|No playoffs for the Steelers in 2012. (CBSSports.com)|
As each NFL team is officially eliminated from postseason contention, the Eye on Football crew will whip up a review of that team's 2012 season. Today, we look at the Steelers. For more of our End of the Road series, click here.
What went wrong
Early in the season, it was the defense, then it was injuries and finally, it was the franchise quarterback.
Losses to the Raiders and Titans had almost everything to do with a defense that suddenly couldn't stop anybody. It led to the annual "yep, too old" platitudes, which held some truth but didn't tell the whole story. Lawrence Timmons is quietly becoming one of the NFL's best inside linebackers and cornerback Keenan Lewis emerged as a legit playmaker opposite Ike Taylor. Then there's defensive end Ziggy Hood, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and nickel cornerback Cortez Allen who all played well in spot duty.
By the time the defense rounded into form, the Steelers were 6-3. Then Ben Roethlisberger went down with a shoulder and rib injury. Teammates followed like dominoes -- left guard Willie Colon, right tackle Marcus Gilbert, backup right tackle Mike Adams, wideout Antonio Brown, backup quarterback Byron Leftwich and so on. And this list doesn't include Troy Polamalu and rookie first-round right guard David DeCastro, both of whom missed most of the first two-thirds of the season with injuries of their own.
By the time Roethlisberger returned to the lineup, Pittsburgh was 7-5. The team hasn't won since, and the last two games directly resulted in losses because of crucial Big Ben interceptions. Now at 7-8, the Steelers will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
What went right
Despite the undercurrent of issues between the franchise QB and the volatile offensive coordinator, Todd Haley's "dink and dunk" (but in a good way!) offense not only kept Big Ben upright (he was sacked just 13 times through the first 10 games) but also had people talking about him as a possible MVP candidate. Then Roethlisberger was injured, the sacks and interceptions started piling up, and those earlier conversations seemed like a distant memory.
When Haley arrived in the spring, one of the first things he said he wanted to do was get tight end Heath Miller more involved in the offense. Through 15 games, Miller leads the teams in receptions (71) and is tied for first in touchdowns (8). And on Wednesday, a day after he was placed on injured reserve after tearing up his knee in Sunday's loss to the Bengals, Miller was named to his first Pro Bowl.
The offensive line, when healthy (which was rare), did an adequate job of protecting Roethlisberger. Center Maurkice Pouncey also earned a Pro Bowl nod and Colon transitioned smoothly to left guard after six years at right tackle.
The team suspended running back Rashard Mendenhall in Week 15 for conduct detrimental to the team, but he was active against the Bengals and there's even a chance he returns to Pittsburgh next season. That can't be said for Mike Wallace, who didn't show up for offseason workouts or training camp and went on to have a mediocre year. The Steelers won't use the franchise tag on him, and if Wallace insists on being paid more than $10 million a year, he'll be playing elsewhere in 2013. The organization will also have to decide what to do with 35-year-old nose tackle Casey Hampton, not to mention 34-year-old outside linebacker James Harrison, who was sidelined early in 2012 with a knee injury.
There has also been speculation that Haley could be the favorite to replace Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona. The two worked together there during the Cardinals' Super Bowl run following the '08 season. If that happens, we think the Steelers should give serious consideration to hiring Whisenhunt as the offensive coordinator, a job he had under Bill Cowher in 2005 and 2006. More likely, however, coach Mike Tomlin would elevate running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who was in line for the job last offseason before he was seriously injured in a house fire.
Despite their record, the Steelers don't have a ton of needs. Adding depth on defense could be a priority, especially with Taylor, Polamalu, and safety Ryan Clark all in their 30s. Inside linebacker Larry Foote is also long in the tooth but he's fared well as James Farrior's replacement. Plus, youngsters Stevenson Sylvester and Sean Spence are already on the roster. NFLDraftScout.com's Rob Rang has the Steelers taking defensive tackle Jesse Williams (Alabama) with the 14th pick, while Dane Brugler likes cornerback Johnathan Banks (Mississippi State).
2013 will be ...
... Another year in which the Steelers are preseason favorites to make a playoff run. If Haley returns, the offense should be more efficient, and if the team can avoid a bevy of injuries, they have the depth to compete for the division title. Even if Wallace walks, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Miller provide Roethlisberger with plenty of big-play options. The running game, however, needs to improve, whether it's Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman or a yet-to-be-identified dark horse candidate.
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