Pittsburgh Steelers: Good, Bad and Ugly of the 2013 Season
An 8-8 season is never ideal in the Steel City, but given the Steelers' 0-4 start, .500 doesn't look so bad. Heck, the team was even playoff eligible until the second-to-last game of the season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2013 campaign is one of highs and lows, misery, joy and all of the emotions in between. The team that didn't win a game in the first month of the season finished out the year with the second-best record in the second half.
Records were broken, both good and bad, and hot seats were eventually cooled. It was quite the roller coaster year in Pittsburgh.
Let's take a look at some of the good, bad and ugly for the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2013 season. And don't forget to share your own, personal goods, bads and uglies from the year.
Good: Antonio Brown
2013 Stats: 110 receptions, 1499 receiving yards, 8 receiving touchdowns
One of the most exciting players to watch during the entire 2013 NFL season had to be Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown. Brown exploded on the national scene as a legit No. 1 weapon on a Steelers offense that desperately needed him.
Brown set record after record throughout the year, including the Steelers' single-season receiving mark, and finished just two receptions shy of Hines Ward's team record. Brown also became the first player in league history with at least five receptions and 50 yards in every game.
Brown was one of the few pieces that kept Steelers fans watching during the first half of the year, and he's a big reason for the second-half explosion. The now two-time team MVP gives Pittsburgh fans a good look at the future of the offense. That's a future that looks very bright.
Bad: LaMarr Woodley's Injuries
2013 Stats: 11 games played, 5 sacks, 36 total tackles
Another season gone bye, another year of nagging injuries sidelining Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley. The once-promising pass-rusher just can’t seem to stay on the field in Pittsburgh, and even when he is, his play has fallen off dramatically.
Woodley opened his Steelers career recording 39 sacks in his first four seasons and missing just one start. Since then, however, the former second-round pick has almost as many games missed due to injury (14) as sacks (18).
Because of all the injuries and the inflated salary he carries ($9 million cap hit in 2013), many have called for the Steelers to send him packing. But his contract (and huge cap hit) might actually be the thing that keeps him around.
I fully expect Woodley to be back in Pittsburgh next season, but he needs to keep himself in shape and stay on the field. If not, 2014 could be his last hoorah in the Steel City.
Ugly: The 0-4 Start
I’m not sure there’s a single word that can describe just how bad the Steelers' start to the 2013 season was.
Pittsburgh actually got off to a terrific start against the Titans when returner Darius Reynaud forced a safety upon himself, making the Steelers the first team to score in 2013. But an Isaac Redman fumble in the end zone on the subsequent drive started a collapse that wouldn’t end until September 29 in London.
During the opening four-game losing streak, Pittsburgh’s defense gave up 30+ points twice (Bears 40, Vikings 34), while the offense gave the ball away an astonishing 11 times. The Steelers suffered losses to three non-playoff teams in Tennessee, Chicago and Minnesota and never rushed for more than 80 yards in a game.
The Steelers were able to turn it around following their Week 5 bye by beating the Jets on the road, but the early season four-game skid haunted Pittsburgh until they were officially eliminated from the playoffs late last week. This start will certainly go down as one of the worst in the team’s history.
Good: The Emergence of Le'Veon Bell
2013 Stats: 13 games played, 860 rush yards, 399 receiving yards, 8 touchdowns
One of the big reasons the Steelers got off to such a terrible start was the fact that they couldn’t run the ball. To open the year, Pittsburgh was one of the two worst rushing teams in the NFL.
But in the Week 4 game against the Vikings, Pittsburgh fans got a first glance at a player they’d come to enamor. Le’Veon Bell opened his pro career by rushing for 57 yards, hauling in 27 yards receiving and scoring two touchdowns. Not gaudy numbers by any standard, but considering the Steelers' top back scored only two TD’s last season, it was a small victory.
Bell eventually broke a 23-game skid of not having a 100-yard rusher and was over 80 total yards in five of his 13 starts. That was all behind an offensive line that is, let's face it, less than par in terms of run blocking.
Bell would go on to pile up 1,259 total yards and break Steelers icon Franco Harris’ rookie record. Not a bad guy to pass. It’s also a big step in the right direction for the Steelers, who have found their feature back of the future as they look to turn their running game around.
Bad: Ike Taylor
2013 Stats: 16 starts, 63 total tackles, 12 passes defended
Every year, one of the biggest gripes you’ll hear from Steelers people is the fact that cornerback Ike Taylor doesn’t get the respect he deserves. This author included, in the griping, that is.
But you probably won’t be hearing any of those people after the 2013 season.
Taylor had been a legitimate lockdown corner really since becoming a starter in 2005, and early this season, that looked to be the case again. But in Week 11, Lions WR Calvin Johnson exploded for 179 yards in a Steelers win. The next week, Cleveland’s Josh Gordon racked up 237 through the air.
Torrey Smith would follow that up a 93-yard performance, and Taylor, for the first time in his career, was relegated to playing just the right side of the defensive formation.
The soon-to-be 34-year-old will be entering the final year of his contract with Pittsburgh, and with a big salary laying in front of him, Taylor could become a cap casualty.
Ugly: The Loss in New England
Final Score: Steelers 31, Patriots 55
Ugh. This was one of the most brutal quarters of football I’ve ever had to watch. It’s literally making me sick just thinking about it.
The loss in New England marked the halfway point in a Steelers season that now saw the team limping to a 2-6 record and retreating for the locker room with their tails between their legs. It was, quite possibly, the worst loss in the team’s 81-year history.
During the game, the Steelers defense gave up a franchise record 610 yards and 55 points. Tom Brady and the Patriots offense marched up and down the field against Pittsburgh's D, even rushing to the tune of nearly 200 yards.
But, maybe the most sickening part about this game, the Steelers trailed by only three entering the fourth quarter!
With the exception of the kneel down to end the game, New England found the end zone on every drive in the game’s final act. Brady threw for 116 yards and two scores in the quarter, while the Patriots backs ran for 73 yards and another two touchdowns.
This was rock bottom for the 2013 Steelers, and (as you’ll see later on) it did prove to be all uphill from here. But this game looms large in the minds of Pittsburgh fans, and I’m sure a lot of the guys in that clubhouse haven’t forgotten, either.
Good: The No-Huddle Offense
Offensive Ranks: Total Yards (20th), Points Scored (16th)
The Steelers' 2013 offensive numbers aren’t going to jump out at anybody. Pittsburgh was, yet again, a middle-of-the-road offensive unit that painfully struggled to run the football.
But if there’s one thing on the offense that did stand out, it has to be the implementation of the no-huddle.
The system came around near the middle and later stages of the season. The no-huddle allowed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to call more plays from the line of scrimmage and kept the same defensive players on the field, creating mismatches.
It worked, as the Steelers averaged almost 28 points per game in their final eight games compared to 19 in the first half. Roethlisberger also finished with arguably the best season of his career.
The no-huddle certainly showed its merits for the Steelers in 2013 and should be a big part of the offensive game plan going forward in Pittsburgh.
Bad: Terrelle Pryor's 93-Yard TD Run
Final Game Stats: 88 pass yards, 106 rush yards, 1 touchdown
This play came during a crucial point in the game in a crucial part of the season.
The Steelers, after starting the season 0-4, had won two straight coming out of their bye week and looked like they may be putting it all back together. They were in Oakland to play a Raiders team that was also 2-4, but with a younger and more inexperienced team.
But after the first play of the game, all the elation of the previous two victories had left the room and the Steelers seemed to be back to square one.
For on that first play, Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor took a read-option play around the end, and 93 yards later, Oakland had a touchdown lead. Despite a 15-point fourth quarter, the Steelers never truly recovered from that play and lost to the Raiders.
It’s losses like this one and the ones to Tennessee, Minnesota and Miami that Steelers fans will continue to look back on for the one win they needed to make the playoffs. If it wasn’t for this play, Pittsburgh may very well have been bound for the postseason.
Ugly: Week 1 Injuries
Players Injured: Maurkice Pouncey, Larry Foote, LaRod Stephens-Howling
As if losing at home in your season opener to the Tennessee Titans isn’t bad enough, the Steelers found a little more pain in Week 1.
Pittsburgh lost two key starters and an intriguing role player for the season in one foul swoop in early September. Center Maurkice Pouncey was the first to go, a casualty of his own player trying to blindly cut a Tennessee defender and completely missing his mark. The All-Pro center tore his ACL and left a gaping hole in the middle of the Steelers line.
Middle linebacker Larry Foote was next to go, rupturing his biceps. He was replaced by a rookie sixth-round pick in Vince Williams. Finally, running back LaRod Stephens-Howling tore his ACL and left the team short at the running back position.
The Steelers aren’t really in the excuse-making business, and they did end up finding some good players to fill the shoes of the veterans they lost (Williams, Fernando Velasco). But you’d have to imagine the Steelers would have been a much better team having their top run-stuffer and one of the best centers in the league in the lineup. Either way, it was the dirty cherry on top of the sundae of misery that was Week 1 for the Steelers.
Good: The 6-2 Finish
After going 0-4 in the first month of the season and 2-6 through the first half, feelings were pretty bleak in Pittsburgh. Mike Tomlin was on the hot seat, rumors were swirling around the city and all seemed lost.
But the Steelers rounded out the 2013 season with an impressive run that trailed only the Carolina Panthers (7-1) in the wins department.
The Steelers rebounded from the devastating loss in New England to post three straight wins against the Bills, Lions and Browns. After two heartbreaking losses to Baltimore and Miami, Pittsburgh ripped off another three straight wins versus Cincinnati, Green Bay and the Browns again, avoiding their first losing season since 2003.
During the run, the Steelers turned the ball over only seven times and recorded an impressive 14 takeaways. They were also an impressive +61 in point differential as opposed to the -52 they were in the first half. Most importantly, the team gave itself a chance at a postseason birth when most had left them for dead.
It’s a good building block for next season, and it certainly saved some jobs. It was a terrific way for the Steelers to close out what could have been a truly disastrous 2013 season.
Bad: Ben Roethlisberger Trade Rumors
2013 Stats: 4,261 pass yards, 28 touchdowns, 14 interceptions
Right about the time the Steelers plummeted to 2-6 after losing a record-setting (and not in a good way) game to the New England Patriots, rumors started to swirl in Pittsburgh.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the Steelers' two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback was unhappy in Pittsburgh and would seek a trade following the season. It was a serious gut punch for Steeler Nation.
Roethlisberger and his agents came out and refuted the report, claiming he wanted to be a Steeler for life. But it did set the stage for a tumultuous few weeks and a really bad time in Pittsburgh.
Ultimately, Ben will be a Steeler next year and probably for the foreseeable future. Pittsburgh fans can hang on to their No. 7 jerseys with confidence, but it was certainly a tense time in the city.
Ugly: The Ryan Succop Missed Field Goal
Coming into Week 17, no one really thought the Steelers had a ton of playoff life left in them. Vegas opened the week giving Pittsburgh a 2.7 percent chance of being the AFC’s 6seed. Even after Baltimore and Miami both lost, the Chargers would still have to lose at home to the Chiefs' B-team in order for the Steelers to make the dance.
But with eight seconds left in the fourth quarter in San Diego, it seemed all but certain that Pittsburgh would, against all odds, make the Playoffs.
And then it happened. Wide right from 41 yards off the foot of the normally sure-shot Ryan Succop. The game would go into overtime, and the Chargers would eventually win and go to the postseason.
In essence, that game was the Steelers' season in a nutshell, a lot of build-up and a lot of hope, only to be dashed in the final seconds and leaving fans pondering the "what if’s." But the Steelers should have never put themselves in that sort of position. I mean, does a team that lost to the Raiders, Vikings and Titans deserve to make the playoffs?
Still, when your that close, it’s just heartbreaking.