DiMarino: Looking Back At The Steelers \”Regular\” Season

By Christopher DiMarino

The regular season has just ended, and for the first time since 2009, the Pittsburgh Steelers aren\’t playing football in January. I think that word fits the bill perfectly, “regular”. The Steelers were very regular this season.  This fits because for every win, there was a loss, for every advantage, a disadvantage. While there were glimpses of a spectacular alter ego, it ended up just being visions of a distant doppelganger. It was a bittersweet season that ended much more bitter than I’d prefer, but that’s part of this industry. I want to take this opportunity to look back on what parts created the body of work that the Steelers exhibited during the 2012 season.

High Notes:

Offense

#10 Ranked 3rd Down Conversion Rate (42.0%)

#8 Ranked Passing Touchdowns (27)

#9 Ranked Kick Return Average (25.3 yards per kickoff return)

#7 Ranked Field Goal Percentage (90.3%)

Defense

#1 Ranked Total Defense (4413 yards)

#1 Ranked Pass Defense (2963 yards)

#2 Ranked Rush Defense (1450 yards)

#6 Ranked Points Defense (314 points)

#1 Ranked Opponent First Downs (273)

#5 Ranked Opponent 3rd Down Conversion Rate (35.4%)

#6 Ranked Opposing Completion Percentage (57.2%)

#8 Ranked Opposing Quarterback Rating (79.0)

#6 Ranked Opposing Rushing Touchdowns (9)

#3 Ranked Receiving Average (10.6 yards per reception)

Low Notes:

Offense

#21 Ranked Total Offense (5324 yards)

#26 Ranked Rushing Offense (1537 yards)

#22 Ranked Scoring Offense (336 points)

#28 Ranked Rushing Average (3.7 yards per carry)

#27 Ranked Rushing Touchdowns (8)

#21 Ranked Rushing Fumbles (8)

#26 Ranked Rushing Fumbles Lost (6)

#23 Ranked Receiving Average (11.3 yards per reception)

#32 Receiving Fumbles (12)

#32 Receiving Fumbles Lost (7)

#28 Ranked Punt Return Average (7.3 yards per punt return)

Defense

#29 Ranked Opponent 4th Down Conversion Rate (72.7%)

#29 Ranked Interceptions (10)

#26 Ranked Punt Average (43.6 yards per punt)

#25 Ranked Net Punt Average (39.2 yards per punt)

#26 Ranked Turnover Differential (-10)

What Does 2013 Hold?

From that spread it is easy to see that the defense did many things well and the offense lacked in several areas. I think it is a clear wake up for all of those who thought the Steelers had an elite offense. While injuries and other excuses clouded some of the stats, I think it is clear that the Steelers boast a mediocre offense that can excel in certain situations. The heart of this team continues to be its defense, which is always called too old. While I\’ll lay off the subject because there is a good chance a few of the experienced defensive players won\’t be back next year, it\’s safe to say that the Steelers “old” defense had a phenomenal season.

Going forward is always tough at this point. There is a good chance the defense will be without James Harrison, Casey Hampton, Larry Foote and Keenan Lewis next season. Jason Worilds, Steve McLendon, Sean Spence and Cortez Allen all look like they could step up to fill in the gaps but none are without at least some question marks. Worilds hasn\’t shown the big game impact that the outside linebackers for the Steelers need to possess. Allen is an excellent 3rd corner but has been victimized a little bit and draws penalty flags. McLendon would be the safest bet, but he was unable to wrestle too many reps from Hampton this year. Spence is almost a complete gamble at this point as he\’s gone from a questionable choice to a likely option based on skill set.

The offense should have a gentler transition but its success could hinge on Todd Haley staying or leaving. Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall are as good as gone and a trio of offensive lineman (Ramon Foster, Max Starks and Doug Legursky) may also be absent next year. That doesn\’t even begin to unravel the situation at backup quarterback. I don\’t think Starks or Legursky will receive much attention which really only leaves Foster as a possible unforecasted loss. As a side note, I think Byron Leftwich proved that he is not an NFL caliber player anymore.

Early draft analysis have the Steelers considering a few positions that should have free agent vacancies. This is exciting as high round picks will likely get a serious chance to start the 2013-14 season. Outside linebacker, safety, wide receiver, running back and backup quarterback could all be top 3 round picks which is an exciting idea. The possible free agent losses and cap situation would give the impression that the Steelers are in the position to drop both offensively and defensively next year. The possibility of a young impact player getting drafted could drastically effect next season, especially at running back.

With the current playoffs underway, now is a good time to get some closure on the season that just ended for the Steelers. It\’s important to turn to stats as a guide to what might be regarded as areas of improvement that might warrant deeper looks in the draft but outside of that, roster and draft analysis are ahead. I\’m excited to start looking into the 2013 draft class especially with the host of bowl games that just ended, though its saddening that the two most intriguing players in my opinion Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel aren\’t draft eligible. I will wait until the playoffs have concluded to get into the analysis, but 17th pick will be the next big area of focus.

  • Kysteeler

    Looks like we need to hold on to the ball, and improve the running game. Warmack looks like he could help improve in those areas at the 17 spot. Punting could have def been better, but I like Butler.

  • Cols714

    I’m guessing that Harrison, Foote (depending of the draft), and Hampton all come back. Harrison and Hampton will probably still start. They were rounding into form at the end of the year.

    Foote will likely come back as a backup or his replacement will be drafted this year.

    As far as Lewis, I hope they get him back, but Cortez Allen looked great last year and maybe they want to hold the long term CB contract for him.

  • Cols714

    They aren’t going to draft a guard in the 1st round two years in a row. Colon will be back, there just isn’t enough savings to justify cutting him. They’ll keep him one more year.

    Realistically if the OL is healthy (a big if with this group) then it’s a good enough OL.

    They’ll look for defense early in this draft, with WR and RB also possible in the top 3 rounds.

  • Maurice_hill_district

    Position needs are known.

    This reminds me some fans though will now scream to spend our pick on one particular guy over another, & they’ll all be wrong because its too early to know, notice mock drafts this early in year are usually all wrong, except a #1 overall pick if an elite QB prospect is in the draft.

    So enjoy draft talk folks, I do too, just know whichever players u now clammer to pick at which number on the board of the hundreds of eligibles, u will be wrong anyway.

  • steeltown

    If Foote returns, he’ll start, there is nobody else to man that position, they hardly even gave Sly (or B.Johnson for that matter) ANY reps on Defense. I think they almost certainly bring back Foote for one more year.

    I dont think Hampton comes back, they have McLendon and two young guys in Ta’amu and the recently acquired Fangupo, both have upside

  • steeltown

    I know this is all speculation by DiMarino, but how could you include so many players in the “as good as gone” talk. Harrison, Foote, Lewis, Hampton, Wallace, Mendenhall, Foster Starks, Legs.. ALL gone?? If they release Harrison and let Wallace & Mendy walk, they’ll have enough room to sign guys like K.Lewis & Foote and maybe even Foster, especially if Colon doesnt come back… guess we’ll see

  • steeltown

    Agreed. I like to try and make an educated guess, but it is exactly that, a guess… although the middle Rds I have had alittle more success. Last year I hit on Ta’amu though I had them taking him in the 3rd, and I had them taking Curtis Brown and Marcus Gilbert the year before

  • Maurice_hill_district

    I aree with all those points.

  • steeltown

    Im confused. I was of the mind that we were approx $20million over cap heading into the 2013 Football year, now I read that John Clayton has us approx $11million over, thats a big difference… am I reading that right?

  • Cols714

    Good point on Foote. I still think Hampton comes back. He looked good down the stretch. If he leaves we are stuck with McLendond who looks good but then his backup is Taamu who we don’t really know about. I think the DL will look a lot like it did this year.

  • Cols714

    My advice is to ignore basically all the salary cap talk. The Steelers always find a way to end up signing the guys they want to sign and get under the cap without cutting a bunch of good players.

    The exception this year might be Mike Wallace.

    Every single year we hear about how the Steelers are doomed because of the salary cap. Then every single year we are competitive without having to cut a bunch of players.

  • steeltown

    Very True…. but this is a big difference in amount, that’s basically half of what it was projected to be a few weeks ago. If the Steelers are truly only $10.8million over cap then that equates to even more wiggle room, after restructurings of course

  • steeltown

    True and Hampton stayed healthy too.. which is a plus

  • http://www.facebook.com/evony.sirshags Evony Sir Shags

    Steelers have money to sign everyone for what they want to spend…Wallace could have been signed last year but he felt he was worth more than what the Steelers thought.

  • Tim Culligan

    think hes just trying to account for the most extreme scenario when it comes to guys leaving. I agree with you though, if a good amount of those guys walk there’ll be room to sign a few guys back.

  • Tim Culligan

    Butlers gotta go. The way the Steelers are built we should expect a good amount of close field position games, and Steelers were horrible at that. Its so fustrating to see the Raiders, Ravens and Browns punters all blast 55 yarders and down punts inside the 10 when Drew’s are good for 40/45 yards and a touchback.

  • Tim Culligan

    though Colon looked good in the beginning of the year when he was pulling. Pouncey tried to play that position but couldnt get much going.

  • Tim Culligan

    I read that 10 Improvements article in the tribune… Nice piece but he just pointed out problems, didn’t offer any ideas for how to solve them… thats when i jumped back over here.