NFL Preview- Pittsburgh Steelers
As we close out the AFC North, we come upon one of the most decorated franchises in NFL history. The Pittsburgh Steelers may have more Lombardi Trophies than any other franchise in the NFL, but they have been on a slow downturn in recent years. It seems age may just have caught up to them, especially with the faces of the team.
There is no doubt who starting quarterback is in Pittsburgh. The biggest question here is how much does Ben Roethlisberger have left in the tank. Roethlisberger has taken a beating througout his career trying to keep plays alive for a downfield throw but, even his big build, can't have many beatings left in his body before it completely shuts down. The other issue for Big Ben is other than Antonio Brown and, on occasion when healthy, Heath Miller, who can he rely on in the passing game. Will Darius Heyward-Bay be able to replace the departed Emmanuel Sanders-- now a Bronco? Can Lance Moore produce for the Steelers as he did in New Orleans? Questions abound for Pittsburgh, indeed.
At running back, Le'Veon Bell has established himself as the top RB and a more than viable option in the passing game. LeGarrette Blount signed with Pittsburgh to provide depth and a more than capable injury replacement for Bell-- if needed. The question is who will become the third option for the Steelers. That third option could also become a third down option in the passing game, as Bell can't be expected to carry the full load.
On defense, the Steelers are slowly ridding themselves of aging players as former cornerstones such as James Harrison, Lamar Woodley, and Casey Hampton are no longer on the squad. Ryan Clark and Larry Foote are also on new squads. Troy Polamalu remains as the face of the defense, but his tank is closer to empty than it is full these days. While still expected to be a tough defense, will they be able to play at the level that is normally expected of a Steelers' defense?
Let's see how Pittsburgh's 2014 season looks like:
Week 1- The Steelers open up at home against division rival Cleveland Browns. I see Pittsburgh losing this contest if Brian Hoyer is the starter at QB for the Browns, but winning if it is the rookie Johnny Manziel. For all intents and purposes let's say it is Hoyer for this first match-up. Pittsburgh starts 0-1.
Week 2- Pittsburgh heads to Baltimore and the hated Ravens. Baltimore has a better overall team this early in the season. Steelers still winless at 0-2.
Week 3- They now head to Carolina and the ever dangerous Cam Newton. The Panthers' defense will give Roethlisberger quite a beating and get to him on numerous occasions. They stay winless at 0-3.
Week 4- Steelers head back home against a tough Buccaneers team. While it stays close, Pittsburgh finds a way to win. Pittsburgh now 1-3.
Week 5- Pittsburgh heads to Jacksonville and they get themselves an easy win. Steelers improve to 2-3.
Week 6- Pittsburgh heads to Cleveland for the return game with the Browns. Let's by this week Manziel is now under center for the Browns. Steelers go on to win and reach .500 at 3-3.
Week 7- They host the Houston Texans, and get a win over a struggling Titans' offense. They now stand 4-3.
Week 8- They stay home for the Colts, but are unable to keep their winning streak going. The Steelers drop back to .500 at 4-4.
Week 9- Pittsburgh stays home to host bitter rival Baltimore. Much like the first game went, the Ravens win and get the sweep. Pittsburgh drops to 4-5.
Week 10- They now head to East Rutherford, NJ to face the improved New York Jets. Another tough defense makes for a long day for Roethlisberger and company. They drop to 4-6.
Week 11- The Steelers head to Tennessee for the rematch from last year's opener for both teams-- which the Titans won behind a strong defensive performance. Pittsburgh is able to return the favor and get a win just before their bye week. Now 5-6.
Week 12- A very late and extremely needed week off for the Steelers arrives.
Week 13- They host the New Orleans Saints to begin a brutal closing stretch to end their season. Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham connect for a pair of big touchdowns. Steelers drop to 5-7.
Week 14- Pittsburgh heads to Cincinnati. The Bengals' defense get to Big Ben at least three times and force him into a couple crucial turnovers. They are now 5-8.
Week 15- They head to Atlanta and a potentially dangerous game with the Falcons. Both teams go back and forth for at least three quarters before Big Ben leads his offense to the late game-winning score. Pittsburgh improves to 6-8.
Week 16- Steelers host the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs' pass rush drops Big Ben a few times, making for a long day. Steelers now 6-9.
Week 17- They close out their season home against the Bengals. They play better at home, but drop another tough game. They finish at 6-10.
Pittsburgh has a lot of questions they need to answer in the near future and start planning to find replacements for Roethlisberger and Polamalu-- the leaders on offense and defense, respectively. The best possible outcome for the Steelers might be 8-8, but a losing season seems more likely this year.