Offense: The Steelers made it through some shaky times on this side of the ball early last season while Ben Roethlisberger served his four-game suspension. When he returned, he didn't show any signs of rust. He appeared calmer, more mature. The passing game should be even better as Mike Wallace continues to grow as a deep threat and other young receivers, including Antonio Brown, improve as well. Rashard Mendenhall keys the run game. He is a tough, powerful runner who is perfect for what the Steelers do. The offensive line always seems to be in flux. The Steelers have trouble at left tackle, but don't they always? Having a mobile player like Roethlisberger helps cover up the limitations of the line. Tight end Heath Miller is a great blocker and a good receiver.
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Defense: The Steelers are all about defense. It's their calling card. They play a nasty, physical style led by outside rushers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. As they go, so goes the defense. They are both outstanding rush players. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons is a rising star. He has the speed to chase down a lot of runners and excel in coverage. The front has some age that is becoming a concern, but young players like Ziggy Hood and rookie Cameron Heyward will help offset that. Nose tackle Casey Hampton remains a force against the run. The secondary isn't great at corner, but they did re-sign Ike Taylor, who played well last season. Safety Troy Polamalu was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, but he has to stay on the field. He misses too many games. He also isn't great in coverage. As a unit, there is a nice mix of young and old talent.
Coaching and schemes: Mike Tomlin took over the Steelers four seasons ago and has won two AFC titles and a Super Bowl championship. He has the right rapport with his players, who seem to respect and like him. He also does a great job delegating. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is one of the best ever. His 3-4 schemes are the model for the rest of the league. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians took some heat a few years ago, but he seems to have won over the fans and has done a good job of making the Steelers a better passing team.
Outlook: With Roethlisberger back to open the season, it's hard to imagine the Steelers not being in the Super mix again. There is a lot of young talent that is playing more and more as the team transitions at key spots, and that's not a bad thing. The defense will once again be among the best in the NFL.
Predicted finish: 11-5, first in AFC North.