5 Biggest Takeaways from Pittsburgh Steelers' 2013 Opener

Ryan Mull@@ryanvmullContributor IIISeptember 14, 2013

Last season's disappointing 8-8 record doesn't look so bad after watching the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 against Tennessee. Fans in the Steel City found some things out about their team. They are hoping what they saw was just a fluke, because it was ugly.

To pile on to Pittsburgh's sorrows, the team caught the injury bug.

Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey lasted only a few minutes before tearing an ACL and MCL. Veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote ruptured his bicep. Finally, running back LaRod Stephens-Howling tore his ACL. All three are done for the season. 

These injuries aren't the end of the world for the Steelers, but they definitely don't help the cause. Coach Mike Tomlin summed up his team's performance pretty well in his postgame presser:

Obviously a disappointing opener. Enough misery to go around in all three phases. Unacceptable performance. I won’t accept it. This team better not accept it. We’ve got some work to do. We sustained some injuries in the game but really not an excuse. The guys that played had opportunities, and we didn’t play well enough. We didn’t coach well enough.


The bright side is, there is still plenty of time for Tomlin to get his guys in gear to make a playoff run. The Steelers easily laid one of the biggest eggs in the NFL in the opener, but sometimes fans need to be reminded that that's all it was—one week and one game. 

These are the five biggest takeaways from the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week One:


1. Big Ben will have to be really good, if not great, for the Steelers to make the playoffs.

Since coming into the league in 2004 as a 22-year-old rookie, Big Ben has been one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. His 92.5 career passer rating and 87-40 record as a starter are evidence that Roethlisberger deserves much credit for Pittsburgh's success in the last decade. 

Roethlisberger's career bests are 32 touchdowns, 4,328 yards and a rating of 104.1. His career-lows (if you throw out his first two years) are 17 touchdowns, 3,154 yards and a 75.4 rating.

The Steelers have been able to have success even when Roethlisberger hasn't lit up the stats page, but those days are over in Pittsburgh. 

In order for the Steelers to make the playoffs, Big Ben will have to have one of the most productive seasons of his career. 

His Week One statistics where he threw for less than 200 yards and had one touchdown and an interception aren't going to cut it anymore. There just isn't enough talent around him to feed off of to cruise to the playoffs. 

If the Steelers find a way to turn it around in 2013, it will be on the shoulders of No. 7.


2. The running game could be even worse than last year's. 

After a 2012 season that saw the Steelers have the 26th-ranked rushing attack at 96.1 yards per game, the front office made an effort to get help. 

The team let go of Rashard Mendenhall and invested the 48th pick of the draft to get his replacement in Le'Veon Bell. The rookie won the starting job this offseason but likely won't see the field until October because of a Lisfranc injury.

There was also hope that the offensive line would be better in 2013. Maurkice Pouncey would anchor the line once again, 2012 first-round pick David DeCastro would return and Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert would improve. 

Pittsburgh ran the ball 15 times and managed only 32 yards against Tennessee. 

Starting running back Isaac Redman ran the ball eight times for nine yards. 

These numbers are flat out embarrassing for a franchise that once took pride in its bruising running game.

After the game, Pittsburgh re-signed Jonathan Dwyer, who did not make the final preseason roster cuts, to replace Stephens-Howling. But after the Pouncey injury and the performance we saw against the Titans, there isn't much in the way of optimism from the fanbase that the Steelers will put together a solid ground attack.


3. The offense needs someone to stretch the field vertically.

When the Steelers chose not to keep Mike Wallace this offseason, most people thought it was a good move. There were plenty of good reasons to let him walk—and it could still turn out to be a good decision—but there is no denying that the Steelers could use his speed.

Whether you blame it on Todd Haley's dink-and-dunk offense or not having the right personnel, the Steelers need someone on the field with enough speed and ability to stretch the field vertically. 

Roethlisberger averaged a mere 5.8 yards per attempt in Week 1. That is largely due to the short routes and receivers not getting open downfield. 

Pittsburgh drafted former Oregon State star Markus Wheaton in the third round as a guy who could take Wallace's spot and stretch the field. The only problem is that Wheaton didn't catch a pass in the season opener, nor was he targeted. 

Wheaton showed in the preseason he has the potential to be a star, and the Steelers will need to put him on the field to allow him to start fulfilling that promise.


4. The defense is good enough to keep them in the game, but it likely won't shut other teams down completely.

Pittsburgh's defense was in no way the problem against the Titans. The unit that ranked first in total defense (275.8 yards per game) and sixth in scoring defense (19.6 points per game) in 2012 did more of the same, allowing only 228 yards and 16 points against Tennessee.

The only problem for that defense was its inability to force turnovers. If the defense has trouble with takeaways again in 2013, it will have a hard time leading this team to wins. On the other hand, reversing its fortunes and forcing more turnovers than last year could make all the difference should the Steelers bid to make the playoffs.


5. Bruce Gradkowski will likely see some playing time this year.

This has way more to do with the offensive line than it does the quarterback play of Roethlisberger and Gradkowski.

Roethlisberger will be under center for every snap this year as long as he stays healthy. After taking five sacks in the season opener, it seems unlikely Big Ben will be able to last all season. 

The offensive line did a respectable job keeping Roethlisberger upright in 2012, ranking 19th in the league with 37 sacks allowed. The absence of Pouncey will make it hard to keep the pocket clean in 2013. Pouncey graded out as the No. 1 center in the league by NFL Insider Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports. 

The Steelers will have either 2012 seventh-round draft pick Kelvin Beachum or the recently acquired Fernando Velasco anchoring their line for the remainder of the season. 

That inexperience up front, coupled with Roethlisberger's knack for holding onto the ball too long, means injury issues could be a problem for the veteran QB again this season. Roethlisberger has played all 16 regular season games only once in his nine-year career, and it's not likely he does it again in 2013.


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