2014 NFL Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

2014 NFL Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

Back-to-back non-playoff seasons is not something the Pittsburgh Steelers are accustomed to in the 21st century. Prior to 2012 and 2013, Pittsburgh had advanced to the postseason eight times since 2000, missing out in 2003, 2006, and 2009. During that span they have played in three Super Bowls and won two of them. They might not receive the same praise as the Patriots, but they have been almost as successful and have remained a consistent contender during two different coaching regimes. The 2014 Steelers have undergone a makeover of sorts, having made decisions on 25 free agents of their own, while adding several new additions to the roster. Mike Tomlin isn’t feeling any heat, but a third straight subpar campaign isn’t very Steelers-like. Here’s a preview of the upcoming season.

Outlook: As long as Ben Roethlisberger is under center, Pittsburgh will always be a legitimate Super Bowl contender. His 28 touchdown passes in 2013 were the second most of his illustrious career, as was the 4,261 yards. He still took too many sacks (42) and lost too many fumbles (6), but Big Ben is a clutch stalwart who has started as least 12 games in every one of his ten seasons. Antonio Brown is coming off a career year and Le’Veon Bell is a rising dual-threat running back. The defense jettisoned several aging vets and will be counting on a promising youth movement to lead the way.

New arrivals: Lance Moore and rookie Martavis Bryant will be asked to pick up the slack after a pair of key free agent departures at wide receiver. After flopping in Oakland, safety Mike Mitchell took advantage of being a member of the Panthers’ 2nd ranked defense in 2013 and parlayed it into a 5-year, $25 million deal with the Black and Gold; whether he’s a late bloomer or a one-year wonder remains to be seen. LeGarrette Blount has shown flashes of brilliance inf his four seasons and will likely steal goal line carries from Bell. Rookies Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt fit the mold of the Steelers vaunted 3-4 scheme and will be given every opportunity to impress once training camp opens.

Wave goodbye: Brett Keisel, Larry Foote, LaMarr Woodley, Ryan Clark, and Ziggy Hood were all cornerstones of Super Bowl defenses and all of them have moved on. All are past their prime, but there is no substitute for reliable experience. Clark may be the biggest hole to fill, so the pressure on Mitchell will be doubled. Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery combined for 113 receptions and 16 touchdowns in 2013. Neither is an elite talent, but each was an exceptional role player who must be replaced by the likes of Moore, Bryant, and second-year speedster Markus Wheaton.

Over/Under wins – 8.5: If the AFC South and NFC South are improved divisions, then the schedule is extremely tough. If they aren’t, then Pittsburgh should net at least ten wins. The offense has question marks, but if Bell and Wheaton exceed expectations, Big Ben will make opposing defenses pay. The secondary isn’t particularly strong, and presumed starting linebackers Jarvis Jones and Shazier have only eight pro starts between them. Reaching 9 wins shouldn’t be a chore for this group.

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