Moments from the very strange 2013 season, which began with a safety and ended with a game not even involving the Steelers. I am not going to rant and rave about the blown calls because what's done is done. (I will say this though: I never, EVER want to hear any other fanbase scream about how the Steelers get all the calls ever again. Unless your team is directly affected from the playoffs by blatant calls like the Chiefs-Chargers game was, you have no leg to stand on as far as I am concerned). Having said that, the 2013 awards and the 2014 hopes:
Best game: tough one but I will go with the December 15 Sunday night game against the Bengals. It had the Steelers play a very steady game on offense and physical play on special teams (including a block heard ‘round the world), keeping the AFC North champion Bengals in check. Sure, the Bengals mounted a good comeback but the defense made stops when needed, including the two-point conversion knockdown by Jarvis Jones in the late fourth quarter, keep the game at a two possession advantage. Final score, 30-20, keeping the Steelers alive in the postseason hunt for another week.
Worst game: I was going to select the demolishment that was the Patriots’ game but I won’t. Instead I will select the game in Oakland on October 27. The Steelers have not won in Oakland since 1995. To put that in context: the oldest guy on the team, Brett Keisel, was still in high school as a junior tight end and linebacker. (the youngest guy on the team, Le’Veon Bell, was 3 years old.) Whatever it is, the Raiders just seem to bring the worst out in the Steelers in Oakland. In 2006, it was only the second time that a NFL team lost a game while allowing less than 100 yards of offense (surprisingly, the Steelers did that the first time against the expansion Houston Texans in 2002, losing the game 24-6 behind two pick-sixes by the Texans despite only getting 70 yards of total offense). In 2012, it was the defense suddenly forgetting how to protect a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter. In 2013, it was missed assignments on defense and missed opportunities on offense and missed kicks on special teams. Terrelle Pryor ran 93 yards for a touchdown on the first play. Despite shutting out the Raiders in the second half, two missed field goals by Shaun Suisham sealed the Steelers’ fate. Final score, 21-18.
Honorable mention: that 55-31 shellacking by the Patriots (which also involved over 600 yards of total offense) and the opening game against the Titans because the Steelers lost Maurkice Pouncey, Larry Foote, and the game (16-9) in one single day.
Best moment (offense): this is a tough one but I will go with the fake screen pass touchdown to Jerricho Cotchery against the Lions. The Lions were 6-3 and were flying high then. The Steelers were holding on for dear life leading by 3 points after the worst 2nd quarter in team history which saw the Lions score 27 points. Instead of kicking a field goal which would still make it a one possession game, Coach Mike Tomlin clearly told offensive coordinator Todd Haley to go for the kill. On that 3rd and 6 from the Lions’ 20 yard line with little over 2 minutes remaining, Ben Roethlisberger pump faked to Antonio Brown for a bubble screen and then threw a high arcing pass down field to a very wide open Jerricho Cotchery for the touchdown. To say that the Lions’ secondary were caught off guard would be a gross understatement. Final score, Steelers 37, Lions 27.
Worst moment (offense): where do I start? I will go with the ACL tear on Maurkice Pouncey on the opening drive of the season. That really put the team behind the 8-ball. It is a testament to Fernando Velasco (and later Cody Wallace) for holding their own for the entire season while running the line calls on a no-huddle offensive package.
Honorable mention: the Le’Veon Bell’s helmet flying off and the touchdown that wasn’t; pretty much everyone but Antonio Brown’s play against the Bears; the fumble by Isaac Redman against the Titans.
Best moment (special teams): the Antonio Brown punt return for touchdown against the Bengals. That Terence Garvin hit on Kevin Huber might be vilified by the rest of the league’s fanbases but that play (and block) sealed the Bengals’ fate that evening and kept the Steelers alive for another week.
Worst moment (special teams): There are a few but I will go with the two missed field goals by Shaun Suisham against the Raiders, especially since both of them were inside 35 yards.
Honorable mention: the Mike Tomlin Thanksgiving two-step; the Micah Hyde 70 yard return that put the Packers in prime field position to tie the game and brought out a lot of discussion here on BTSC regarding Tomlin’s decision to go for the touchdown.
Best hit: Terence Garvin on Kevin Huber. That was beautiful.
Honorable mention: Troy Polamalu laying out the Jets’ Stephen Hill. That was beautiful; the Jarvis Jones hit on Chris Johnson. Welcome to the NFL, rookie.
Team MVP: Antonio Brown. He was the most consistent player for the entire season.
Offensive MVP: Brown. Honorable mention: Fernando Velasco and Ben Roethlisberger.
Defensive MVP: Cameron Heyward over Troy Polamalu.
Special Teams MVP: Antonio Brown again.
Best rookie: Le’Veon Bell.
Most improved: Cameron Heyward and it’s not even close.
Biggest surprise: both Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu played 16 games yet the team did not make the playoffs.
Not a surprise: LaMarr Woodley suffered more calf and hamstring injuries.
What I hope to see in the 2014 season:
-Todd Haley and Dick LeBeau both returning as offensive and defensive coordinators
-Jack Bicknell Jr. returning as the offensive line coach
-Danny Smith returning as the special teams coach
-OK, pretty much everyone on the coaching staff returning for 2014.
-Ike Taylor taking a reduced salary to return to the Steelers
-Troy Polamalu reworking his current deal (which expires in 2014) to provide more cap relief
-Ben Roethlisberger getting a contract extension which will provide cap relief for 2014 and 2015
-Ryan Clark on ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown
-Brett Keisel Day in Heinz Field
-Mike Adams and Kelvin Beachum in a training camp battle for the left tackle spot
-a healthy offensive line
-a healthy defensive line
-a healthy team period
-a new punter in the draft
-Jason Worilds signing a good multi-year deal for both the Steelers and himself
-Jonathan Dwyer coming back on a two-year deal
-Jerricho Cotchery coming back period
-Al Woods coming back period
-Cody Wallace coming back as the backup center
-cutting LaMarr Woodley after June 1
-drafting more defensive linemen to better stop the run
-bringing back Ziggy Hood on a team-friendly deal
-extending Cortez Allen’s contract now before the team loses him a la Keenan Lewis
-drafting a talented cornerback within the first three rounds
-letting Emmanuel Sanders go elsewhere unless he wants to be back on a team-friendly deal
-getting Jarvis Jones on a better strength program
-bringing back Stevenson Sylvester on a one year deal
-get Markus Wheaton more involved in the offense, period
-get Derek Moye more involved in the red zone offense
-take advantage of just one game outside the Eastern time zone (going to Tennessee)
-take advantage of the fact that the longest trip the team will make in the regular season will be to Jacksonville (the team also has two sub-two hour flights (nonstop) to Atlanta and Charlotte as well, which is nice)
-start off fast (the team has not won an opening game since 2010 and has not won a road opener since 2010 as well)
-get to the playoffs
-get to the Super Bowl
-win the Super Bowl
Happy New Year!