3 things we learned from the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers' 2013 season ended with a bang, not a whimper. There are plenty of takeaways from such an active season (and year). As part of a deeper dive we'll be going into in the coming days, we identified three aspects to the year we've learned about the team.

Ben Roethlisberger is a leader One of the main questions heading into the 2013 season was the leadership void the team experienced with the loss of several veteran players from 2011-12. It was clear Roethlisberger would need to fill the void left by as many as four different players no longer with the team.

While the Steelers' offense did not exactly come out of the gates firing on all cylinders, Roethlisberger's rallying cry of "one day at a time" permeated the youth of the Steelers' team, and helped create an offense that averaged over 28 points a game over the last nine contests of the season.

It was in his interviews. It was in his body language. It was in his pointed nature at the real turning point of the season, when a report surfaced he may request a trade in the offseason.

Roethlisberger led this team to a high level this season. The extension he will no doubt receive at some point this offseason should be celebrated as the end of the transition of this team into its future core group, and the beginning of the next generation of Steelers' success.

Offseason moves must focus on defense

The Steelers' defense had two takeaways through its first six games. It finished with 18 takeaways over its last 10 games. Credit the emergence of defensive end Cameron Heyward, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and steady improvement of safety/linebacker Troy Polamalu for much of that.

Ultimately, it wasn't enough. Despite those takeaways, the team gave up far too many big plays, and struggled against some of the elite competition it faced (Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in particular).

A decision must be made on the future of OLB LaMarr Woodley, and that decision will be concurrently made with a decision on Worilds. Taking the cap money saved by releasing Woodley (as a June 1 designation, which adds $5 million in dead money on this year's cap, and over $7 million dead on the 2015 cap) and signing Worilds will still leave the void of a player on the roster. Despite Worilds' outstanding second half of the season, his past is checkered with injuries (he missed the Steelers' Week 17 game against Cleveland), and there hasn't been a Steeler season in three years in which the third outside linebacker did not get extensive playing time.

Reserves Chris Carter and Terence Garvin, as well as positional journeyman Stevenson Sylvester showed some flashes in the team's final few games, but decisions will need to be made on all of them, and prospects must be evaluated for the upcoming NFL Draft.

It won't be easy to break up the offense

While Week 17 was not this team's best game, or particularly indicative of how they played over the second half of the year, generally speaking, the sense of rhytmn and chemistry, along with the obvious production it had, makes it hard to consider breaking up any part of this group - up to and including allowing Emmanuel Sanders to walk in free agency (provided he can be signed for a reasonable amount) and seeking out a new left tackle to replace Kelvin Beachum.

Whether the quick release passing aided to the surprisingly few amount of sacks the team allowed over the last seven games, or an offensive line that transformed into a cohesive unit with more exposure to new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr., It could very well be a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" issue.

Improvements can still be made in the ground game, but at the same time, with a wide receiver as versatile as Antonio Brown, as well as a running back with an arsenal of weapons like Le'Veon Bell, how much of it is really a concern?

Passing to set up the run, or passing in lieu of the run, or simply basing the offense around the decision-making of Ben Roethlisberger may simply be the solution to any personnel questions the team has.

More to come...

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