Steelers appear to be a mystery team heading into 2013 season
The Steelers can turn back the clock this season, and they won't even have to wear those bumblebee-striped throwback uniforms to do so.
They've enjoyed a recent history of turning themselves around in a hurry following disappointing seasons — from 6-10 in 2003 to 15-1, from 8-8 in 2006 to 10-6, from 9-7 in 2009 to 12-4.
But after an offseason in which the Ravens shed a lot of talent but picked up quite a bit, the Bengals added pieces such as James Harrison and even the Browns went shopping, any immediate talent infusion for the Steelers is likely to come from their rookie class.
That's a risky way to rebuild, and it's why the Steelers are considered to be one of the mystery teams of 2013.
Are they finally on the decline after averaging 11 wins a season since 2004? Or was 2012 simply an anomaly, and — even without Harrison, Mike Wallace, Casey Hampton and Keenan Lewis — they're ready to win big again?
They're almost universally picked to finish third in the AFC North behind the Ravens and Bengals, just as they did last season, yet they're still the same franchise that hasn't missed the playoffs in successive seasons since 1999-2000.
“The way things went down, to sit at home and watch their division rivals (Baltimore) win the Super Bowl, I think that creates a lot of motivation for those guys,” said former Pro Bowl offensive lineman Shaun O'Hara, who is now an NFL Network analyst. “When they get to training camp, they're saying, ‘Nobody's giving us a shot. Everybody's got us third in the division.
“That's going to be their rallying cry and motivation: ‘Everybody's counting us out. Let's get to work.' ”
The Steelers haven't had successive non-winning seasons since 1998 (7-9) and 2000 (6-10), but they'll need to improve upon last season's 8-8 to avoid that.
“You can make the case they're the third-best roster in the division, which is very rare to say,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “I still think they have some ground to make up. They've got a lot of work to do. I like what they did in the draft, but when you look at the aging of some players and the departures in free agency, I don't know if a really good draft offset that.”
Even though the No. 1-ranked defense lost Harrison and Lewis during free agency, O'Hara is convinced that any major improvement must come from Todd Haley's offense.
In the past four seasons, the Steelers have slipped from being No. 7 offensively in 2009 under Bruce Arians to No. 21 last season.
“When Mike Tomlin gets together with coordinators, he's looking at Dick LeBeau and saying, ‘Keep doing what you're doing.' He's looking at Todd Haley and saying, ‘You need to get better,' ” O'Hara said.
O'Hara blames the offense's 2012 decline on turnovers, the significant slippage in the run game and a dropoff in big plays — about one fewer per game than in the 12-4 season of 2011.
Big-play specialist Wallace is gone, and Roethlisberger's favorite receiver, Heath Miller, isn't likely to be ready to start the season following major knee surgery.
“There's a lot of pressure on Todd Haley,” O'Hara said. “He needs to do a better job with this offense. The pressure is on this offense.”
And on this team, which now has only one more day until next season becomes this season.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers running backs Bell, Blount will face drug charges
- Starkey: Stupid Steelers
- It’s only exhibition, but these Steelers could solidify roster spots vs. Eagles
- Commitment by Steelers’ Gilbert pays off
- Steelers re-sign Keisel to bolster depth on defensive line
- Steelers are hoping to mirror Eagles’ full-bore, no-huddle offense
- Run game not primary focal point for Steelers
- Steelers sign tackle Gilbert to $30 million deal
- Rossi: Blount brings back Steelers’ swagger
- Steelers notebook: Polamalu not concerned with being old man among safeties
- Steelers believe Wheaton ready to step in as No. 2 receiver