Yes, we finished 2013 well. We didn’t finish as well as we needed to, but we closed the gap quite a bit. Here’s a little bit of what we have to look forward to in 2014 when we’ve got the ball in our hands.
We established the starters and it appears that they are healthy! Maybe? Despite the frustration we experienced in the early part of 2013, we did benefit significantly from some of these injuries. It has helped identify who is flexible enough to play multiple positions and still step up, and it provided good experience and growth for position depth across the line. Our offensive line is poised to make a big leap this year. The line is the anchor of the offense. Without a solid O-line, it’s almost impossible to gauge the success of other offensive players. We experienced this last year. The offensive line uncertainty and shakiness on LT contributed to horrible performances for Ben. However, by the time the season was half over, they were starting to figure it out. They knew where Ben would be before Ben even knew where he was going and vice versa. Bell received the blocking he needed to run it up the middle or leak out of the backfield. It was all starting to come together. Add Mike Munchak coaching and add more offensive weapons.
We let some folks walk away. I would have liked to see Dwyer stay, but if I were told that I had to choose between Dwyer and Blount (which I could have never predicted), I would take Blount in a heartbeat! Everybody else was either too fickle-fingered or made of glass. I remember Blount during draft time 2010. I wanted the Steelers to pick him up, but I knew they wouldn’t because he had some trouble on his back. Thankfully the Steelers try to avoid trouble players on offense. (I don’t mind a little trouble on defense!) He ended up going undrafted to the Titans and eventually landed with the Buccaneers. I knew he was an absolute beast. The only real question was whether he was going to be a problem child, the next LenDale White, or might he actually become the bruising NFL running back that they hoped for? He ended up the latter of the three, turning in bruising performances and carrying an otherwise weak offense on his back for at least one season. He couldn’t remain healthy enough to sustain the effort that the Buccaneers needed so he was snapped up by the Patriots, who assumed he was too banged up to run all downs but could come in for change of pace and to move the chains every once-in-a-while. To their surprise, he was the Blount of 2011, breaking tackles and barreling over the secondary like they were bowling pins in a child’s lawn game. The Pats haven’t had a running back turn in 5 ypc (with over 150 carries) in well over 10 years. Their 2013 yards per carry was at 4.4 and steadily rose to that once Blount got most of the carries. But it gets even better - Blount averaged 5.9 ypc in the playoffs. He’s on the upswing folks. The Steelers run game rebounded with Bell, but still turned in a total of only 3.5 ypc in 2013. Bell’s yards were the same at 3.5. Everyone will be looking to Bell for another big season, but I think his carries might actually go down a bit with Blount getting more opportunities.
You may be thinking, well yeah, but the Patriots are a pass first offense, so it was easier for Blount to bounce off smaller tacklers and spit through a few linemen. Funny that you should mention that…
Our wide receiver competition is so heated even Simon Cowell would say he wants a "save" so that he could keep one more. Our key weapons will be experience (good hands, route running and finding the open pocket in the defense), speed, and size. We’re not used to this! We usually have speed and experience, sometimes just experience, but we rarely have all three.
Experience – Brown and Moore
Speed – Wheaton, Archer, Brown
Size – Moye and Bryant
I’m not including DHB because I don’t see anyone with a history of drops as a possibility. You catch the damn ball or get off the field. The only real question is who will need to be cut? This offense will be explosive and everybody knows it. I just hope injuries are not the final decision-maker.
Heath Miller continues to be a beast, but his health is incredibly important. When Heath is not on the field, it’s just not quite the same. He is a weapon in terms of blocking and receiving. I think Blanchflower can eventually be this kind of weapon under Heath’s tutelage, but it will probably take a few years.
In a league where offense is king and all of the rules are skewed in favor of splash offensive plays and more points, we’re gearing up to get points on the board in a big way. Will 2014 be the year of the Steeler's offensive juggernaut? All signs point to "yes."