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Thread: Steelers face more questions than answers

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    Steelers face more questions than answers

    Steelers face more questions than answers
    By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


    A different kind of problem confronts Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin after their team's worst season in the past six, a problem unlike any they have routinely visited this time of year.

    They must again either shed money or move it around to tuck themselves under the salary cap. They must make the hard but not necessarily difficult decisions to say goodbye to longtime contributors. Again they will sift through free agents -- others and their own -- to determine if they want to sign them and whether they can.

    They have annual experience with all of that. But, one new, perplexing dilemma exists for them in the first teen-age year of this century: Do they even know what they have?

    An analysis of their roster will produce more questions than answers, many of them debated throughout their 8-8 season. Add in the possibility of yet a third offensive coordinator in three seasons because of Todd Haley's candidacy for the head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals.

    Start with that offense, which looked much better at mid-season than it did by the end of it. The Steelers wanted to emphasize the run more in 2012 and instead they were forced to de-emphasize it because no back asserted himself. Jonathan Dwyer led the team with 623 yards rushing, the lowest total by their leader in 21 years. Entering 2013, they do not have a lead back.

    Their wide receivers, once the strength on offense, were not in 2012. Even if Mike Wallace would somehow return, can he return to becoming one of the game's most dangerous deep threats or was his slip to third among receptions on the Steelers and another dip in average to 13.1 per catch a trend?

    Antonio Brown, fighting some minor injuries, could not match his 2011 production, a year that prompted the Steelers to give him Mike Wallace's money in the summer. Emmanuel Sanders did not have the breakout year many expected.

    If the Steelers lose Wallace, their receiving corps looks to be below average, based on the 2012 returns.

    The one position that flourished was tight end, thanks to Heath Miller, who led the team with 71 receptions and all position players with 50 points. But he finished the season on injured reserve and had surgery to repair anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. Will he be ready to go early in 2013, how effective will he be and who takes over at that position until he does? There are only guesses there.

    The offensive line looked solid for a while, then injuries forced them to mix and match, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the running game paid the price. It still can be a strength of the team after all the high draft picks invested into it. Sean Kugler, praised for the coaching job he did through all of those injuries, is gone. Re-signing Max Starks and having a healthy Willie Colon would help, but both may be out of reach. Colon looked strong at his new position at left guard right up until he wound up on injured reserve for the third consecutive season. They will either gamble that he can stay healthy or try to sign one or both free agents, Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky, as insurance. Those two have been keys to holding the line together through all the injuries, and losing both would leave them thin.

    Then there is Roethlisberger. Midway through the season, he was on pace to break his own passing yardage team record and led all quarterbacks in third-down passing efficiency. Then, his right shoulder and a rib were injured, he missed three games and was not the same quarterback in his final four games, three of them losses.

    Roethlisberger will be 31 next season, still in his prime, and he promised to concentrate on returning to health this offseason. The Steelers, though, need to find him targets. They began the season with only four wide receivers while keeping six backs, including a fullback. Now they may lose Wallace and have a question mark in Miller.

    The Steelers defense finished No. 1 for the second season in a row, and for the second consecutive season, it was a somewhat misleading ranking. They have a good defense, but not the kind that savaged opponents and quarterbacks before 2011. They intercepted 10 passes, tying the second fewest in their 80-year history, the fewest in any season of 12 or 14 games. Their cornerbacks provided only three of those.

    Those cornerbacks, though, were the strongest area of the defense in 2012. One of them, Keenan Lewis, may not return. They will return Ike Taylor and nickel back Cortez Allen, who will start for Lewis if he leaves.

    Safety Troy Polamalu turns 32 and missed nine games with a calf injury. He looked good at the end, but they need him in the beginning and the middle, too. Ryan Clark put together yet another good season at free safety and has bypassed Polamalu as a playmaker at a fraction of the cost.

    Their 3-4 defense always has counted on two outside linebackers to pressure the quarterback, and it would seem they no longer can count on James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley even though both likely will return to start. Harrison had knee surgery in August that wiped out his first three games and it took much longer for him to feel comfortable. His back curtailed him in 2011. He looked like the old Harrison near the end of the season, but he turns 35 in May. Woodley, who missed half of 2011 with injuries, was not effective up to his previous standards this past season. Some say he needs to lose weight and get in better shape; whatever it is, they desperately need his playmaking to return.

    Before 2011, Harrison and Woodley, two of the best-paid players on the team, each had double-figure sacks in three consecutive seasons. Neither has reached that total in the past two. The Steelers also have not identified a logical successor to them. It's possible Lawrence Timmons could be that player; he has played for Harrison and could move there again. Timmons could have been their defensive MVP, leading them in tackles, with three interceptions and tied for the lead with six sacks, the first inside linebacker in their history to do so.

    If Timmons moved outside, it would leave them thin on the inside, particularly if they do not bring back Larry Foote, who had a good 2012 season. Rookie Sean Spence is still a long way from coming back from a serious preseason knee injury, and Stevenson Sylvester remains a good special teams player who has not played much on the inside.

    The defensive line will continue to undergo a transition if Casey Hampton leaves and Steve McLendon replaces him. Brett Keisel had another strong season at right end, but neither Ziggy Hood nor Cameron Heyward have lived up to the expectations that come with No. 1 draft picks. While Keisel isn't getting any younger -- he will be 35 in September -- he remains the best end on the team.

    As for special teams, their Pro Bowl return man in 2011, Brown, averaged only 6.8 yards on 27 punt returns. Chris Rainey did some good things on kickoff returns. Shaun Suisham had a Pro Bowl-caliber season, missing only three kicks -- one from 53 and one from 54. Rookie punter Drew Butler was inconsistent.

    Toss out just some of the 78 starts lost by injuries, and the Steelers would have made the playoffs in 2012. But even without those injuries, 2013 presents them with many more questions than they can answer. And until they do, improvement will be difficult.

    Molon labe

    People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. George Orwell

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    Toss out just some of the 78 starts lost by injuries, and the Steelers would have made the playoffs in 2012. But even without those injuries, 2013 presents them with many more questions than they can answer. And until they do, improvement will be difficult.[/QUOTE]

    Does anyone happen to know how the '78 starts lost by injuries' ranks among all the teams of the NFL? My co-worker is an Eagles fan and swears the Eagles were the most injury decimated team in the league. I would guess the Steelers had more.

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    10 ways to fix the Steelers

    By Alan Robinson
    Sports Reporter

    Published: Sunday, January 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
    Updated 19 minutes ago

    Every three years, the Steelers go through their own accelerated version of a leap year. It happened in 2000, ‘03, ‘06, ‘09 and, yes, in ‘12.

    There are numerous injuries. Veteran players underperform. Early-round draft picks don‘t contribute. They lose close games and lose some games that don‘t have any business being close. The playoffs don‘t happen.

    In the past, they‘ve always fixed what went wrong, and in a hurry. Each of the last four times they sat out the playoffs following a single-digit win season, they bounced back to have a double digit-win season and make the playoffs.

    “The one thing Pittsburgh has going for it is that they are a really, really, really stable organization, and they‘re not going to rush out and do something that helps them for only one month or one year,” former Cowboys personnel chief Gil Brandt said. “They understand the big picture as well as anybody in the league.”

    How do the Steelers do it? Maybe they don‘t always get the season right, but they always seem to get the offseason right. And this is one offseason they need to get right following an 8-8 season.

    A top 10 list of what the Steelers need to get right — and right now, based on the recommendation of multiple former NFL executives and coaches:


    Only once in 45 years have they run the ball as poorly as they did this season. They‘ve used a first-round pick on a lead runner only once since 1989; they might have to do it again.

    “You‘ve got so much invested in that quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) that (a running back) would be a wise investment,” former Redskins and Cowboys general manager Charley Casserly said.


    Staying injury-free isn‘t always staying lucky; often it‘s the residue of training hard, training long and training right. For LaMarr Woodley, linebackers coach Keith Butler said that means a greater emphasis on getting his hamstrings in shape. For Troy Polamalu, it could be as simple as staying slimmer in the offseason.

    “I think winning eight games with all the injuries they had is almost mind-boggling, to do as good as they do,” Casserly said. “To me, the No. 1 issue with this team was being decimated by injuries.”


    An offense that ranked only 22nd in scoring was never more efficient than it was when the oft-disrupted line stayed intact during a four-game midseason winning streak. Maybe that means finding a veteran-type lineman like Max Starks to provide some consistency until Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum settle in. Or maybe it means they can‘t count on the frequently injured Willie Colon any longer.


    If they‘ve decided Cortez Allen is ready to start, Keenan Lewis could become expendable. If not, they‘ll need to find a way to pay Allen fair market value, yet still keep cap space for other important needs. That won‘t be easy.

    “(Ike) Taylor and Polamalu, they‘ve got to be playing at the top of their game, or they‘re in trouble,” Brandt said.


    And that‘s pressuring and disrupting. They paid their linebackers more than all but one team in 2012 and didn‘t get a payback on their investment. That could mean selling some stocks and buying some new ones.

    “(Jason) Worilds made some plays at times, but nobody else is establishing themselves at outside linebacker,” said Casserly, an NFL Network analyst. “Outside linebacker is crucial in that defense.”


    Maybe that requires playbook tweaking on Haley‘s part or more offseason collaboration. Whatever the method, Roethlisberger must believe in what he‘s being asked to do, or it won‘t work.


    Roethlisberger needs to be able to slam dunk occasionally, not just dink and dunk.


    Casey Hampton might be gone, and Brett Keisel will be next. The defensive line is a major concern, especially given Ziggy Hood‘s low-grade play and Cam Heyward‘s lack of development. This might require some creativity.


    They need another tight end, especially with Heath Miller‘s start-of-season status in doubt.


    Mike Tomlin will hire a new offensive line coach, and he also has another staff opening. If he chooses to fill it — and how he fills it — could be telling.

    Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email][/email] or @arobinson_Trib.

    Molon labe

    People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. George Orwell

    American metal pimped by asiansteel
    Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you 1. Jesus Christ, 2.The American G.I., One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.

  4. #4

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    Bouchette and Robinson must be complete morons. There are a few comments in these articles that make NOO sense.

  5. #5

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    An off season: Steelers face multiple challenges moving forward

    published jan 5, 2013

    Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an up-and-down season and missed three games with injuries.

    PITTSBURGH – The story of the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers is one of a team that was never able to put everything together at the same time.

    When the offense was playing well in the first half of the season, the defense was uncharacteristically giving up late leads to lose games.

    When the defense finally got things figured out, the offense faltered down the stretch following quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s rib and shoulder injuries Nov. 12. The result was an 8-8 season that left the Steelers on the outside looking in for this weekend’s playoff games.

    Correcting some of the problems that plagued this team – a lack of producing turnovers on defense and a lack of a consistent running game on offense – will be the two major points of emphasis moving forward.

    So, too, will be replacing some of the 18 unrestricted free agents, a difficult task considering the Steelers’ salary cap situation.

    Pittsburgh has 44 players under contract for the 2013 season at a cap value of $133 million. That puts the Steelers roughly $12 million over the projected cap of $121 million.

    Here is a position-by-position breakdown:


    Roethlisberger was having one of his best statistical seasons prior to suffering rib and shoulder injuries in a 13-10 win over Kansas City.

    Roethlisberger wasn’t the same when he came back, returning more to his gambling style rather than sticking with offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s ball-control offense.

    Injuries on the offensive line were an issue, but Roethlisberger did not appear to be 100 percent healthy down the stretch, throwing late interceptions that led to losses against Dallas and Cincinnati.

    Backups Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch filled in during the three games Roethlisberger missed. Both will be unrestricted free agents.

    Leftwich again was injured, an issue that has hounded him, and the Steelers will not retain him.

    Batch, who led a rousing 23-20 win at Baltimore Dec. 2, is 38, but could return for one more season while the Steelers groom a younger player to serve as Roethlisberger’s backup.

    Running back

    Last spring, director of football operations Kevin Colbert said the Steelers weren’t expecting any contribution from Rashard Mendenhall, who had suffered a torn ACL in the regular season finale.

    Colbert didn’t know how true that statement would be.

    Colbert also said he felt comfortable the running backs on the roster would be good enough to carry the load while Mendenhall recovered. That statement was proven wrong.

    With Mendehall limited to 51 carries because of injuries and a late-season suspension, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman were expected to pick up the slack.

    While they combined for 1,033 yards on 266 carries, they also had issues with consistency.

    Dwyer and Redman showed they are better served as being complementary backs.

    With Mendenhall, Dwyer and Redman headed for free agency – Mendenhall unrestricted and Dwyer and Redman restricted – the Steelers have some tough decisions.

    Mendenhall is a two-time 1,000-yard back and has the speed Dywer and Redman lack. Coming off a severe knee injury and subsequent Achilles’ tendon injury caused by returning too soon, Mendenhall’s value isn’t what it would have been if he were completely healthy.

    If the Steelers can bring him back at a reasonable price, they will consider it.

    Dwyer was given a chance to be the feature back late in the season, and the coaching staff was upset at his lack of fire. He pulled himself out of games several times after making just a couple of carries in a row, so it appears he will never be a 20-carry-per-game runner.

    Redman battled through injuries but opened the season as the starter. He was largely ineffective in that role but is the best blocker and short-yardage runner.

    Rookie Chris Rainey was expected to play a bigger role in the offense, but was mainly used as a return man, averaging 26.5 yards. He is too small (5-8, 178 pounds) to ever be used for more than five to 10 touches per game.

    Fullback Will Johnson proved to be a valuable pickup in the offseason. He improved as a lead blocker each week and averaged 9.2 yards on 13 receptions. His role could increase next season.

    Baron Batch suffered a broken arm in a Week 16 loss to Cincinnati but isn’t much more than a special teams player now.

    Wide receivers

    No group disappointed more than the wide receivers. They struggled with inconsistency and fumbles.

    Mike Wallace held out of training camp and admitted it took him time to adjust to Haley’s short passing game.

    Antonio Brown was given a $42 million contract extension coming off his team MVP season in 2011, but missed three games with an ankle injury suffered Nov. 4 in a win over the Giants. He struggled at times after his return with the ankle and saw his punt return average dip from 10.8 yards in 2011 to 6.8 yards.

    Emmanuel Sanders caught a career-high 44 passes for 626 yards as the No. 3 receiver, but also had more than his share of drops. Veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress, who was signed to help offset the injury to Brown, didn’t get enough opportunities to make a major impact.

    Wallace and Burress will be unrestricted free agents. Wallace will test the open market, and it’s unlikely the Steelers would place a franchise tag on him given the cap situation.

    Burress could be brought back at the veteran minimum, particularly if Wallace is not retained.

    Sanders is a restricted free agent, and the team will be forced to increase his salary with a higher tender.

    Tight end

    Team MVP Heath Miller flourished in Haley’s offense, leading the Steelers in receptions, despite missing the final game of the season with torn knee ligaments. Miller also earned a nod to his second Pro Bowl, but will not participate because of his injuries.

    He should be ready to return by the start of the 2013 regular season.

    Rookie David Paulson made the roster after going undrafted, but needs to get stronger, and veteran David Johnson will likely be brought back after missing the season with torn knee ligaments.

    Veteran Leonard Pope fell behind Paulson on the depth chart. He will be an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to return.

    Offensive line

    The Steelers have used four premium draft picks in the past three seasons on offensive linemen, and the time has come for those players to step into prominent roles.

    Center Maurkice Pouncey made his third consecutive Pro Bowl, though he also was forced to play guard at times because of injuries on the line.

    Tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert, second-round picks in each of the past two years, saw their seasons ended early by ankle injuries. Adams, named the team’s rookie of the year, will probably be moved to left tackle next season, with Gilbert staying at right tackle.

    With Adams ready to play on a full-time basis, veteran Max Starks, an unrestricted free agent, has probably played his last game for the Steelers. After nine years and three Super Bowls, Starks will get an opportunity to start elsewhere after playing every offensive snap in 2012.

    Guard Ramon Foster and center Doug Legursky are unrestricted free agents, with Foster being a possible re-signing if injury-prone Willie Colon, who ended each of the past three seasons on injured reserve, is let go.

    If the Steelers release Colon, who is slated to earn $7.65 million in 2013, it would save them just $1.2 million against the cap. Colon has been, at times, their best offensive lineman, but the injuries could be a consideration.

    Rookie Kelvin Beachum and first-year player John Malecki showed enough to be valuable reserves.

    to be continued in next post:

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    Defensive line

    Pending free agent Casey Hampton wants to play two more seasons despite being 35 years old. Hampton got better as the season wore on and is still a good 3-4 nose tackle. Steve McLendon is ready to take over, so Hampton could be brought back as a backup, but that’s unlikely to happen.

    At defensive end, Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood got off to slow starts but got stronger as the season wore on.

    Keisel suffered a knee injury in the final game, but isn’t expected to require surgery. The defensive captain, Keisel will be counted on even more for leadership if Hampton doesn’t return.

    The Steelers were disappointed in second-year defensive end Cameron Heyward in training camp. The 2011 first-round draft pick didn’t make the expected jump but did show flashes down the stretch.


    LaMarr Woodley had a career-low four sacks, not the kind of production expected out of the highest-paid defensive player.

    Woodley’s lack of production is especially troubling given that 35-year-old James Harrison outplayed him, despite missing training camp and the first three games of the regular season with a knee injury.

    Woodley will count $13.24 million against the salary cap, while Harrison’s cap value is $10 million. Lowering that total will be a priority in the offseason.

    In his third season, Jason Worilds was a valuable backup, making three starts and finishing second behind Harrison and Lawrence Timmons with five sacks. If the Steelers part ways with Harrison – a move that would save just over $5 million in cap space – Worilds could be a starter, or at least split time at the position, possibly with Chris Carter, who finished the season on IR.

    Improving the pass rush will be an offseason priority.

    Veteran Larry Foote and Timmons manned the inside positions and were solid. Timmons had his best season, leading the team in interceptions.

    Foote will be an unrestricted free agent, and with heir-apparent Sean Spence losing his rookie season to a preseason knee injury, the Steelers would be well served to bring Foote back.

    Defensive backs

    Easily the most improved group, the cornerbacks provided solid play no matter who was out there. Because of injuries to Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor, the depth in the secondary was tested as much as any position.

    Keenan Lewis thrived at corner in his fourth season after beating out Cortez Allen for the starting spot opposite Polamalu and led the AFC with 26 pass defenses. He’s an unrestricted free agent and has gone from an afterthought to perhaps the biggest offseason priority signing.

    Allen played the nickel position most of the season until stepping into a starting role for Taylor late. He produced five turnovers in the final two games – two interceptions, three forced fumbles – and has a bright future.

    Taylor missed the first three games of his career since breaking into the lineup. He struggled early in the season, but rebounded with a solid final three months to be one of the leaders of the NFL’s top pass defense.

    Veteran Will Allen stepped in for Polamalu after Ryan Mundy failed in that role early in the season. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent and the Steelers would be wise to bring him back for at least another year.

    Polamalu was limited by a calf injury to just seven games. But he was highly disruptive in the final two games and showed the burst over the final month that had been missing earlier. He should rebound in 2013.

    Ryan Clark’s play was again solid at free safety and he became more of a vocal leader. With Polamalu and Clark over 30, the Steelers have a serious need for youth at the safety position.

    The Steelers got contributions from a number of young players in the secondary, including Josh Victorian and Robert Golden, both of whom could fill larger roles next season.


    Placekicker Shaun Suisham bounced back after a sub-par 2011 and missed just three kicks, two of which came from beyond 50 yards.

    Rookie punter Drew Butler surprisingly made the roster after veteran Jeremy Kapinos missed training camp with back problems. Butler looked good early in the season, but struggled as the season wore on, finishing in the bottom third of the league in both gross (43.7) and net (37.9) average. He should have competition heading into training camp.

    Long-snapper Greg Warren will be an unrestricted free agent, and the Steelers could look for a cheaper alternative.


    Head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t have his best season, making a critical error in a loss at Tennessee by having Suisham attempt a 54-yard field goal late in the game that gave the Titans great field position and bungling the running back situation.

    But he’s still an excellent motivator and usually has a pretty good handle on the pulse of his team.

    Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau had a solid year, leading the Steelers to another top ranking in overall defense. Finding a way do that and create more turnovers will be a focus in the offseason.

    The Steelers flourished early on offense in their first year under Haley’s direction, leading the league in third-down conversion percentage. But injuries, particularly to Roethlisberger and Brown, caused the offense to falter down the stretch.

    The blowup between Haley and Roethlisberger many expected never happened, though the two were not always on the same page. Getting Roethlisberger to completely buy into the program will be the top priority for Haley – assuming he is not hired as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

    Former assistant special teams coach Amos Jones took over full duties by himself when coordinator Al Everest was let go prior to the season. As mentioned, Suisham had his best season and the return game was consistent with what the Steelers had done the previous season. Penalties plagued the units, as did a pair of successful fake punts late in the season.

    Tomlin must find a coach to work with Jones on the special teams units and an offensive line coach to replace Sean Kugler, who left to become head coach at UTEP.

    If Haley leaves, Tomlin could be forced to hire an offensive coordinator for the second consecutive season, though the top in-house candidate, running backs coach Kirby Wilson, could be that person now that he is a year removed from injuries suffered in a fire at his home last January.



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