When a fan looks at a team, they usually identify a trait with that team. When you look at Green Bay, you see frigid and cold weather. When you look at Baltimore, you see a mean and nasty defense. When you look at New England, you see the ragged looking hoodie worn by their coach. For many years when you thought of the Pittsburgh Steelers you saw a very hard-nosed, ram it down your throat running game. Oh the times, they are a changing. I will tell you that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be the next great passing team in the NFL during the 2012 season.
Rashard Mendenhall has been the lead running back for the past few seasons with the Steelers. In week 17 he was injured with a torn ACL. He is doubtful for the start of the season, if he can even play at all. His backup is Isaac Redman and he played well in the playoff loss to Denver last year. Can he handle the workload for an entire season?? That is a big question going into the 2012 season. The Steelers also selected running back Chris Rainey out of Florida in the draft, but he is small in size and would not be able to handle the workload of a lead running back. He does remind many of one of the great receiving running backs in the NFL in Darren Sproles. I can see the Steelers utilizing him in that manner often during the coming season.
The always-great defense of the Steelers took a big hit this off-season with the losses of cornerback William Gay, inside linebacker James Farrior, and defensive end Aaron Smith. It has seemed for years that Pittsburgh has been able to recover nicely from losses to the defense. Can that continue this year?? They are also getting older and slower on the defense. I think the losses of personnel and the aging causes the defense to give up more points than what is usually expected from a Pittsburgh defense.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been the victim of a bad offensive line for years and has taken a beating. Remember him playing on a bad foot toward the end of the year?? It cost me a spot in one of my Fantasy League Super Bowls last year. The front office finally made the correct decision and drafted some offensive lineman in the draft. In the first round they drafted guard David DeCastro out of Stanford and in the second round they drafted Tackle Mike Adams from Ohio State. This a big upgrade that has been needed for years and both should start right away. This will help keep Big Ben standing and leave more time to find an open receiver. This will also help free up tight end Heath Miller. Miller has been held low in receptions the past several seasons because he has had to stay on the line and help pass protect because of the week offensive line. He will now be free to run more routes downfield.
It was feared that Pittsburgh could lose Mike Wallace this year because of his Restricted Free Agent status. It seems most teams were afraid of how much money he would have wanted because nobody made an offer for the wide receiver superstar. Wallace made big noise during the 2011 off-season by stating that he wanted to be the first wide receiver to reach 2000 receiving yards during a season. He started the season with several nice games and looked to be in for a huge year. The injury to Roethlisberger and the emergence of Antonio Brown slowed him somewhat in the 2nd half of the season but still played well enough to start in the Pro Bowl last year. With him know able to be an unrestricted free agent after this year, I believe Wallace plays with a chip on his shoulder and has a very big year.
Did you know that once Antonio Brown took over the starting gig from Hines Ward that he actually averaged more catches and more yards then Mike Wallace?? Yep, during the final 10 weeks of 2011 Brown averaged 5.1 catches for 84.6 yards per game compared to 3.9 catches for 58.1 yards per game for Wallace. Now that he is fully entrenched as the starter and will have training camp as a starter also under his belt you can expect Brown's numbers to increase across the board.
Emmanual Sanders was the slotted to compete with Antonio Brown last year as the heir apparent to the #2 wide receiver position. However his season was sidetracked due to injury. He is now back to full health and has the speed to blend in nicely with both Wallace and Brown. I think he tries to make up for lost time and plays very well when given the opportunity. Jerricho Cotchery is the quiet man in Pittsburgh. He has the skill set to play the tough guy wide receiver vacated by Hines Ward and will come up with several clutch catches for the Steelers this year.
New offensive coordinator Todd Haley has stated that the Steelers offensive playbook will change and more passes will be the norm in Pittsburgh. The offense is loaded with the personnel to make the change happen quickly. I believe the defense gives up more points then usual and the offense will be asked to score more points and be more explosive. Look for big numbers across the board from the skill-position players and for Big Ben and Heath Miller to establish career best marks in what will become the next great passing offense in the NFL.