Before the start of the 2011 Steelers season, there was great optimism that the offense could be one of the most dynamic and explosive in franchise history. Ben Roethlisberger had long established himself as a legitimate franchise quarterback, and there was great excitement about the plethora of weapons that he had at his disposal.
Mike Wallace was quickly emerging as the best deep threat in the NFL, and there was a lot to like about 2nd year wide-outs--the final 2/3 of the Young Money trio--Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. And when you factored in all-time Steeler Hines Ward, the underrated Heath Miller, and the newly acquired Jerricho Cotchery, one wondered if there would be enough passes to go around to keep everyone happy.
And to complement the talented pass-catchers, the Steelers had a stable of running backs, led by 1000 yard rusher Rashard Mendenhall, who were equally capable both on the ground and in coming out of the backfield on passing plays.
Yes, there was a lot to be excited about. Some people even thought that the offense would finally emerge as the more dominant unit on the team what with the defense showing signs of age.
The offense did rack up the yards. Roethlisberger threw for over 4000 yards; Wallace and Brown each caught over 1000 yards worth of receptions and made the Pro Bowl; and Mendenhall was well on his way to a third-straight 1000-yard season before suffering a knee injury in the final game in Cleveland.
But for all the yards and explosive potential, the Steelers offense ranked 21st in scoring, finishing the season with only 16 more points than the Denver Broncos. And the Broncos offense was BAD last year.
The Steelers were one-and-done in the postseason, and afterwards, the fall-out soon began, as long-time goat Bruce Arians was relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator much to the delight of Steelers fans everywhere.
Shortly after Arians' departure, our very own Maryrose penned this fine piece reminding Steelers fans that maybe the problems with the offense had as much to do with the poor offensive line as it did with the person who designed the game plan. Here's a great quote from the article:
I believe the worst curse to be inflicted upon an OC is to have outstanding skill people, shiny toys to play with, but playing behind an awful offensive line. It's like a '65 Mustang sitting in your driveway with a beat up engine. It looks good from a distance, but get in and drive it and it putters down the road making noises and leaking fluids.
For years, I had been an advocate of upgrading the talent-level up front. But for every argument I gave about the Steelers needing a few stud offensive linemen, there were at least as many counter-arguments stating that most offensive lines around the NFL were made up of mainly lower round draft choices and undrafted free agents.
That may be true, and it might work (the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII with maybe the worst offensive line in team history), but I've always believed that every unit needs at least one stud--a player of high pedigree and skill--to make everyone else around him perform better.
From 2003-2009, the Steelers never drafted an offensive lineman any higher than the third round. An offensive line is like anything else, if you neglect it long enough, it's going to suffer.
A part of me started to buy into the argument that maybe an offensive line made up of lower-skilled players would be good enough. However, there was always a part of me that yearned for the next Alan Faneca or Dermontti Dawson to come along.
Finally, starting in 2010, the Steelers began to address their offensive line woes by drafting center Maurkice Pouncey out of Florida. Pouncey immediately emerged as the best lineman on the team and made the Pro Bowl his very first year. That in and of itself should have told the front office something.
Last year, the Steelers continued to address the offensive line when they selected Pouncey's old college teammate, offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert.
And just to show everyone that they were serious about upgrading their offensive line, the Steelers used their first two picks in this year's draft to take guard David DeCastro out of Stanford and tackle Mike Adams out of Ohio State. That's four offensive lineman taken in the top two rounds in the last three drafts.
By spending so many high draft picks on offensive linemen in recent years, the front office is acknowledging that maybe the troubles with production go beyond the coordinator.
Maybe Big Ben does need to tweak his game just a bit, but maybe the broken bones, concussions and sprains aren't all his fault. Maybe there are only so many times you can ask your elite quarterback to get rid of the football.
Maybe Mendenhall dances around too much, but maybe dance partners wearing different colored jerseys are meeting him in the backfield far too frequently.
Maybe the Steelers finally realize that they've had an awesome looking car that's just been sitting around for years, and it's about time they try to fix the engine and maybe take it for a spin.