5 Simple Solutions to Pittsburgh Steelers' Biggest Issues
Like any 5-8 football team in the NFL that's about to miss the playoffs for a second straight year, the Pittsburgh Steelers face a number of issues that must be addressed during the upcoming offseason.
Believe it or not, many of these problems can be solved with a simple solution.
Putting these steps into action for the 2014 season will go a long way toward preventing a third straight non-playoff season in Pittsburgh, so let's take a look at five possible solutions for the Steelers.
Statistics from NFL.com unless otherwise noted.
Solution: Trade Down to Get More Picks
The Steelers currently are in line for the No. 10 overall draft pick in 2014, according to CBS Sports.
No one player will solve all of the Steelers' problems. The Steelers need a cornerback, a safety, defensive linemen. offensive tackles and depth at both running back and inside linebacker.
To address all. or most, of those needs, the Steelers should trade down in the first round to acquire additional picks in later rounds.
Considering the Steelers' recent draft history, more picks will provide insurance against a repeat of 2008, when all the picks from that draft were gone in five years.
The Steelers had been well-stocked with draft picks in 2014 with a lot of compensatory picks expected. However, they traded their original third-round pick in 2014 to draft Shamarko Thomas last year and reportedly will lose a draft pick for the Mike Tomlin incident at Baltimore, according to SI.com.
If the Steelers were to trade down from No. 10 to No. 24 in the first round, for example, they could get an extra second- and third-round pick, according to the Pro Football Reference draft pick trade value chart.
Not only would that replenish the pick that the Steelers traded away as well as the pick the league will take from them, it also would give them at least four picks in the first three rounds. It would be a good first step in the rebuilding process.
Solution: Go Heavy on Defense in the Draft
Eight of the Steelers' last 18 draft picks since 2012 have been defensive players. That has to change in 2014, where the majority of their picks must come on defense.
The Steelers have allowed 11 plays of 50 or more yards this season, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That's more than any team in the league.
They're also in danger of their lowest ranking against the run since they finished 26th in 1999.
The Steelers are 24th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at 120.2 and rank 23rd in yards allowed per carry at 4.3.
Through 13 games, the Steelers have allowed 312 points to rank 15th in the NFL. They haven't ranked that low since they were 15th in 2003 when they finished 6-10.
The Steelers could use some depth at running back and wide receiver, as well as another offensive tackle, but offense is way down on their list of problems this season. Pittsburgh has averaged only 25.7 points over the last six games, not including two defensive touchdowns.
The Steelers must load up on defense in the 2014 draft, even if it means ignoring a need on offense.
Defensive Field Position
Solution: Upgrade at Punter
The average starting field position for Steelers opponents this season, according to Football Outsiders, has been the 30.07-yard line, which ranks 27th in the league.
The Baltimore Ravens are the only team outside the top 20 in that category which is currently occupying a playoff spot.
Part of the reason that Steelers opponents are getting such favorable field position is because both of the Steelers punters this season are among the bottom seven in average yards per punt, not counting Ben Roethlisberger's pooch punt in Cleveland.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Zoltan Mesko averaged 42.5 yards per punt for 31st in the league. The Steelers cut him in October and signed Mat McBriar, who has averaged 40.4 yards per punt, which is 35th in the league.
To fix this problem, the Steelers don't necessarily need to use a draft pick on a punter, but they need to bring in several undrafted free agents and have extensive auditions for the job.
They also could take a look at the Eagles' Donnie Jones or the Cardinals' Dave Zastudil—two punters who will be free agents in 2014, according to Spotrac. Both have fared better statistically than either of the Steelers punters.
Inability to Run the Ball
Solution: Give Mike Adams a Shot at Right Tackle
As listless as the Steelers' ground game was last year, it has been even worse this season.
The Steelers are averaging 77.4 rushing yards per game for 31st in the NFL. They're 30th with 3.4 yards per carry while rookie Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers' leading rusher with 589 yards, is also averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers have gone longer than any other team without a 100-yard rusher.
Before this drought began, the Steelers had a running back reach the century mark in three straight games last season. Mike Adams was at right tackle in each of those games in Weeks 7, 8 and 9.
Ben Roethlisberger was injured in Week 10, which hindered the entire offense. Adams was lost for the season with an injury in Week 12, and the Steelers have been without a 100-yard rusher in a game ever since.
Adams and right guard David DeCastro are the only Steelers with positive run-blocking grades this season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The Steelers should allow Adams to compete with Marcus Gilbert at right tackle next season. If Adams wins the job, he and DeCastro can be a formidable run-blocking tandem on the right side. That would help jump-start the Steelers' ground game.
Solution: Cut Salaries
The Steelers have had very little wiggle room under the salary cap in recent years because they've had to pay the price of success.
A lot of players earned hefty contracts when the Steelers were going to Super Bowls.
The Steelers are about to miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season, so not all of those players are giving them what the team is paying them for this year.
Woodley, who has nine sacks over the past two seasons and hasn't been healthy for a full season since 2010, is due a base salary of $8 million in 2014.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gives Taylor the worst overall ranking among 42 NFL cornerbacks who have played at least 75 percent of their team's snaps. Taylor's 2014 base salary is $7 million.
Woodley turns 30 next year and Taylor turns 34. If Taylor isn't willing to take a pay cut, the Steelers should release him. If Woodley isn't willing to take one, the Steelers should consider cutting him.
The Steelers need to free up money to re-sign unrestricted free agents like Jason Worilds and Jerricho Cotchery.
After more than three years, Worilds has finally found a way to get to quarterbacks. He leads the team with seven sacks and is one of the few bright spots on defense.
Cotchery leads the team with nine touchdowns.
It's time for the Steelers to stop paying for success they're no longer having. They must invest in the future.