As a diehard Steelers fan I keep as up to date as possible on all the Steelers news year round, even through May when nothing of consequence happens except for the occasional off-season move. Watching show after show on NFL Network and ESPN I see the talking heads repeatedly write off the Steelers for this upcoming season with the exception of John Clayton and sometimes Jamie Dukes/Ron Jaworski. For the most part, the commentators have decided that we're not even a playoff team this year and that the Bengals and the Ravens are going to steal all the glory. As a Steelers fan living just outside Baltimore I get to hear all the time about how they're going to repeat, how we're going to be swept, and how it won't even be a challenge.
They say the Steelers are either old, or they lost too many free agents, or they're drafting Landry Jones to replace Big Ben in the near term (Get real), or we're just not good enough to compete in our own division, let alone the entire AFC. I say that it's all BS and that if we can get a little lucky and avoid too many stars getting injured, that we can compete with any team next year.
Point 1: Our oldest player is our punter, Mooreman, at 37. The next oldest is Plexiglass at 35. And the oldest starter is Keisel at 34. The majority of our "old" players are 30-31, which is when most players begin to accrue injuries at a faster rate and begin to slow down, but most of these players are at positions where they're not taking constant hits. We don't have a starting RB, WR, O-Lineman, or OLB over 30. Foote somehow seems to be resisting the entire aging process in the middle of our D. He has obviously slowed a little, but he still lead the team in tackles in 2012. Taylor is over 30, but he's in freakish shape and could probably play at a high level for another 3-5 years (His injury had nothing to do with conditioning). Polamalu and Clark are over 30 and Troy has had recent issues with injuries, but hopefully his changes in his off-season program have helped to correct that issue.
For the most part, our "old' players aren't a hindrance to the Steelers success. There might be a missed tackle here or there, but the leadership and experience they offer more than makes up for it.
Point 2: The free agents we lost this year will be missed, but it happens every year and is to be expected. If the team didn't have a replacement strategy they would have worked harder to keep them. Mike Wallace left so we drafted Markus Wheaton; he won't be the same player and won't contribute as much as Mike would have this year, but he should be able to help us for years to come. The team let Willie Colon walk after he has hit IR several years in a row and will replace him with Ramon Foster/David Decastro. Keenan Lewis left for warmer weather and his replacement (Cortez Allen) had more interceptions and fumbles caused in 2 games than Keenan had in his whole career. Starks is finally being recognized as a valid LT by someone other than the Steelers and he will be missed, as will Big Snack. Mclendon will do his best to fill in for Hampton, but Hampton was ridiculous and those are impossible shoes to fill. Mendenhall didn't help much last year anyways, so adding Le'veon Bell should give our running game a boost even if he's not as amazing as everyone keeps hoping.
One player who will be sorely missed is James Harrison. We might be able to replace his production using Worilds and Jones (Coaches are high on them) as well as possibly Adrian Robinson in the future if he continues to develop, but I don't know if we can ever replace his intimidation factor. Opposing teams are intimidated by Deebo, and how could they not be with his incredible hits and frequent body slams. I'd wish him the best, but now he's helping out a rival.
Point 3: The whole Landry Jones was picked to replace Big Ben thing is BS... Not gonna happen. Maybe if Ben retires in 4 years and we renew Landry's contract. I see him as a younger/cheaper backup QB than Leftwich or Batch.
Point 4: We went to the freakin Super Bowl in 2010 and the playoffs in 2011, when really our team was having a major letdown year. Our 2011 team was fairly sorry and going into that playoff game we didn't seem confident enough or hungry enough to make a run. Last year our team was firing on all cylinders before Ben got hurt. We were 6 - 3 and lost 2 games to bad teams due to overconfidence I think. There's no way that Oakland or Tenn. should have beaten us, but we let our guard down. I think that if the team can remain mostly healthy, we'll be a force to be reckoned with. We have the talent on both offense and defense: Woodley had 9 sacks through 8 games in 2011 before he got injured, Ben was having an MVP year last year before he went down, Heath was having a monster year and hopefully will bounce back from his injury (even if he has to start on the PUP list), Cortez Allen was creating turnovers like a beast while he was in last year.
The main difference between our dominating years just 3+ years prior has been sacks and turnovers. Woodley and Harrison were plagued with injuries and without the pressure our secondary didn't get the INTs they had racked up in the past. I think this year will be different and the influx of new rushers and a motivated Woodley will increase our sack total, our QB pressures, and our turnovers.
This year is full of promise with new rookies adding life to the offense and defense, even if their addition isn't felt immediately, and with younger players stepping up for players who've left. The Steelers are going to prove the naysayers wrong and show just how much these "old" men have left in the tank. Players that are unknown around the league will step in and become names on the tips of everyone's tongues. Overall, this is going to be a year where we'll all be proud to be Steelers fans.
It doesn't hurt that the last 3 times we missed the playoffs we made it to the Superbowl within the next two seasons. If that trend holds true, this could be a magical year that no one besides the diehard Steelers fans see coming.