By Jeremy Hritz
The season previews for NFL teams continue, and the most recent one regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers comes from Sports Illustrated online by writer Chris Burke. Burke previews the entire AFC North for the 2013 season and has some unique takes on what he sees as the weaknesses and strengths of this year’s edition of the black and gold. While Burke doesn’t come out directly and say that the Baltimore Ravens are the clear favorites to repeat as AFC North Champions, he does say that they have “the pieces necessary to capture a second straight title,” while about the Cincinnati Bengals, he asserts that if Andy Dalton is “up to the task,” that they can take over the division as the front runners.
As far as the Cleveland Browns are concerned, Burke says that they will be improved, but that in a competitive division, it is uncertain how much of an impact that improvement will have.
Regarding the Steelers, Burke believes that they have “ample playmakers” on defense and that “Roethlisberger’s offense should be better.” He concludes his piece by saying that he would not be surprised if “Pittsburgh gets up off the mat and returns to the postseason.”
What is interesting about Burke’s article is his viewpoint of where the Steelers have improved and where they have regressed. He also selected a player that he believed would “breakout” for the team during the upcoming season.
So where did the Steelers improve? According to Burke, it is at the safety position, citing the health and conditioning of Troy Polamalu and the “steal” of Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round of the draft. Burke refers to a report from early this offseason about Polamalu’s health and states that “having him on the field completely alters the dynamic of the defensive unit.”
The area where he believes the Steelers have gotten “worse” is a bit surprising since many, myself included, see it as a potential position of strength. According to Burke, the offensive line is an issue. He states that “barring significant improvement from pretty much everyone on this line (save center Maurkice Pouncey), though, Pittsburgh might spend the year lamenting the losses of tackle Max Starks and imposing guard Willie Colon.” Overall, he describes the unit as a “question mark at best.”
Lastly, Burke identifies Antonio Brown as being the breakout candidate for the season as a result of the departure of Mike Wallace, and he says that he is “on the verge of stardom.”
Burke’s commentary is thought-provoking, but it seems that he is placing too much stock in the report of Polamalu’s health and putting too little faith in the potential of the offensive line. His analysis does indicate a trend that we are seeing from writers about the Steelers performance in the 2013 season, and that is that they will rebound to make the playoffs.
Based on the criticism that the Steelers faced at the end of last season as a team on the backslide, it appears that assessment is reversing, and the team is becoming somewhat of a “dark horse” pick for the postseason in 2013.