Four Worst-Case Scenarios Steelers Hope To Avoid In 2013

By Jeremy Hritz

We have spent much of this offseason discussing the potential for the Pittsburgh Steelers to return to the post-season and to make a deep run towards a seventh championship. And there are many reasons to be optimistic, especially with an influx of young talent in the 2013 draft class in Jarvis Jones, Le’Veon Bell, and Markus Wheaton; a franchise quarterback that is in the prime of his career; and an offensive line that appears to have the elements needed to make up a highly effective unit. With that said, offseason potentials are not always actualized, and the vision for the season, more often than not, diverts from a neat and tidy path to success.

Every team has certain worst-case scenarios they are looking to avoid in the upcoming season, and for the Steelers, there are definite situations that avoiding will be critical to their success. If the Steelers can steer clear of the following misfortunes, 2013 will assuredly be an improvement on the mediocre 8-8 of a season ago.

Worst Case Scenario # 1: Cortez Allen Tanks

The Steelers took a risk in letting Keenan Lewis, who played admirably in his first season as a starter, go to the New Orleans Saints. As a result of that move, the Steelers put their faith in third year player Cortez Allen. Allen, who accounted for three forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2012, is being depended on to not only maintain the solid play of Lewis, but also to boost the ability of the defense to create turnovers. While Allen has flashed big play potential, his sample size of experience is not large enough for unquestioned confidence. Allen has to, at minimum, match the level of play established by Lewis, in order for the change to be considered a success. But, if Allen struggles and consistently gives up big plays, the defense could be in for a long season and letting Lewis walk will be considered a horrible decision.

Worst Case Scenario # 2: Le’Veon Bell Is No Bell Cow

It is no secret that the running game has been below the line the past two seasons, and that Bell is being expected to carry the load in the backfield in 2013. Todd Haley pointed out that Bell’s high-level of production came behind an average offensive line at Michigan State and that his game will translate well to the NFL. The Steelers are counting on this coming to fruition, as Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer proved they could not get it done for an entire season in 2012. As a rookie, Bell is staring down some very high expectations, and he must show that he can meet them in order for the running game to improve.

Worst Case Scenario # 3: Offensive Line Musical Chairs Continues

It seems that the Steelers have been cursed on the offensive line over the last several season, as injury after injury has knocked out starter after starter. Injuries last season to Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Mike Adams, and Marcus Gilbert hindered any sense of continuity and led to an ineffective running game and spotty pass protection. Currently as it stands, outside of a recovering Adams, the offensive line is healthy, and this is something that has to continue throughout the season if the Steelers are to compete. If the injuries continue to work their way up and down the offensive line next season, 8-8 or worse is a very real possibility.

Worst Case Scenario # 4: The Clock Strikes Midnight on Big Ben’s Season

Ben Roethlisberger now, more than ever, is the heartbeat of the team, and his value to the success of the Steelers is immeasurable. If Roethlisberger suffers a season ending injury in 2013, a postseason opportunity will be lost. While Bruce Gradkowski will be a more than serviceable backup, it would be absurd to expect him to play at Roethlisberger’s level. The importance of Roethlisberger staying healthy is more crucial than ever, and it must be a focus of the offense if the Steelers want to compete.

Hopefully next season, Allen proves to be a beast, Bell rushes for over 1500 yards, the offensive line asserts itself as a dominant force, and Big Ben enjoys his healthiest season ever. Unfortunately, every season has its adversity. With that in mind, which of these worst-case scenarios would the Steelers be able to overcome on their way to a Super Bowl victory? And which one would be the deathblow?

  • israelp

    Interesting the receivers and tight ends are not on this list, especially with Heath’s injury.

  • grw1960

    My main concern with the O Line is Gilbert. In his rookie year he was passable. In his 2nd season , Gilbert did not finish plays and as a result spent to much time rolling around on the ground. Which in turn cause some of the injuries to the other O line players.
    I am really hoping Gilbert plays is much improved this season.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Gilbert is very mediocre when it come to run blocking but he’s actually one of our better pass-blocking O-linemen. People talk about Gilbert’s lackluster ability to hold his ground which caused other O-linemen to roll and fall over, injurying themselves but the truth is much more simplier.

    The fact that DeCastro, Willie Colon, and Ramon Foster have played beside Gilbert and only two got hurt. DeCastro was a rookie, Willie Colon doesn’t deserve to be a starter and Ramon Foster managed to do just fine. I will tell you this much, those injuries are just freaklishly coincidence and accident, when an interior defensive lineman bull-rush which force Gilbert to shift inside or balance between this opponent and other incoming opponent on the edge of course your offensive tackle willfall onto ground. The injuries are mainly toward our youngsters with lack of experience or injury-prone and it happens. In future I doubt it will continue but hopefully the injury bug will go away as our O-linemen got older and within more experience they will learn when to let a man go, not doing too much.

    That’s just a part of game, Gilbert will never trick us for an all-pro tackle but if you ask me, yes I would say Gilbert is more effective in pass-blocking than Max Starks would have be. Of course, I wouldn’t make this an amendment if we didn’t let Max Starks walk away.

  • SteelerDave

    It is for that reason that having Gilbert at LOT makes sense, he is less likely to get others injured.

  • hergieburbur

    Why is Ben staying healthy “more crucial than ever”? Gradkowski isn’t exactly a huge step down from Batch, and Leftwich was awful. It may be a small step back, but I am more concerned about the WR/TE position.

  • steves

    Starks was way better then Gilbert. When Troy came to the Steelers his 1st year, people were saying he was a bust for being a #1 draft pick. I have a feeling Landry Jones will learn the Steeler way and be the QB of the future, it will just take Landy time as it did Troy. It may take Bell some time to learn the offense as it did other players, so he may not be starting when season starts. But by the end of the season he will gain confidence and with Kirbys help, he will be the all around back they need.

  • steves

    Leftwich had a gun, he just was too old and got hurt every time they needed him.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    #1 is poor play at ROLB. Last year they weren’t very good against the run when Harrison was injured. Worilds/Jones must be stout on the backside against the run and improve the pass rush from last year. Those guys are not proven and that is the playmaking position in the Lebeau defense. I don’t think they can compensate for a weak performance there as much as they can at other positions, including corner.

    #1B is left tackle not protecting Ben’s backside. The rest of the OL should be fine.

  • Hutch

    Well, if the line has troubles, it could spell trouble for Bell… and it not be totally Bells fault. Perhaps our line has been the issue of a lot of the points you listed, cept for D points that is. Good article.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Wow, not that I disagree with any of these scenarios, but I’m a bit surprised the receivers didn’t make the list. That, and I would also worry about the pass rush by the defense.

  • cencalsteeler

    I too, believe the bull rush was cause for injury. You have a higher probability of injury going backwards then moving forward. Kudos to the staff for recognizing this, and changing to the zone blocking scheme. The line should gain a lot more control up front and be more apt to driving their blockers out of the way, rather than being pushed back.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    The OL is the key to this IMO. If they can stay healthy, keep Ben upright and create good running lanes then it will not matter as much who is running, catching and throwing the ball. Allen could be a concern but we have had poor play from that position in the last few years(last year not being one of those) and somehow LeBeau finds a answer.

  • Shannon Stephenson


  • Shannon Stephenson

    although I totally agree we need a better pass rush our defense still played very well without one last year so it may not be a dire situation if it doesnt improve.

  • dgh57

    The fact that we have history on our side helps in having a bounced back year!

    I at first thought that of the 4 worst case scenarios the (#3)o-line would be the first to falter. Then I got to thinking that we don’t have injury prone Willie Colon on the roster anymore and this new zone blocking scheme may limit injuries in that the o-linemen will be more on the move! If that was to become a reality then that means (#2) Bell is the Bell Cow and then that limits (#4) from coming about and Big Ben will have the year we all expect him to have! I feel pretty good about Cortez Allen in that he will have a breakout year, but you never know anything can happen!

  • steves

    Zone blocking is used when running the ball. It was brought in with the new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr…

  • SteelerFanInMD

    I’m concerned with having so many new, unproven starters (Allen, Worilds, McClendon, Gilbert) in the lineup. There is bound to be a failure or two among them and there is no proven starter behind any of them. The Steelers need all of them to quickly become consistent and reliable players and stay injury-free so they can make a run at the Superbowl. That is a big challenge and I am hoping they can prevail.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    What does troy has to do with gilbert…? Starks WAS better, yes last year he was reliable but he still would get beat by better pass-rushers and against Ravens, Suggs got plenty of treats for that. Starks is a better run blocker than Gilbert but Starks never had the mobility Gilbert have now. Gilbert if you graded based on his good days, it is actually quite impressive but on bad days it’d imply that he has a slow feet and occasionally shuffle his feet before planting them. It is my understanding that he had a conditioning problem, not only I hope he is back in camp being more agile but more technically sound when facing an interior lineman or a bull-rushing defensive end (yes, in today’s game DTs do attack offensive tackles sometime) but from what I know, Gilbert on left with adams on right is better than starks on left and gilbert on right. More of our offensive linemen are athletic and fitness excluding Ramon Foster so the change of philosphy shall help.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    ZBS can be used in passing downs as well. When you have a check option or using 2 TEs it helps because it can be more diversed when TEs goes in completely different direction and O-linemen will be more spreader (while this may mean bigger hole for the opponent but don’t forget about dumping the ball to TE or RB) the scheme will exhaust opponent within passing or rushing plays while utilitizing ZBS.

    But you are right for most part, initially it was set up for running plays. I have seen Haley doing this with Chiefs, effecient when you have a quarterback who can be stellar with one-step dropback and not the usual Big Ben’s 3-5 steps dropback.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    I think it is such a misconcept when labeling those players you mentioned; new/unproven starters. Those players have started more than 3 games already and prior to playing as a full-time starter, they performed just fined.

    Problem wouldn’t be how they produces, it is how we wil utilitize them and how they can fit in. McLendon, Worilds, and even Jarvis Jones are different kind of players in our scheme and they haven’t maxed their potentials because they aren’t the players for our 3-4. However… they have maxed within the system of their ability to perform, which from what I see, its actually decent. Like Ziggy Hood, LeBeau HAS to get creative, from watching every games past 3 seasons and watching sparringly since 98′ and since Lebeau was here, last time there’s a new play, new wrinkle occured was few years ago. I haven’t seen anything new at all

    Lebeau can give us a #1 ranked defense again, but I doubt he can give us the benefits we truly have on roster until further notice.

  • Randy Neff

    One absolutely should be to avoid becoming only the second team since free agency in 1994 to go minus 10 or worse and turnover differential for a third year in a row.

    Agree the OL holds one of the keys.

  • Ahmad

    They can certainly overcome injuries on the OL as they do that year in and year out. However, if, God forbid, Ben goes down with a season ending injury, then the Steelers are toast.

  • 2443scott

    i for one like we have new blood on team and they have chances to start playing sooner then later ….as far as allen goes lewis came on but as so many before him he waited till that 4th year which i thought he should of showed that in his last of 2nd year and should been ready in 3rd but as the league is showing these rookies now dont get paided big bucks they sit do little learn then wait around to play so they dont get hurt then last year they play hard to get those big bucks and more offen then not they leave for another team now allen is asked to step up now so we see where this goes finaly …as far as red and dwyer go both had there up and downs but neither is a 3 down back but both can fill in to give the 3rd down back a rest if i had to keep one it be red over dwyer and bell is just the grease thrown on fire we needed he is a 3rd down back i was hopeing we got lacy but more i heard bell talk over otas and mini camp i think he was better choice and we need that rb oout the back field who can run and catch i dont think lacy could do both all the time like a bell could….the off -line is the story here and i blame alot that on off-line coachs feet because he didnt get the lines feet moving enough so they wouldnt stand still to get hurt plus the conditioning has just been terrible i am glad steelers have focused on conditioning this season …as far as ben goes its always qb dont matter what team the qb makes rest work i dont want ben to change hes only one i dont want changeing how he plays come hell or high water ….as for landy he just needs to sit and learn as number 3 and come into play when we have game well in hand he needs that experience and being a mop up will help him down road here he can horn in his talents …as for bruce i always feared him comeing in to play when ever he was on another team and there main guy wasnt getting it done i think he is the 2nd stringer qb we needed and he fit in well ther and he can win you a game if he is called on …batch knew steeler system so that helped him alot when he had to fill in but he was at end of his career and it showed but knowing system so well he got away with alot stuff…brian was just bad he couldnt stay healthy mainly because he didnt have a strong enough body for a qb he be off balance lot when hit and didnt know how to take a hit he stiffen up if he would of learned to roll with punches more he would been better …i am glad we got some new blood in coaching and in players .. i would love the team to get back to blow open the hole with a rb and have the off-line pull and spring the rb like we used to and eat up the clock and leave other teams qb sitting on side lines and not get into a rythm and when 4th quarter came around we the steelers been in condition enough for the kill and not the other way around no more this hope and wait ben can pull out a win do the kill so he can just hand off the ball and every one walk off field with that W under our belts …

  • walter mason

    only 2 out of 3 injured?

  • walter mason

    My worst case scenarios are 2 injuries to CBs or 2 injuries at OT.

  • joed32

    Colon’s injury had nothing to with Gilbert.

  • SteelersNick

    No one could argue that our season always hinges on the health of our future hall of fame QB. Even though Gradkowski is an upgrade at QB, if ben gets hurt we have ZERO CHANCE at winning a championship. I also agree that veterans staying healthy and young players contributing on defense is a factor (C. Allen, J. Worilds, J. Jones, S. Mclendon). The thing I am most concerned about is our O-line however. They have been one of the worst units in the entire league for most of Roethlisbergers career. Blaming injuries for the poor play shows a lack of knowledge. I can buy injuries for Decastro and Adams who are still rookies considering they don’t have one full year on the job. The reality is that Marcus Gilbert and Ramon Foster have not been good even when they were healthy. This leaves Pouncey as our only stud on the O-line. Summary, we have one stud, 2 rookies, and 2 question marks on our O-line. I am worried ! ! !

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    I’m mistaken for Pouncey when was thinking of Colon. My bad but point being yes, those injuries caused by Gilbert is just a coincidence.

  • walter mason

    Dont forget David Johnson quote “the Steelers also lost early camp standout David Johnson to (what appeared to
    be) a nasty leg injury when right tackle Marcus Gilbert fell on his leg at the end of a play”.
    Does that make it 3 out of 4 players around him? or 3 out of 5? Is that good?

  • walter mason

    At least 3 players injured (some severely) when Gilbert either rolled or fell on their knee. Lets hope this is pure coincidence.

  • hergieburbur

    So he had a cannon and couldn’t get on the field. That’s a good thing?

  • SteelersNick

    Its hard to list ROLB as our biggest concern. James Harrison didn’t play a full season and we still had the number one ranked defense. Lamarr Woodley had a horrible year, and we were still ranked first in yards allowed. The biggest concern for the steelers by far is their O line.

  • joed32

    Colon’s injury was caused by a cheap shot from Terrell Suggs so I’ll add Johnson and keep De Castro, that only adds up to two.

  • Don

    Sounds bad- everybody gets injuries, its a pretty rough game. But teams that have depth, they survive. Ben will miss some games, its standard fare now. He’s just not durable anymore. O line, D line, running game, a lot of ? marks. Way too many to even realistically dream of a championship run. Worst scenario number 6? The Ravens pick up where they left off and get to another SB.