2013 Record: 8-8
After a 6-3 start it seemed to be a typically strong year for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they went just 2-5 from that point on to miss the playoffs. But it wasn’t regression from the defense that cost them, as some would have expected. In that final seven-game stretch, the Steelers never scored more than 24. Ben Roethlisberger was still good, throwing for 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions, but the running game was an absolute disaster. Their former workhorse Rashard Mendenhall was lost to injury for much of the year, and even when he was playing he was not the same back he was a few years ago. So Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, and Chris Rainey all got significant playing time in the backfield, and none of them were all that good. There was even one game in which all four inexplicably lost a fumble. So Roethlisberger had to do it with the passing game exclusively, and after a while that just isn’t enough. To help the issue, Pittsburgh drafted Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell, and he figures to get plenty of playing time as a rookie. But it doesn’t help that top wide receiver Mike Wallace signed with Miami. Antonio Brown can be a #1, but can Emmanuel Sanders be the new #2? This season will tell. Heath Miller takes a lot of the receiving load at tight end, though. With Roethlisberger at 31 years old, the Steelers made a smart move in drafting Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, presumable their quarterback of the future after a few years of tutelage under Big Ben. If Bell clicks and Sanders steps up, the Steelers offense will be just fine.
Defensively, the Steelers were as good as ever in 2012. They were best in the league against the pass and second against the rush. Anywhere you look at their defensive starters you see strong, Pro Bowl caliber players. Steeler mainstays Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, and Ryan Clark are the key figures of what figures to be a defensive beast again. Head coach Mike Tomlin has perfected his defensive gameplan and players added either fit the Steeler way or they don’t play for the Steelers, so their latest addition in Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones should fit right in. Polamalu will start this season hoping for his first full, healthy season since 2011. He has played 16 games in just two of his last seven seasons. But the depth is there to make up for it, so the Steelers’ defense should be dominant either way.