Part of the fun of the NFL preseason is taking a moment to make a bold prediction. Honestly, it could be argued whether this is bold or not depending on interpretation, but in braving the expected backlash, here it is. The Pittsburgh Steelers will not, repeat not, make the 2013 playoffs.
Ben Roethlisberger not equipped to carry the team
Where to start. Well, why not at the top? The Pittsburgh Steelers built their greatness on suffocating defense complimented by a pinpoint, efficient offense. Ben Roethlisberger has played that role better than any quarterback in pro football and has two rings to show for it. The problem is the expectations have grown for him to start carrying the team what with the defense in transition from old vets to new faces. Easier said than done. While the offense has some nice talent on paper, they also have loads of holes they’ve been trying to plug up with untested or unproven players. Nowhere is that clearer than running back. After losing rookie Le’Veon Bell to a troubling Lisfranc injury, Pittsburgh was forced to trade for Felix Jones, who flamed out in Dallas and Philadelphia. Jonathan Dwyer looks good at times but is very inconsistent. Others on the roster have dealt with injury issues too. Most expect things will improve upon their return, but will it? The underlying problem is the offensive line. Put simply, what it has in high draft picks it lacks in any form of reliability. The tackles have struggled in pass protection all preseason, mirroring the problems from last year. Worse still, the interior line execution is lagging both in blocking and penalties. In other words Roethlisberger may or may not get protected, and may or may not have any useful running game. Playoff teams don’t have that problem.
Dick LeBeau will need more than Jarvis Jones on defense
Faith in the defense hasn’t wavered though. Why should it? Coordinator Dick LeBeau has built his Hall of Fame career on working through problems to achieve success, but it’s hard to deny the ones the Steelers face this season. Age has caught up big time with Troy Polamalu. James Harrison is gone, as is Casey Hampton. The team had high hopes that first round pick Jarvin Jones would help usher in the next generation, but already he’s suffered an injury scare, something that was pegged about him coming out of college. The starting lineup has looked strong anyway, but the depth behind them is also a major question mark. To top it all off, their once dependable special teams has taken a major nose dive. In three preseason games they have allowed a block punt, blocked field goal and a 109-yard kickoff return touchdown. These kinds of mistakes can kill teams at the worst possible times, as can the mountain of penalties they have accrued over the same period. Undisciplined and uneven do not a playoff participant make.
Ben Roethlisberger is good enough to affect the destiny of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but not control it. He needs help, and there may not be enough there in 2013 for it to happen.