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Harris: Steelers offense must excel in 2013

| Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, 12:14 a.m.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) and the Steelers’ offense finished No. 14 in passing, No. 20 in total offense and No. 22 in scoring. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review

Let's assume, for argument's sake, that the Steelers' defense created seven to 10 more turnovers for their offense this year.

Why do we automatically assume things would be any different?

That players and coaches would be preparing for a playoff game instead of saying their goodbyes and preparing for the offseason?

After all, we're talking about a Steelers attack that finished No. 14 in passing offense, No. 20 in total offense and No. 22 in scoring offense under franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Isn't it enough that the Steelers' defense led the NFL in pass defense and total defense for the second consecutive season? Or that the defense also finished No. 2 in run defense and No. 7 in scoring defense in 2012?

I find it ironic that both of the Steelers voted to the Pro Bowl this year play offense and that none of their defensive teammates was invited to Hawaii. How is that possible?

How about the offensive players doing their jobs better and scoring more points instead of the defense always being expected to bail out the offense?

To get to the bottom of why the Steelers didn't qualify for the playoffs for the second time since 2009, it's important to dig deeper in search of the truth.

Did you know that the Steelers have never led the league in passing offense or total offense — or even finished among the top five — in any of Roethlisberger's nine seasons? Or that the Steelers defense didn't rank lower than No. 4 in total defense in any of their three most recent Super Bowl seasons (2005, 2008 and 2010)?

Even if you toss out this year's inconsistent offensive performance due to Roethlisberger's rib and shoulder injuries, Big Ben's body of work reveals similar inconsistencies.

In the three seasons that Roethlisberger led his team to the Super Bowl, the Steelers never finished higher than No. 14 in passing offense or total offense. In a league consisting of 32 teams, that's barely above average.

With all the talk about Roethlisberger's alleged rift with first-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley, the offense's numbers in his one season under Haley aren't that different from its average rankings in five seasons with Bruce Arians (14.4 passing defense, 14.4 total defense) and three seasons with Ken Whisenhunt (20.3 passing defense, 12.7 total defense).

Since 2004, the Steelers enjoyed their two highest rankings in net passing yards under Arians and Whisenhunt (2006 and '09). They didn't qualify for the playoffs in either season.

A year ago, the Steelers earned a playoff berth when the offense finished No. 10 in passing offense and No. 12 in total offense.

Forget the defense not generating enough turnovers for the offense in 2012. The unit deserves much better than that.

Roethlisberger has played on five teams that led the league in total defense. Imagine how many Super Bowls Tom Brady could win if he played with a dominant defense.

It's probably asking too much to expect the Steelers to lead the league in total defense in 2013 for a third consecutive season.

However, it isn't asking too much to expect the offense to play better.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com.

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