to be a balanced attack. The whole game plan can't be for Ben to scramble and make plays out of nothing.
For the Steelers to make the playoffs, they need to be able to run the ball more than last year. They had the 26th-ranked running attack last year, which is unacceptable for the Steel City. The Steelers will need rookie Le'Veon Bell to exceed expectations and help complement the pounding running style of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.
If Pittsburgh can establish a solid running attack to take pressure off of Roethlisberger's arm, it will return to the playoffs.
Jarvis Jones Needs to Replace James Harrison
James Harrison leaving Pittsburgh hurt many fans, but he broke their hearts when he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Insert Jarvis Jones.
Jones was the Steelers' first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, and he will be dealt the task of replacing one of the most dominant linebackers of the past few years.
Len Pasquarelli of the National Football Post says Jones has a rare opportunity in Pittsburgh:
Unlike most of the players Pittsburgh has developed at outside linebacker, Jones is a pure linebacker. The standard paradigm for the Steelers is to take an undersized college defensive end, then develop him for a year or two as a 3-4 linebacker. Jones will have some rough patches, for sure, but he won’t have to make the switch that so many Steelers’ stars have in the past.
The Steelers hope Jones' unique combination of explosive power and athleticism can translate to Harrison-like production.
The key to the Steelers defense is its zone blitz. For this scheme to be successful, though, the team needs to get after the quarterback. Pittsburgh will need Jones to step up and provide a quality pass rush off the right side in 2013 if it hopes to return to the playoffs.
Simply put, the Steelers collapsed down the stretch last year. They lost five of their last seven games and saw their playoff chances vanish before their eyes. The team can't let that happen in 2013 if it hopes to return to the playoffs. The issue, however, is that its schedule down the stretch is very difficult.
Pittsburgh will be able to put its divisional foes away for good and solidify its playoff spot if it finishes the season strong. If the team does what it did last year, though, the players will be watching the playoffs from their vacation homes.