Pittsburgh Steelers Need Ben Roethlisberger To Carry The Load
It's no surprise that team tends to stick to a formula when it works. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won two Super Bowls since 2005 on their classic method of great defense teamed with efficient offense. Yet after their first season without a playoff berth it is clear they can't execute the same plan with the same results. Something has to change if they want to continue competing in the AFC, even if that change goes against the grain of traditional Steeler football.
Jarvis Jones can't fix Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor problems
The departure of James Harrison left a lot of Pittsburgh faithful saddened. A former Defensive Player of the Year, the 34-year old linebacker was a microcosm of the Steelers issues. Greatness grown old by the violent nature of football. Harrison became too expensive to keep around at his age. The same may soon be said for a number of other defensive staples. Troy Polamalu, the iconic safety who has made miraculous plays while being a terrific team leader, is fighting his own body as much as opposing offenses these days. A lingering calf problem robbed him of a good part of the 2012 season and at age 32 doesn't have the quick healing ability he may have had a few years ago. Fellow defensive back Ike Taylor, a fan favorite, is 33. In fact five starters on the defense are over 30-years old. Experts have trumpeted for a youth movement the past couple seasons. They may be too late.
Pittsburgh took a step in the right direction when they made Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones their first round pick. He was arguably the best 3-4 outside pass rusher in the 2013 NFL draft, so it was a no-brainer move. The problem is the expectations for him may be a little too extreme. He is a rookie and the Pittsburgh defense is a complicated system devised by coordinator Dick LeBeau. It takes time to absorb. Jones needs that time if he is going to make the most of his abilities, no matter how much the Steelers need him on the field. That is why they must be willing to shift their philosophy at least for 2013.
Roethlisberger bolstered by Le'Veon Bell and Markus Wheaton
Paying Mike Wallace the money he wanted was out of the question. Steeler fans knew that. Still, losing a dynamic weapon like that put a real hurting on the offense and threatened to limit what Ben Roethlisberger could do. Now in the second year under coordinator Todd Haley, expectations for the franchise quarterback should rise. Luckily he should have some help. The Steelers made sure to give him some extra options with Wallace departing. It needed to start on the ground. Pittsburgh ranked 26th in rushing in 2012 at 96 yards per game. That created a lot of imbalance on the field and exposed Roethlisberger to more hits as he was forced to pass. Adding Le'Veon Bell from MichiganState in the second round should really help matters. He is big, nimble can handle a bulky workload every game. The other big boost should come from OregonState receiver Markus Wheaton. While he doesn't replace the raw speed of Wallace, his ability pile up yards after the catch is a perfect fit for the Haley offense and gives Roethlisberger another athletic target.
David DeCastro could decide how Steelers offense goes
No unit will have more eyes on them than the Pittsburgh offensive line. The unit has allowed at least 36 sacks in a season since 2005. Part of the blame can go to Roethlisberger who tends to hold the ball a lot, but there is no doubt the group has lacked stability for years. Injuries have played a big part. No player signifies the mess than 2012 first round pick David DeCastro. Hailed as the best guard in the draft, he barely made it into the preseason before going on injured reserve with a right knee injury. He didn't return until late November and only played in four games.
His growth and the overall health of the line could prove key for the offense. It will fall on them to carry Pittsburgh in 2013. Roethlisberger has semi-quietly in the shadow of the defense long enough. If he gets protected, he will show the NFL world why he is every bit as good as Brady, Brees, Rodgers and Manning.