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State of the Steelers Franchise

The Steelers went 8-8 in the 2013 season and failed to make the playoffs for the second straight season. The last winning campaign came two years ago (12-4) and, head coach, Mike Tomlin heads towards his eighth season knowing that he needs to get something done.

The Steelers front office, with General Manager, Kevin Colbert, will have to make some shrewd moves in free agency, particularly when dealing with his own players.

One of the first things they must prepare for is to start the 2014 season on the right foot; their first quarter play this year brought them a 0-4 record in a tough division that always left them playing catch-up with the rest of the field.

There had been much talk about the Steelers’ coaching staff but that appears to have got a real injection of experience and intellect. Pittsburgh have hired James Saxon as running backs coach and Mike Munchak, the former Titans head coach, to train the offensive line. However, question marks remain over offensive coordinator, Todd Haley.

Defensively, things remain the same, with Dick LeBeau still in charge of the back line; although, it is now looking like the defense needs new blood and fresh faces. Fans betting NFL know cap space has always appeared to be a problem in Pittsburgh and again work is required.

One of the developing storylines could involve three Steelers regulars – Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, and Heath Miller; they combine for $32 million in cap room. All three will be candidates for contract extensions or pay reductions, and if an agreement cannot be reached, they could be released.

Free agency is always a worry for any franchise and the Steelers have 21 unrestricted free agents on their roster but only six are current starters. They now need to consider what their needs are in the draft; largely, defensive positions, but some NFL betting pundits believe they could find themselves wanting at cornerback and safety in the new season.

The Steelers enter the 2014 offseason with plenty to address but with a relatively sound foundation to build on.

Pittsburgh – A Team in Transition

Change with all sides has to happen over time, and there has been a gradual change in the personnel at the Steelers over the past few years. The challenge ahead this year for head coach, Mike Tomlin, will be getting back to having a winning season after a 12-4 record and a playoff loss to Denver in 2011 turned into an 8-8 season in 2012.

Defensively, the biggest loss was linebacker, James Harrison, who was released after salary-cap issues (and is now with the Bengals) but it was the offense that saw the biggest changes, with new back-ups behind quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, a new backfield, a much-changed receiving corps, and a new look on the offensive line.

The steady part of the Steelers offense is Roethlisberger; he is the main constant in the attack and, with a new supporting cast this year, fans betting on the NFL will be hoping that he (for once) can stay healthy this year and play all 16 regular season games, something that has happened only once in all his seasons as a starter.

His fitness is vital, especially with veteran backups, Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, gone and replaced by another veteran, in Bruce Gradkowski and fourth-round draft pick, Landry Jones, who must be considered a work-in-progress. Jones went from a potential first-round pick to a fourth-rounder after a disappointing senior season; he certainly isn’t NFL ready – yet.

Pittsburgh has always been considered a team that can run the football but, last year, they couldn’t accomplish that, mainly due to injuries. This year, they certainly expect improvement to come in that department, as they have drafted Le’Veon Bell in the second round; he should quickly take over as the featured and starting back.

He’s a workhorse back with good size (6-1, 244); he’s durable, and can take tacklers a few yards; he’s also very powerful and relentless, a good acquisition for the Steelers’ style of running game that they like to play.

Bell should have solid support on the ground with Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer competing for the number two spot on the roster. As things stand, it looks as though Redman will get the nod. Bell is likely to see the field on 3rd down as long as he continues to improve his pass blocking & blitz pickup. Will Johnson returns at fullback and will be a good addition in a mainly blocking role.

Question marks must remain over the receiving corps though, especially as Heath Miller at tight-end, their leading receiver in 2012 (71 catches), is not yet slated to return after injury. With him missing, the receivers look like a weaker group, especially as Mike Wallace was also lost to the Dolphins.

So, what have the Steelers got in this department? Well, Emmanuel Sanders, who was a nice slot receiver last year is going to have to step-up and improve his numbers for a start.

Although he did well in 2012 (44 catches for 626 yards), he will have more pressure on him this year and will be expected to produce more; it remains to be seen if he can handle that situation. Antonio Brown needs to improve again after his form rather levelled off in 2012. After those two, the Steelers receivers are a mixture of draft picks and veterans and it remains to be seen who of those make the full roster for the season. Offense is one area where the Steelers are looking a little light, unless Sanders or Brown really engage overdrive this year.

The offensive line gets a very new look and protecting Roethlisberger will be all important; two starters are gone from the “new look” – guard, Willie Colon, and tackle, Max Starks, and it will be three-time Pro Bowl center, Maurkice Pouncey, who anchors the line.

Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams are being lined up as the tackles but there is still some doubt from NFL betting pundits over who will play left and who will play right. Guards, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, complete the front five and it looks like the Steelers have a real belief in this line as a unit that could stay together for years – it certainly looks solid enough, providing a platform from which Roethlisberger has time and room to operate.

All in all, ‘transition’ is the right word to use about the Steelers offense – there are elements of stability there, Roethlisberger, for instance. However, much of the cast is new and it may take a while for it all to knit together.

This year, with an increased running game, we can see the Steelers getting back to their “ground and pound” style as the staple for whatever success may come their way, a return to their roots and some “blue-collar football”.

Awesome Steelers & Pittsburgh Skyline Photo

I'm not sure who created this image but it's awesome. It features the Pittsburgh Skyline, Steelers players, the Terrible Towel and many special effects. If you created this photo, please comment on this post.

The players featured in this photo are:

1) Hines Ward

2) Troy Polamalu

3) Heath Miller

4) Ben Roethlisberger

The link to the photo is below for credit reasons:

http://www.6magazineonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/steelers.jpg

Miller Doubful

Pittsburgh Steelers pro bowl tight end is still doubtful for the game against the Cincinnati Bengals this week.

Miller suffered a concussion last week against the Baltimore Ravens in a helmet to helmet, defenseless receiver collision. Although not penalized, the Ravens McClain was fined 40k for the play on Miller.

Fantasy Focus: Steelers vs Browns

This week kicks off another entry of our fantasy football prediction blog.  Steelers face off against the 1-4 Cleveland

Heath Miller

Heath Miller

Browns today at 1pm at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA.  The Steelers have the opportunity to win its 3rd straight game against a struggling Cleveland Browns team.  Last week, the Browns somehow pulled out a 6-3 victory against the Buffalo Bills which was one of the most painful games I had to watch in a long time.  Starting Browns quarterback, Derek Anderson went a miserable 2-17 in passing, but somehow the Browns were victorious.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a 28-20 win against the Detroit Lions.  The Steelers offense looked impressive again with Rashard Mendenhall averaging over 5 yards a carry and Ben Roethlisberger distributing the ball nicely to a wide range of his weapons including Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward, Heath Miller and rookie, Mike Wallace.

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Not so impressive was the Steelers defense.  Again, the defense allowed an inferior team to come back in the first quarter until a streak of sacks by LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison ended the game.  From the defensivie perspective, the good news is that all-pro safety, Troy Polamalu is returning to action for the first time since the season opener against the Tennessee Titans.  The bad news is standout defensive end, Aaron Smith, who is critical to the Steelers 3-4 is out for the rest of the season with a torn rotator cuff.

And now for our Predictions:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger - Big Ben is off to one of his best starts in his already very successful career from a statistical perspective.  Roethlisberger is 1st in the league in completion percentage and second in total yards only behind Peyton Manning. Roethlisberger is being considered a league Most Valuable Player (MVP) by most and I expect his numbers to only get better especially against a struggling Browns team.  Big Ben is a strong pickup this week amongst fantasy owners.

Heath Miller - Miller is on pace for his first Pro Bowl appearance and has been exceptional for the Steelers passing game so far this season.  Miller is second on the team with 29 receptions and 235 yards. He also leads the receiving corps with 3 TD's.  Expect about 60 yards receiving and another touchdown for Heath Miller this week.

Hines Ward - Ward is the Steelers leading receiver thus far this season with 33 receptions and 440 yards receiving.  With Holmes wrist injury continuing to be a nagging problem, Ward will see more balls thrown his way.  However, it's concerning to fantasy owners that Ward only has 1 touchdown so far this season.  With all things considering Ward is still a good play this week against the Browns.

Rashard Mendenhall - Mendenall has looked real impressive the past couple of weeks with Willie Parker being out due to a turf toe injury.  In two games, Mendenhall is averaging over 5 yards a carry and has 3 touchdowns.  Against the league's worst running defense Mendenhall is expected to start and will see the majority of all carries with Fast Willie being the change of pace back as he recovers from his injury.

Ben Roethlisberger Jersey
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Heath Miller Jersey
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Cleveland Browns

Joshua Cribbs - Unfortunately for the Browns, based on their play thus far this season, Cribbs is the only guy I would consider as a fantasy owner this week.  With Braylon Edwards being traded to the Jets, Cribbs should see some increased action as a 3rd WR.  Aside from that, Cribbs is well known to be an extremely dangerous kick-off returner and has had prior success against the Steelers special teams unit.

Steelers Edge Lions

The Pittsburgh Steelers edged out another close one Sunday with a 28-20 victory against the one-win Detrot Lions.  Once again, the Steelers jumped out to an early lead only to let Daunte Culpepper resurrect the team.  Culpepper lead his team down the field with less than 2 minutes to play executing a drive which easily could have been the game tieing score.  The Steelers defense had other plans which resulted in 3 straight sacks of Culpepper and ultimately ending the game with James Harrison leading the way.

Steelers fans have reason for concern.  The Steelers have not been able to close teams out.  They need to be able to put the "nail in the coffin".  In years past, the Steelers were able to control the clock with running the football.  Well, those days seem to be long gone for this Steelers group.  Against the Lions, the Steelers had no trouble moving the football but actually scored to quickly in respect that the Lions controlled the clock the majority of the second half. 

Game Stats

Ben Roethlisberger -  23-30, 277 yds, 3 tds
Rashard Mendenhall - 15 car, 77 yds, 1 td
Hines Ward - 7 rec, 85 yds, 1 td
Heath Miller - 5 rec, 54 yds, 1 td
Mike Wallace - 2 rec, 52 tds, 1d

Fantasy Focus: Steelers vs Lions

Santonio Holmes

Santonio Holmes

This week kicks off another entry of our fantasy football prediction blog.  Steelers face off against the 1-3 Detroit Lions at Ford Field at 1pm today.  The Steelers will be visiting Ford Field for the first time since capturing their fifth Lombardi Trophy during Super Bowl XL.

Unlike previous versions of our fantasy focus articles, this one will only feature Pittsburgh Steelers players.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger - The Detroit Lions have given up more points than any other team in the NFL to opposing quarterbacks in fantasy football.   Roethlisberger should be in for a big game today against a struggling Lion's defense.  However, if the Steelers jump out to a big lead early, Roethlisberger could be pulled or you'll see a heavy dosage of Rashard Mendenhall.  The Steelers won't run up the score and pad stats.

Rashard Mendenhall - With Willie Parker out with a turf toe injury, second year pro Rashard Mendenhall could be in for another huge day against the 20th ranked Lion's run defense.  Last week, Mendenhall had his breakout game against the Chargers totaling 165 yards and 2 touchdowns against the San Diego Chargers defense.  Mendenhall will receive the majority of the carries except on certain 3rd down situations where he'll be relieved my Mewelde Moore.

Heath Miller - On pace for 96 receptions, Heath Miller is on pace for his best season of his career.  Miller is underrated in most NFL circles, but he's in for his first pro bowl season of his career.  Miller has been getting open in the middle of the field and is an obvious mismatch for many teams.  With Santonio Holmes receiving double coverage, Miller is seeing more balls thrown his way.  Last week against the San Diego Chargers, Miller had 70 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns.

Santonio Holmes - He has been targeted by Roethlisberger more than any other player, Holmes is due for a big game.   Even though Holmes has been seeing double coverage as the Steelers #1 receiver, he's got the speed to beat those double teams and make plays deep down field.  Outside of week 1, Holmes has been quiet thus far this year; expect him to have close to 100 yards and a TD today against a weak Lion's secondary.

Fantasy Focus: Steelers vs Chargers

This week kicks off another entry of our fantasy football prediction blog.  The Pittsburgh Steelers play at home for the first time since the NFL opener against the Tennessee Titans.  This is a must-win for the Steelers in order to keep up with the division leaders, Baltimore Ravens.  The Ravens are currently up 2 games on a struggling Steelers team and the Steelers are looking to rebound against a very talented San Diego team after losing two close games in which they should have won convincingly.  Here is a list of fantasy football matchups that you may want to consider:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger - Big Ben is going to have to come through against San Diego's solid defensive front.  Even with the loss of Jamal Williams, the Chargers defense is loaded with playmakers.  However, Ben plays his best against good competition in prime time moments.  I expect more of the same from Big Ben.  Ben will put up 30 points on this

Mike Wallace

Mike Wallace

Chargers defense, at home, in primetime and display to the NFL why he is an elite quarterback in this league

Ben Roethlisberger Jersey and other Steelers Apparel

Mike Wallace - Wallace has been the only pleasant surprise for the Steelers this year.  He caught the most passes of any Steelers receiver last week totaling over 100 yards.  Wallace is a mismatch waiting to happen at the #3 spot.  He's got amazing speed and quickness and hasn't dropped a pass this season.  During the NFL draft, Wallace's stock fell because scouts said his hands were suspect at best.  I don't see that with this young kid, however I can't say the same for Limas Sweed.

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Heath Miller - Miller is "Mr. Dependable".  He always seems to do his job and do it well.  He has great hands and is a good blocker.  He "seals the edge" when lined up as a tight end and does surprisingly well when lined up as a fullback.  Last week, he was dominant on the first couple of drives as a receiving tight end.  But for some reason, offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians stopped designing plays to go to Miller.

Arians has been heavily criticized by Steelers fans and rightfully so.  Why would he not get Miller more involved in

Heath Miller

Heath Miller

this offense?

Heath Miller Jersey and other Steelers Apparel

Rashard Mendenahll - This is a "dark horse" pick.  Per Mike Tomlin, Mendnenall didn't play one snap last week because he didn't feel comfortable that Mendenhall knew his assignments (i.e. he failed the weekly written game plan test).  We need Mendenhall to step up now and I think he'll show-off some of his talent this week (IF HE ACTUALLY RECEIVES PLAYING TIME).

Rashard Mendenhall Jersey and other Steelers Apparel

San Diego Chargers

Philip Rivers - Rivers was expected to be an MVP candidate this year.  He has loads of talent and is surrounded by talent. This could be a shootout-type game resulting in a classic Rivers vs Big Ben show down.  I expect both quarterbacks to put up good numbers this game.  With the Steelers pash rush less than desirable, Rivers could be in for a big game.

Antonio Gates -  Gates is in for a big game against this struggling defense.  With Polamalu out with an injury, the Steelers don't have a good solution for the All-Pro tight end.  Lawrence Timmons has the speed and athleticism to cover Gates but it will be a challenge as is for any linebacker in the NFL.

Darren Sproles - Sproles is the type of running back the Steelers always have trouble with.  He has great cutback ability (i.e. Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew) and has acceleration through the hole.  He's also difficult to find behind a massive San Diego offensive line at 5-8 185 pounds.  Sproles might be most dangerous as a kick-off returner.  The Steelers special teams and defense must stay in their lanes and play disciplined football or Sproles could take one to the house on any given play.

Discuss at the Planet Steelers Forum

Fantasy Focus: Steelers vs Bengals

This week kicks off another entry of our fantasy football prediction blog.  The Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals.  This may be a more difficult game than what most Steelers fans are anticipating.  The Bengals have 3 straight division games starting with the Steelers so expect them to try to set the tone against the Steelers.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger - Big Ben will rebound just fine against the Bengals defense.  The offense struggled last week to put points up on the board but they were able to move the ball against a solid Bears defense.  I see Big Ben and company putting up 27 points against the Bengals this week.

Santonio Holmes Fantasy Football Pick of the Day

Santonio Holmes Fantasy Football Pick of the Day

Hines Ward - Historically a Cincinnati killer (just ask Keith Rivers).  Ward is closing in on his 10,000 yards receiving mark and it very well could happen this week against the Bengals.

Santonio Holmes - Holmes had one of his worst performances in recent memory last week.  3 dropped balls including a tough but catchable winning TD catch capped off a disappointing day for Holmes.  Even though the weather was less than desirable and the field was messy, Holmes dropped several catchable balls that ended up as "drive killers".  I expect Holmes to rebound and post a solid overall performance with over 100 yards and a TD.

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Parker / Mendenhall - Parker has been the most disappointing player on the team so far this season.  He's not running the ball with any authority and he's been "tip toeing" to the line of scrimmage.  Mendenhall might steal some of Parker's opportunities and rightfully so.  It's time for one of these two to step up and provide some sort of rushing attack.  The Bengals run defense has struggled so this might be a good game to get this offense going.

Heath Miller - Miller continues to be one of Roethlisberger's favorite targets.  He's consistent, has great hands, and picks up first downs.  With the offensive line struggling, Miller is a nice safety net for Big Ben.

Steelers Defense - Although the Steelers defense hasn't necessarily struggled, they do have some flaws.  For one, the Steelers outside linebackers including Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY), James Harrison and emerging star LaMarr Woodley only have a combined 2 sacks on the year.  Lawrence Timmons appears to be healthy which should hopefully add to the pass rush this week.  This is a shocking statistic that no one would have guessed going into the 2009-2010 season.  With the loss of Polamalu, Tyrone Carter was exposed by Jay Cutler last week being responsible for 2 touchdowns.

Cincinnati Bengals

Carson Palmer - If last game was any indication, Palmer appears to be healthy.  Palmer has one of the best deep balls in the game and is typically very accurate.  If the Steelers defense doesn't get a pass rush against Palmer, it will be a long day for the Steelers and their fans.

Chad Ochocinco - Ochocinco has had just one 100-yard game and three touchdowns against the Steelers since Ike Taylor's rookie season in 2003 so don't expect much out of him today.   He talks a good game and is being outspoken against Steelers cornerbacks William Gay and Ike Taylor but until he produces on the field against the Steelers, I would steer away from picking Ochocinco.

Cedric Benson - Benson has been one of the bigger surprises this year for Cincinnati.  However, like most other running backs, expect Benson to struggle against the Steelers stellar run defense.  Don't start Benson this week on your fantasy team.

Fantasy Football Pick of the Day: Santonio Holmes (WR, Pittsburgh Steelers)

Fantasy Focus: Steelers vs Bears

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger - Expect Roethlisberger to put up solid players against the Bears defense today.  I don't see the

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger

Steelers being able to run against this defense (again).  Our o-line is simply outmanned and not talented enough against most defenses of the Bears caliber.  Roethlisberger will throw over 30 passes and display why he's an elite quarterback in this league.

Santonio Holmes - With Roethlisberger throwing 30+ passes, Holmes will be the primary target of many of those.  Holmes has been "lights-out" since the playoffs started last year.  Holmes will have over 100 yards and a touchdown against the bears.

Hines Ward - Ward only needs 117 receiving yards to reach 10,000 for his career.  What an accomplishment for a receiver in a run-oriented offense!  I could foresee both Ward and Holmes going for over 100 yards yet again.

Heath Miller - While Miller won't have huge stats, he's one of Roethlisberger's favorite targets.  I expect around 50 yards receiving and a touchdown this week.  It's also possible that given the Steelers offensive line struggles especially against good defenses, Miller may see more action as a "safety net" for Big Ben.

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Chicago Bears

Matt Forte - Even given the Steelers great defense, Matt Forte would be a solid pick this week because he does so many things in both the passing and rushing attacks.  Forte is a very underrated back with a good combination of speed and power.  However, don't expect Forte to get 100 rushing yards this week against arguably the best running defense in the league.  I would say that he will have 100 all-purpose yards

Jay Cutler - Cutler is "hit or miss" in this matchup.  Last week he struggled with 4 interceptions and had an overall poor performance.  If he plays like that again, the Steelers defense will make it a miserable day.  If Cutler is on target, he could pose some challenges for the Steelers secondary.  Cutler torched the Steelers defense before and he could do it again.

Devin Hester - He's a big play waiting to happen.  The Steelers secondary must respect his speed and athleticism.  If he gets behind the secondary, Cutler has the arm and accuracy to take advantage of it.  As proven, Hester's punt return ability is off the charts.  Special teams could play a big role in the outcome of this game.

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