Pittsburgh Steelers: Has The Offense Improved Enough?
May 14th, 2013 by Matt Shetler
Coming off of a disappointing 8-8 season in 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball.
As badly as they needed playmakers on the defensive side, they also needed some on the offensive side as well.
Last season, the Steelers offense finished a disappointing 21st in total yardage and 22nd in points per game. Disappointing seasons by Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall were a major reason for this poor performance.
Wallace and Mendenhall are gone, which ultimately could be a good thing. Tight end Heath Miller also must be replaced for the short-term as he is coming off an ACL injury suffered late last season.
Give Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert credit for addressing the need as they focused on the offense in the middle rounds of the draft.
But did they do enough to dramatically improve a struggling offense?
Let’s take a look position by position:
Any time you have Ben Roethlisberger under center, you are in better shape than three quarters of the teams in the NFL. The problem is that Big Ben often can’t be counted on to play 16 games. That being said, the backup quarterback position needed addressed. There will be a lot of talk about Landry Jones, who the Steelers drafted in the fourth round, but if things go right then Jones will never have to play a snap.
The biggest improvement the Steelers made wasn’t drafting Jones, but it was the signing of Bruce Gradkowski. Gradkowski isn’t anything special, but he represents an upgrade over both Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich. In addition Jones gives them a quarterback with upside. Overall, the Steelers are in a much better spot with Gradkowski and Jones behind Roethlisberger instead of Leftwich and Batch.
The Steelers needed a running back and they got one in Le’Veon Bell, but did they get the right guy?
Coming off of a season in which they finished 26th in the league in rushing, averaging 3.7 yards per carry, the Steelers needed a feature back that can carry the load. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are both back and can spell Bell, but there is the possibility of Dwyer potentially being traded. The thing I don’t like is that the Steelers basically have three plungers. Bell is faster than both Dwyer and Redman, but I worry about his lack of breakaway speed.
Not having a back with home run type speed could prove to be a problem in the long run, but I do like the versatility of Bell as he can be a factor in both the running and passing games. I also like the idea of bringing in LaRod Stephens-Howling to possibly fill the third-down back role.
Bell is big at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds and runs with power. Despite his size, he has deceptive speed and can run between the tackles or get to the outside. The Steelers had him as their top rated back in the draft. They need to be right.
More importantly, Bell can block out of the backfield and has soft hands that will help him get onto the field early—potentially as the Week 1 starter.
If Bell can become a legitimate No. 1 back, he will help in more ways than one. Roethlisberger is fantastic with play action, but you have to be able to sell the run. That’s something that wasn’t possible a year ago.
There’s no doubt that the Steelers have improved in the backfield. How much remains to be seen.
The loss of Wallace hurts and the Steelers didn’t do much to replace him. Their best player is Roethlisberger and surrounding him with weapons is the easiest way to win games.
The talent at receiver is very thin.
Antonio Brown will miss having Wallace on the outside and his production is likely to decrease again. Sanders will get the first crack to fill Wallace’s shoes, but I have my doubts on what kind of performer he can be playing on the outside. I like Sanders playing in the slot where he can take advantage of frequent mismatches, but putting up big numbers on the outside is a different story. The Steelers could do worse than Sanders, but they certainly can do better.
I like the Markus Wheaton draft pick but whether he is ready to contribute right away remains to be seen. The Steelers will need him to be a big part of their offense.
Wheaton is a small, quick receiver in the mold of Brown and Sanders and will fit offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s scheme well. He is a strong route runner with excellent speed and can make plays happen after the ball is in his hands. These skills will translate well to the short passing game as either an inside or outside receiver.
I like the idea of him starting on the outside and leaving Sanders in the slot but we will see how that plays out.
Wheaton can add a dimension to this offense because of his terrific deep speed. He may not be the pure burner that Wallace was for the Steelers, but he has the speed to pull away from defenders on deep patterns.
Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery are back and hopefully they play bigger parts in the offense.
Overall I don’t like the looks of the receiving corps on paper but they have enough talent to potentially be a surprise.
I don’t particularly like where the Steelers are at wide receiver, but I really don’t like where they are at tight end to begin the season.
With Miller sidelined to begin the year, the Steelers will have to rely on the likes of Matt Spaeth and David Paulson to fill Miller’s shoes.
That’s something they can’t do and without the threat of Miller being able to stretch the middle of the field, more attention can be paid to the Steelers wide receivers.
The tight end is a weapon for Roethlisberger and it’s something he doesn’t have the luxury of relying on to begin the season.
Hopefully they will be able to get by with the likes of Spaeth and Paulson, but they won’t be able to fill Miller’s shoes.
As long as their young offensive line lives up to expectations, the new playmakers on offense will provide a nice boost for the offense. Anytime you have No. 7 under center, things can turn around in a hurry. I believe the Steelers have upgraded enough to be more explosive, but they still have a ways to go to become one of the elite offenses in the game.
Health will always be a concern, especially at quarterback and the offensive line, but if the Steelers stay healthy, they should be able to put up more points on the board in the second year of Todd Haley’s offense.
The problem here is they will be relying on a lot of young players to play big roles, which usually isn’t a good thing. But talent always wins and the Steelers have at least upgraded their talent level at a few key positions.