Why Steelers will — or won't — snap out of their funk
The Steelers' not-so-magic number is three.
They've gone successive seasons without a winning record — 8-8 in 2012 and '13 — or reaching the postseason. They haven't experienced three in a row since 1969-71, Chuck Noll's first three as coach.
These Steelers look to be younger, faster and deeper. Their expectations are not only to get back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011 but also to win the AFC North.
“I would hope we wouldn't be 8-8 again,” general manager Kevin Colbert said. “We never want to go through that extended (stretch) where you have to start over.”
But they are starting over, in a way, after swapping out all but six starters from their 2011 opener — the season after they last went to the Super Bowl.
Here are three reasons why the Steelers won't three-peat this season — and three that could doom them to another failure.
Why they'll be playing in January
1. They made all the right moves
Perhaps not since the early 1970s have the Steelers counted so soon on their two most recent draft classes. They didn't even pretend that first-round Ryan Shazier wouldn't start immediately, and as many as seven members of their 2013-14 drafts could be in their lineup. As defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said, the new requirements are that players play fast (on the field) and play quickly (as in now).
2. They're two-dimensional in a one-dimensional league
The shotgun, spread formation and three- and four wide receiver sets aren't just for passing downs. But offensive coordinator Todd Haley envisions a balanced offense that mixes Ben Roethlisberger's passing with a power/speed running game.
3. They finally have caught up to the rest of the league
Remember all that talk about the Steelers being old and slow? They're neither. They downloaded all kinds of speed during the offseason (Shazier, Archer, Mitchell, Stephon Tuitt), and LeBeau said this will be by far his fastest defense.
Why they'll be sad on new year's eve
1. They left help for Big Ben off their shopping list
The Steelers clearly got better on defense during the draft, but they waited until the fourth round to give Roethlisberger another receiver (Martavis Bryant). And after shedding Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders the past two years, their lone free agent receiver pickup (Lance Moore) will play mostly in the slot. If Markus Wheaton's sophomore season is anything like his injury-ruined rookie year, Antonio Brown might see triple coverage.
2. They didn't corner the market
Ike Taylor took a huge pay cut. Cortez Allen doesn't have a new contract. William Gay figures to come off the bench after being their top pass defender last season. During an era in which cornerbacks are as essential to a defense as a quarterback is to the offense, the Steelers did almost nothing to address a potential big-problem position.
3. Where's the rush?
Their defensive line is unproven, with projected starters Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon and Cam Thomas/rookie Tuitt combining for only 16 1⁄2 career sacks. The lack of an effective pass rush the past two seasons, when they were tied for 22nd in sacks, put pressure on the back end of the defense.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.