Tomlin’s team faces many questions this fall. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Many fans have illustrated their displeasure over the fact that Elliot Harrison of NFL.com slotted the Steelers at “#18” in his most recent set of “Power Rankings.” I cannot say I blame some of these fans for their distaste over Harrison’s post, especially since the Steelers have usually been ranked much higher in years past. Nevertheless, I am not as upset as most members of “Steeler Nation” currently are over the rankings.
In fact, I actually believe that “#18” is a perfect spot to put Pittsburgh as they head into the 2013 campaign. I understand that I might come off as a bit of a “Negative Nancy,” but there are entirely too many questions surrounding this team to rank them anywhere above the “middle of the pack” when it comes to preseason rankings.
Take for instance Pittsburgh’s defense. Starters on this already calcifying unit, such as Larry Foote, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Ike Taylor, and Brett Keisel, are another year older and another step closer towards retirement.
Underachievers like Ziggy Hood continue to start, and under-performing draft busts like Cameron Heyward have yet to break through for extra playing time. Outside linebacker is also a huge question mark with the supposedly “in-shape” LaMarr Woodley and the winner of the Jason Worilds/Jarvis Jones competition slated to start.
Woodley has been nothing short of injury-prone and useless outside of a four-game span since he signed his mega-deal back during the summer of 2011, and one definitely has to wonder how ready Worilds and Jones are to replace James Harrison on the weakside.
The weakest link of Pittsburgh’s defense however is the secondary, and that unit will be an absolute disaster in sub-packages when William Gay and Curtis Brown have to be inserted into the lineup. I look for opponents to pick on those two poor guys mercilessly when they spread the field as they dink-and-dunk their way for first down after first down.
As far as Pittsburgh’s offense is concerned, I will admit that the Steelers’ projected starting offensive line has the potential to be one of the best, young units in the game. However, health is an enormous question mark, and until this unit can gel I for one will not consider myself a “believer” in them until others not named Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey can make it through a regular season without any injury issues. Moreover, I still have yet to see any evidence that Mike Adams can be trusted to protect Big Ben’s blind-side on a consistent basis.
One must also wonder whether or not Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown form a “1-2 Punch” as the team’s starting pass-catchers, and one has to establish themselves as a “go-to-guy” for Ben Roethlisberger to find on the outside. Whether or not Sanders even make it through the entire regular season healthy is also a potential issues as well, especially since the Steelers lack experienced depth behind Jerricho Cotchery at the receiver position.
I also know people have a large amount of faith in running back Le’Veon Bell right now. I just hope that they keep in mind that the 48th overall pick in the 2013 Draft has yet to log a preseason carry at the professional level. I will be quick to add that the depth behind him is not exactly stellar with Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman as his backups either if the rookie under-performs.
Bell is not a burner by any means, and holes and running lanes close much faster at the professional level than they do in the “Big 10 (12).” I understand the Steelers’ brass certainly think that he can be the answer to the running game woes, but I will temper my expectations until I actually see the former Spartan perform during regular season play.
The biggest question in my opinion centers around what Pittsburgh’s passing game will do in the red zone will do with Heath Miller sidelined. One of the best things Todd Haley did last year was utilize the Pro Bowl tight end in the red zone. Yet with Miller likely set to spend a chunk of the year on the PUP List, will the Steelers be able to consistently rely on Will Johnson, David Paulson, and the cavalcade of practice squad-lifers for help inside the opposing twenty as pass-catchers?
Special teams is also an enormous area of concern for the team this fall too. While Shaun Suisham and Greg Warren are reliable as the team’s kicker and long snapper, Drew Butler has done nothing to impress the coaching staff to this point and could lose his job to Brian Moorman before the season even begins. The coverage units were mistake-prone and error-laden last fall as well, and new special teams coach Danny Smith faces a huge challenge to fix those particular areas.
I know I alluded to it before, but if some of you readers are worked up about “Preseason Power Rankings” I just remember one thing: they are “Preseason Power Rankings!” They simply measure the types of offseasons franchises around the league had in addition to how many/how few questions each franchise has as they head into the regular season.
Due to their pressing “salary cap issues” and lack of locker room chemistry, Pittsburgh had a tumultuous offseason to say the least. They had to plug roster holes with the likes of Matt Spaeth (now injured) and William Gay, elected to release James Harrison who was their best-pass rusher, failed to re-sign their second-best cornerback in the form of Keenan Lewis, and allowed their whiny yet most potent deep threat to head to South Beach as a free agent.
And since the Steelers are not a franchise that likes to rely on rookies, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, this year could be a struggle as they try to work these youngsters into the lineup as the year progresses.
I would say that “#18” is a perfect spot for a team with the number of questions they must face as they head into the 2013 regular season. I know that a number of you fans would like to bitch and moan about where the Steelers are ranked now. I just hope that you keep in mind that these rankings might be apt right now, but will be useless once the 2013 campaign gets in full swing.
And who knows? Maybe the Steelers can parlay the “underdog card” into some success and surprise some folks like me this fall. They still have “#7” under center, and with him at the helm there is always room for optimism.
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