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.
#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%)
#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)
#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)
#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.