Is it an overreaction to simply one bad game on opening day? Perhaps. Still it’s very hard to deny that the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t look any better than last year. So here is why the opening game was a sign of things to come and that Pittsburgh will end up with their first draft pick in the top ten since 2000.
Ben Roethlisberger sacked five time and lost Maurkice Pouncey
The best place to make a point is right at the root of the problem. In years past the Pittsburgh Steelers offense wasn’t an overpowering juggernaut but it certainly was effective, efficient and able to score points when it had to. A big reason for their success was a solid offensive line, at times featuring Pro Bowl talents like center Jeff Hartings and guard Alan Faneca. Clearly the past few years replacing those staples has been a failure for the Steelers front office. Every major draft pick they’ve made towards improving pass protection and run blocking has either met with disastrous injury or simple ineffective play. This has exposed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to some serious beatings by opposing defenses, like the one he took opening day against the Tennessee Titans when they sacked him five times. If that weren’t bad enough, news dropped soon afterwards that center Maurkice Pouncey, the only Pro Bowler on the line was done for the year with a knee injury. Things just went from bad to worse.
Jake Locker only sacked once by Steelers defense
On the flip side, Pittsburgh failed to put much pressure on Titans quarterback Jake Locker during the game. Pro Bowl linebacker LaMarr Woodley was able to get home for the Steelers only sack of the day. Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds and rookie Jarvis Jones all failed to get to the quarterback. That doesn’t mean the defense played poorly. They only allowed 125 passing yards and allowed just 2.7 yards per carry by the Titans ground game. Still, Locker is not the best quarterback they’re going to play in 2013. Much better ones are to come and infrequent pressure is going to become a serious problem no matter how much scheming Hall of Fame coordinator Dick LeBeau does.
Isaac Redman and running game were next to useless
The real source of pain for the Pittsburgh Steelers offense though was an enemic running game. Ever since their defeat in Super Bowl XLV, the unit has gradually weakened due to injury and declining talent. It all culminated in a rather pathetic effort against the Titans that saw Isaac Redman, who was a career backup before 2013, manage just nine yards on eight carries and also fumbled twice. The Steelers as a team put up 32 rushing yards total, which went a long way towards getting Roethlisberger hit repeatedly because he was forced to pass more often. Many say a big reason it was so bad was due to the injury to rookie Le’Veon Bell who was expected to lift the ground game off the canvas. That and the fact Pittsburgh inexplicably released veteran Jonathan Dwyer, who at least was serviceable as a starter last season led to what happened. Though that mistake was corrected when Dwyer was brought back, it may be too late because of the Pouncey injury.
Losing to the Tennessee Titans for the second season in a row has to raise a red flag about the prospects for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t figure to get better protection as the year goes on with Maurkice Pouncey out. The defense is still well coached but has lost a lot of its bite in the pass rush. As for the running game, the only hope left is that Le’Veon Bell can rescue it when he returns. That is too much to overcome, and is why the Steelers will land in the top ten of the 2014 NFL draft.