2014 Steelers will have many changes, Ryan Clark may be one of them.
Now that I’ve had a week to think about it (and get over it), here’s my final thoughts about the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 season.
It’s been two disappointing winters for Steeler Nation, three if you count the shocking overtime wild card playoff loss to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos at the end of the 2011 Season. The Steelers have a lot of work to do in order to regain their form as one of the NFLs top Super Bowl contenders, but the way they finished the season—winning 3 of their last 4 games and 6 of their last 8—showed they steadily improved over 2013 and have a better outlook on 2014 then it looked after the first four games of the season.
The offensive line improved greatly considering all the different lineups used due to injuries during the season. In the last four games they only gave up 6 sacks, compared to 15 in the first four games. On the season they gave up 42, still a high number, but they were on pace for 60. The fact that this offensive line found their way is why Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to play in all 16 games and take every offensive snap. It’s another reason why I feel that all this unit needs is more time together, not more turnover. Sign those free agents like Fenando Velasco and use early draft picks elsewhere. I’ll get to that.
Even though he wasn’t selected for the Pro Bowl, Roethlisberger passed for 4,261 yards (266.3 YPG) and 28 touchdowns with a 92.0 QBR on the season to go along with a running game that finally looked like STEELER football led by a healthy Le’Veon Bell—who rushed for 860 yards and 8 TDs and broke Hall Of Famer Franco Harris’ rookie record for total yards from scrimmage with 1,259 yards, all after missing the first three games of the season. So the offense looks to be fine going into 2014, especially when you take into account they’ll be getting back an All-Pro in Maurkice Pouncey.
Roethlisberger will be back, but what about Troy?
The area that needs the most work is the defense, specifically the secondary. Troy Polumalu is going to be 33 years old in 2014. He finished the season playing more of a run stopping hybrid linebacker then in coverage. Ike Taylor will be 34, Ryan Clark 36. One or all those Steeler greats may have played their final game in a black and gold jersey. Loyalty aside, that may be in the best interest for the organization.
I said earlier in the season, the steelers need to spend their first three picks on selecting the best defensive back available at the time their number is called during the 2014 Draft in May. They will select 15th overall and need to target Jim Thorpe Award winning cornerback Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State, Safety Ha’Sean Clinton Dix from Alabama, Cornerback Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State and USC Safety Dion Bailey if he decides to forgo his Senior Season. All of them are projected to be available when the Steelers pick.
Right now I’ve seen two updated, prominent Mock Drafts that have the Steelers drafting USC wideout Marquis Lee (WalterFootball.com) and Offensive Tackle Greg Robinson from Auburn (bleacherreport.com). I already addressed the Offensive line situation and there’s no need to select a wideout this early when GM Kevin Colbert has had great success drafting pro bowl caliber wide receivers in later rounds—see Antonio Brown, selected pick in the 6th round at puck 195 In 2010; Mike Wallace at pick 84 of the 3rd round In 2009. The last time Pittsburgh used a first round pick on a defensive back was Troy Polumalu at pick 16 In 2003. It’s time to change that.
The line backer core is solidified with Lawrence Timmons, Lamar Woodley, Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. Worilds is one of the many free agents, and should be a top priority to resign. The Defensive line appears to be in better shape headed into the offseason with the emergence of Cameron Heyward and Ziggy Hood. So the onus is on the coaching staff and management to improve a secondary that showed its age by allowing several big plays of more than the season.
After starting 0-4, the Steelers showed major growth over the final three quarters of the season, giving more hope to fans of a better 2014 to come. The work begins now, this is where the black and gold needs to show up and prove why they are viewed as “The Standard.”
Coach Tomlin will ensure the Black & Gold returns to “The Standard.”