Pittsburgh Steelers 2014-15 Team Preview
The Pittsburgh Steelers finished 8-8 last season, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season. The Steelers started the season 0-4, but finished 6-2 over the final eight games.
If not for a couple tough losses caused by late game miscues, the team easily could have finished with eight consecutive wins. Will that momentum carry into 2014?
Odds to win Superbowl: 28/1
Odds to win AFC: 12/1
Odds to win AFC North: +200
Betting Odds courtesy of Bovada
The offense last season became very formidable down the stretch of the 2013-14 season. Running back Le’Veon Bell emerged as a go-to thread offensively and will continue to grow in his second pro season. Tight end Heath Miller will be healthy this season and Pro Bowl center Maurice Pouncey will be back in the fold after missing nearly all of last year. Rookies Martavis Bryant and Dri Archer will also add a lot of potency in the red zone.
A primary focus of offensive coordinator Todd Haley will be reducing the number of big hits that Big Ben Roethlisberger receives in hopes of keeping him healthy. He was sacked 42 times last season, yet that was the second-fewest of his career (in seasons in which he payed at least 15 games). Over the final seven games, though, he incurred just seven sacks.
Big Ben threw 584 passing attempts last season and had five 300-plus yard passing games. Part of it, however, was due to how often Pittsburgh found itself playing from behind. Roethlisberger is 32 and has 10 seasons under his belt, but the Steelers need to make the playoffs at least this season. He has one more year before his contract year, and the biggest goal is making sure he reaches that point in full-health.
The Steelers’ biggest turnaround could be in the backfield. The team finished just 27th last year, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry. This season, three major changes could account for the drastic turnaround expected.
First off, Bell will be entering his second season, and he already showcased himself as a premier player as a rookie.
Secondly, LeGarrette Blount was signed in free agency, and he had 355 yards and six touchdowns last year with the New England Patriots.
Finally, Dri Archer was the fastest back in the NFL draft and should make an immediate impact in helping the team change the pace. Last season, Pittsburgh had just four 100-yard rushers. Bell was taken No. 2 overall in 2013, though, and could make his ascent to being one of the best backs in the NFL this season.
WR Antonio Brown should be primed for a big season. He made the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career and did well without Mike Wallace manning the other side. Brown had 1,499 receiving yards on 110 catches, while becoming the first player in NFL history to have at least five catches and 50 yards in every single game of the season (16 games required).
The Steelers will search for an answer for their No. 2 spot on the depth chart, though, since Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery were lost in free agency. The tandem comined for 113 catches last season, and it’s not clear who will fill that void. Markus Wheaton, last year’s third round selection, will have every chance to replace Sanders, and his speed could render him a better option in the long run. Martavis Bryant will give Roethisberger a taller option for a receiver, too, at 6’4.”
The offensive line is pretty weak, but bringing in Munchak to coach it should make at least a moderate difference. Injuries have been partly to blame for the OL’s struggles, and it has some young talent, but lacks proven performers. The biggest issues that plague the line, particularly poor fundamentals and its inconsistency, could be remedied by Munchak’s tutelage. But until the final product is seen, it’s hard to call this group anything but very average, at best.
The Steelers tried to bring in some speedier lineman this season and guys who are capable of playing sub packages and generating pressure. The defensive line is far bigger, and that Daniel McCullers and Stephon Tuitt are both refrigerator sized. The team is still seeking lineman that are able to play the nickel and dime defenses, but the run defense needs to improve. Steve McLendon replaced a five-time Pro Bowler at nose tackle last season, and it didn’t go all too well. His style of play is a lot different than Hampton’s and he’s not as imposing on blockers.
Linebacker Jason Worilds had a phenomenal second half to last season. He finished with seven sacks, 17 pressures and 42 tackles over the final seven games of the season, and the Bills decided at that point to let Woodley and his albatross contract walk off. The Steelers didn’t put a ton of pressure on QBs and logged just 34 sacks in 2013. Rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier from Ohio State will be a huge difference maker. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash and will be paired with Lawrence Timmons (155 tackles last year). Sean Spence will add depth.
The secondary is where the defense has its weak link. After having been great at pass coverage for three straight seasons, it fell apart in 2013. The Steelers allowed seven pass plays for 50-plus yards (worst in NFL) while four of those were greater than 60 yards. Free agent signee Mike Mitchell will help replace Clark in the secondary, but the team did not really add any of the depth it lost. CB Ike Taylor will be back for one last year. Troy Polamalu probably won’t have to play linebacker much this season with Shazier joining the fold, and that’s a good thing since he’s 33 years old and needs his body for the big plays.
Kicker Shaun Suisham is one of the best in the league. He made 62-of-68 attempts last season (91.1%) and missed just once of 22 attempts between 40 and 49 yards. His only two misses last season came in Oakland and he’s largely responsible for keeping the Steelers in low scoring affairs.
The punting situation is far less rosy. The Steelers have tried five different punters and there’s no clear cut option this season, either. Brad Wing and Adam Podlesh will battle for the spot, and maybe one surprises, but there’s no indication that either could be anything more than replacement-level.
Rookie RB Dri Archer should make for interesting returns though. Archer excelled in Kent State’s high scoring attack and he’s expected to be an excellent kick returner. The Steelers didn’t have a kick returned for more than 46 yards last season, and only six were longer than 28 yards. Archer’s speed is a lock to turn that around.
The Steelers late season push last year showed the team’s true potential, and that’s why Bovada isn’t sleeping on this squad to capture the AFC, setting the odds at 12/1. Roethlisberger’s health is the big story for this team, and the biggest factor in its possible success. Bell is going to be among the league’s best running backs, and Dri Archer will make an impact sooner than later. It may be a stretch to call this team a true Superbowl contender, but it would be a bigger stretch to call it a non-playoff team. That may be a bit ambiguous, but given the team’s strange performance last season, it calls for ambiguity.