ESPN Insider Believes Steelers Will Win AFC North In 2014

It’s still only June, but KC Joyner of believes the Pittsburgh Steelers will win the AFC North division after back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

In his Wednesday Insider post, Joyner listed six reasons as to why he believes the Steelers will return to the top of the AFC North and we will have a look at each of those.

1. Run Blocking Could Reach An Elite Level

Joyner believes that the return of center Maurkice Pouncey in 2014 will play a major role in the Steelers offensive line possibly reaching an elite level in 2014. It’s hard to shoot any holes in him basing his argument on just one player, but Joyner doesn’t even touch on the Steelers addition of new offensive line coach Mike Munchak during the offseason. In addition, he fails to mention that the use of the outside-zone blocking scheme in 2014 fits the running style of second-year running back Le’Veon Bell. Right guard David DeCastro also figures to have his best season as a professional as well and Joyner doesn’t even touch on that.

2. Improved Decision Making Of Ben Roethlisberger

Joyner points to Roethlisberger’s solid bad decision metric over the course of the last three seasons as the main reason why he believes the Steelers quarterback will once again have a low interception total in 2014. While he doesn’t mention it, this will be Roethlisberger’s third season playing for offensive coordinator Todd Haley, so the two should be very well in tune with one another at this point. The addition of more no-huddle offense in 2014 is also another factor that Joyner fails to point to.

3. Addition Of Big Play Threats Dri Archer and LeGarrette Blount During The Offseason

While Blount is a big back, Joyner is quick to point out that the Steelers offseason free agent addition has the ability to break off big runs. In fact, since coming into the league in 2010, Blount has 69 runs that have gone for 10 yards or more. As far as Archer goes, he had 75 runs of 10 yards or more during his four years at Kent State. Haley’s chore in 2014 will be to figure out how to get him touches during his rookie season.

4. Improved Pass Rush

While Joyner fails to provide any real reasons as to why the Steelers pass rush will improve in 2014 outside of the additions of draft picks Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt, the continued improvement of Cameron Heyward and Jarvis Jones, along with those additions can’t hurt based on what we’ve seen over the course of the last three seasons.

5. Emmanuel Sanders Easily Replaced

Joyner believes that the offseason loss of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be easily replaced in 2014. He points to the fact that Sanders quality of receptions last season ranked near the bottom of the league when compared to wide receivers that saw at least 100 targets. Instead of listing the potential production that second-year wide receiver Markus Wheaton will have in 2014, Joyner instead believes that newcomer Lance Moore will provide more quality receptions than Sanders did last season.

6. AFC North Weaker In 2014

Lastly, Joyner believes that the competition the Steelers will face in the AFC North in 2014 will be weaker. Joyner hints that the Cincinnati Bengals losing both of their coordinators will play a role in them coming back to the pack. In addition, he doesn’t believe that the Baltimore Ravens will improve any over last season.

So now that you see Joyner’s six reasons as to why he believes the Steelers will win the AFC North in 2014, do you believe they’re legitimate enough? In addition, what other reasons should Joyner have included?

  • steelster

    Well of course they will win the afc north.

  • Geoff Cordner

    I can see how the Bengles take a step back next year with the change in coordinators (particularly on offence). I don’t see why the Ravens won’t improve … But I’m not really following their off season. Don’t really see missing ray rice as a big setback.

  • Rice has always been Flacco’s safety blanket. The play action, and dump off game has been huge for the Ravens offense. I think Pierce is sold but not a feature back.

    Gary Kubiak as OC will help (although could take some time)… and Steve Smith and Pitta will be welcome additions… but they have to rely completely on Flacco now.

  • He failed to mention the upgrade of Mike Mitchell over Ryan Clark in the offseason. I think that will really help us later in games when we’re trying to negate the big play. Ben will be Ben. He was good last year after the OL was able to keep him upright. Maybe he forgot we finished 6-2. Definitely like where his heads at though. IMHO, call me crazy, but I think the browns will be in the thick of things. They will pose as big of threat as balt. or cinci., maybe more. I think their biggest challenge will be eliminating turnovers on offense. Beyond that, their defense is quickly rounding into shape.

  • steeltown

    While I agree with Joyner, his facts are lacking, as Bryan mentioned.

    Munchak AND Pouncey should help the run game and pass protection greatly, in addition to another year under DeCastro, Beachum and Adams belts and a healthy Gilbert.

    I am not concerned with the loss of Sanders, not with the additions of Moore and Bryant, not to mention the hopeful contributions from Wheaton and improvement of J.Brown

    Speed. Subpackage athletes. These two things will help the Defense greatly. I am still concerned with the “pass rush” until I see improvement. But, the addition of Mitchell, Shazier and Tuitt and with guys like S.Thomas, Spence and Blake we should be able to match up well with most speedy passing attacks, while still having players that are physical in the run game.

  • steeltown

    I read Flacco has been somewhat erratic with his passes during OTAs/minicamp and there have been quite a few drops by the WRs… obviously this really means nothing at this point, but interesting none the less. I agree S.Smith and Daniels are welcomed additions for them and they’ll probably have to lean on them heavily.

  • srdan

    I think we have the most complete team in teh AFC north again. Teh bungles are close, but we edge them out by having hte best QB in teh division as well.

    On top of htat we may have the top coaching staff in teh league, young and fast team, its a recipe for success if I have ever seen one.

    It’s hard for me to think of Blount as a big play threat. But when I look at his body of work, it’s hard to argue.

    I’m a lot more excited about this team than last years’. We dealt with issues we had on the roster, and we added much needed speed (this was one of the issues).

  • steeltown

    Really good Defense, but without Josh Gordon they might struggle to score points

  • Matt Manzo

    For an outsider I think he’s right on!
    He missed a few reasons to back up his thoughts but it’s a better report than Sapp or Steven A Smith could do!

  • johnhoien

    Because we have Mike Mitchell and Troy… Secondary is going to have a field day w/ all the ducks being thrown by opposing QBs.. Pressure causes turnovers… I see the defense actually giving the offense good field position consistently… & don’t forget Special teams coach Danny Smith.. Special Teams will be even more special w/ tons of talent to promote.. Not just hope so plug ins…

  • johnhoien


  • Shannon Stephenson

    Last year I was not excited about this team as I am this year. We still have many wrinkles to work out but I feel some big exciting plays coming our way this year in all 3 phases of the game.

  • Axe Skot

    “IMHO, call me crazy, but I think the browns will be in the thick of things.”

    Ok. You’re crazy.

  • walter mason

    I think its make or break with our OLBs. Pass rush from the DL may improve but one injury, and its very likely, and our overall pass rush will not be any better. It could be devastating. Jones is not yet a proven pass rusher in the NFL. Think Carter and Moats on the outside. Ouch.

  • Milliken Steeler

    Pitta seems to get hurt a lot. if he does once again, Flacco could again have no fun with the passing game and minus Rice via a looming suspension.

  • steelster

    I agree and this is my biggest concern, however shazier might be a pleasant surprise in the pash rush because of his speed. They may line him up in many different ways. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets 6-8 sacks his rookie year.

  • Steve

    What the Browns lack is a big time QB. Hoyer and Manzel are light times behind Big Ben.

  • steelant

    12-4 and sweep brownies

  • Miguelipto

    Do not overlook the importance of Heath’s full return to health and his regaining his confidence. I’m guessing he will score more than one touchdown this year.

  • pat

    I honestly believe we can make the super bowl. Why? The last 9 games our oline group played like one of the best. Top QB. Much improved defense. A top rb trio I see big plays in special teams a healthy heath I believe Ike will be a top cb this yr and troy being able to focus more on what he does. And I also believe if we made the playoffs last yr we would of made the afc title game. The way our schedule is made out I see 12-4 and no more losing games we shouldn’t lose

  • steelster

    I love the steelers but the patriots and broncos are quite a bit better.

  • Krankor

    I would be. I think you– and a lot of other people– are dreaming. Inside linebackers don’t get that kind of numbers in the Steelers defense. Look back at our best inside backers since we’ve been running the 3-4, they’re all in the 2-3 sacks per year range. And this guy’s gonna be a rookie. LeBeau will probably add a few special wrinkles for him, but he’s not going to entirely re-write the team’s defense instantly in one year for an unproven rookie, no matter how high his potential. Just as he didn’t come up with all the crazy stuff Troy does in Troy’s rookie season.

  • Dan

    That’s true until we prove otherwise. Here’s hoping we do just that starting in Sept….and finishing in Feb.

  • stellarsfan

    So I guess they expect Miles Austin to catch 250 balls without straining a hammy? Talk about a depleted WR corps.

  • steeltown

    …and oft injured 32yr old Nate Burleson

  • Joyner may be right, but if he’s right he just backed into it by default given how sketchy his analysis is.

    Regarding what he has, I would say improvement of / consistency in the running game generally, not just Blount and Archer. This has the makings of one of the best and most versatile backfields in the league.

    As for Ben, to the extent he improves (given that he’s already a great player) it’ll be because of a better O-line, better running game, more options in the passing game, more no-huddle, and a stronger relationship with Haley.

    I would add: improved play at S (with Polamalu not required to double as a LB and Mitchell brought in to replace Clark), Cortez Allen emerging as a legit #1 CB, depth at ILB, and growth along the D-line (including Heyward becoming one of the best DEs in the league).

  • walter mason

    Not true. If you look back, we havent seen this speed inside since Kendrell Bell and I think Bell recorded 9 sacks his rookie year. So its certainly possible for LeBeau to use his speed in his rookie season. Actually its most likely he will. The quickest path to the QB is a straight line but I still think the Steelers defense is built around OLBs and they will make or break the season.

  • Krankor

    That’s true, I had forgotten about Bell. His productive time here was so short that I didn’t bother to look up his numbers. I still don’t think Shazier gets 6-8, but I have to admit that perhaps the idea is not quite so far-fetched.