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?