The Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 season, much like the year before, was a disappointment of mediocrity. For the second straight year, the Steelers finished the season with an 8-8 and out of the postseason.
In 2013, the Steelers got off to a horrendous start, losing all four games ahead of the Week 5 bye and six of their first eight. But the team rebounded in the second half to finish the season at .500. Despite the good second-half showing, Pittsburgh certainly has areas they need to address.
Let's take a look five things the Steelers must change to be successful in 2014.
A major reason for the Steelers' fall-off over the last two seasons has been the play of their defense. That was especially true for this past year.
In 2012, Pittsburgh finished the season with the No. 1 overall defense in terms of yards per game. This season, however, that number dropped all the way to 13th. Worst of all was their play against the run, ranking a beleaguered 21st in football, the worst for the Steelers in 44 years.
Significant injuries to inside linebacker Larry Foote and defensive end Brett Keisel certainly didn't help Pittsburgh's run D. But a lot of it had to do with the poor play from the Steelers front three, especially the nose tackle position.
The Steelers dumped longtime nose tackle Casey Hampton in the offseason and tried Steve McLendon in the middle in 2013. McLendon suffered through some injuries and looked good against the pass, but was never really able to take on the double-teams the way Hampton could, leaving linebackers vulnerable.
Pittsburgh needs to get back to their roots in 2014 and that starts with stopping the run defensively. If you can't stop the run in this league, there's a good chance you won't be stopping much.
It's no secret that the Steelers offensive line has been a mess for some time now. After firing OL coach Jack Bicknell, Pittsburgh will be searching for its third line coach in as many years. And rightfully so.
Over the last three seasons, the Steelers have added talent to the offensive line via high picks in the draft. Guys like Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro and Mike Adams were all brought in to be immediate impact players along the teams' front line. And although DeCastro blossomed this season, Gilbert has moved back and forth between left and right tackle while Adams was benched in 2013.
Injuries have also played a significant role in the demise of the Steelers front line. This season, DeCastro, Adams and Ramon Foster all missed games with injuries, not to mention Pro Bowl center, Maurkice Pouncey, whose season was cut well short after tearing his ACL in week one.
Pittsburgh needs to do itself a favor and add a strong offensive line coach. After that, depth along the front line is a must. If the Steelers fail to do, really, either of these, we could be looking at another rough season for the Pittsburgh front.
Another out-of-character problem the 2013 Steelers faced was their inability to defend against the big play. It seemed like, almost every week, Pittsburgh's defense was good for giving up a big play in every game.
The Steelers defense gave up 11 plays of 50+ yards this season, ranking them as one of the worst in the league. That's a little surprising considering their safeties, Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, had traditionally guarded against such plays. But the ball just didn't bounce their way last season.
There are going to be changes in the Steelers secondary coming up next season with as many as three starters being handed their walking papers. The first order of business for these new guys has to be to guard against the big play.
The 2013 Steelers offense finished 20th in the league in yards per game and tied for 16th in points per game. Considering they've been a middle-of-the-road offense for the last few seasons, that's not out of the ordinary.
But one thing the team lacked last season was any kind of consistency on the offensive side of the ball. Four times this season, Pittsburgh looked like a high-flying, explosive offensive team, posting more than 400 total yards. But six other times throughout 2013, the Steelers finished a game under 300 yards of offense.
Pittsburgh did get better offensively with the implementation of the no-huddle, but the major fluctuation throughout the season hurt the team in winnable games like Cincinnati (278) and Oakland (276). Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger need to work the offense out for the 2014 season because with more consistency, will come more wins.
For the last three seasons or so, the Steelers have gone through minor rebuilding offseasons, weeding out veterans and bringing in some youth. The problem with that practice, however, was a distinct loss in leadership.
They've also, during the same course of time, been waging a war with their own salary cap that is constantly above where it needs to be. In 2014, the Steelers need to rectify both situations.
There are a lot of players entering the offseason who are on the fence in terms of their contract. Veterans like Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley, Heath Miller and Brett Keisel could all be wearing new colors next season. And although casting aside these aging, highly-paid players helps your cap situation, it can destroy a locker room's leadership structure.
One of the most important things the Steelers do this offseason will be to balance this fine line between cap and leading veterans. Who stays and who goes will tell us a lot about the immediate direction of this team.