In Pittsburgh, the 2013 season was realistically over almost as soon as it started. When the Steelers arrived at Wembley with the Vikings, both teams were already at 0-3 and in the last chance saloon to salvage some pride from the year. Defeat at Wembley ensured an 0-4 start and from that point the fact that the team went in to the last regular season game with an outside shot at the playoffs shows both the strength of the Wild card picture on the AFC and the amount of resilience on the Steelers team. Ultimately, however, the 2-6 run over the first half of the season was too much to recover from – but it could have been so very different had a last gasp effort at a ‘rugby’ style score to win against Miami not been ruled out of bounds during the run. American Football really is a game of inches…
Pittsburgh’s offensive success revolves around Ben Roethlisberger. ‘Big Ben’ was his reliable self in accumulating a passer rating of 92 thanks to 4261 yards, 28 scores and just 14 picks. Favoured target Antonio Brown went to the Pro Bowl thanks to 110 catches for 1499 yards. Emmanuel Sanders hauled in 67 passes for 740 yards and Jerricho Cotchery caught 10 scores. With sanders lost to Denver in Free Agency and Cotchery’s future also uncertain, there will be a very different look next season. Rookie Le’Veon Bell showed promise with 860 yards on the ground, but will need to up his average of just 3.5 yards per carry in 2014 to take some of the pressure off a passing game that has been shorn of weapons. Seven games in which fewer than 21 points were recorded is something that needs to be improved next season if the Steelers are going to make a genuine push for honours.
Defensively, the Steelers were a mixed bag. Giving up over 30 points five times in not impressive (including 55 to New England, 40 to Chicago and 34 at Wembley against the Vikings, yet in six games opponents were restricted to 16 points or less. The team ranked 14th in points allowed (23.1 per game) and 13th in yards allowed (337.6 yards per game). Lawrence Timmons lead the way with 126 tackles whilst Ryan Clark weighed in with 104. The secondary managed just 10 interceptions combined, with no individual achieving more than two although Cortez Allen (13), Ike Taylor (12) and Troy Polamalu (11) all defended numerous passes. Jason Worilds recorded eight sacks of opposing quarterbacks, which ensured that the Steelers management moves quickly to retain his services this offseason. LaMarr Woodley’s 5 sacks (second on the team) have, however, departed for Oakland, whilst Cameron Heyward (with 5) and Brett Keisel (with 4) both recorded multiple pressures.
Felix Jones disappointed in the rushing game but was the most heavily involved kick returner, recording an average of 22.2 yards per return. Antonio Brown handled punt returns, averaging 12.8 yards per return and recording a 67 yard score in the process. Shaun Suisham missed just two kicks all year, although both were from less than 40 yards. Punting duties were shared, although neither Mat McBriar or Zoltan Mesko impressed.
Mike Tomlin’s year will be remembered more for his sideline ‘shuffle’ than anything else when he nearly collided with Ravens’ kick returner Jacoby Jones whilst stood in the field of play. The incident will not cost the team a draft pick, but did lead to several doctored pictures on social media. Joking aside, a second successive season without the playoffs was not in Tomlin’s plans at the start of the year. He will be determined to bounce back in 2014 and top an AFC North division that is always wide open.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
Even prior to losing Sanders to the Broncos, the team had a big need at wide receiver which will need to be addressed during the draft. The addition of safety Michael Mitchell from Carolina will add strength to the Steelers secondary but the loss of Woodley, Ziggy Hood (to Jacksonville) and Al Woods (to Tennessee) has left the team short of numbers and quality on the defensive line. The arrival of Cam Thomas from San Diego starts to redress the balance, but this is another area that needs addressing in the offseason.
Despite Mitchell’s arrival, Pittsburgh could still be on the hunt for play making cornerbacks come May as they try to improve the interception and big play making ability of their secondary and take some pressure off the ageing Polamanu.