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Steelers season forecast with Football Outsiders

Football Outsiders talks about the Steelers defense in 2011 vs. 2012, Antonio Brown and what we can expect from Ben Roethlisberger this season.

Vincent Pugliese-USA TODAY Sport

The good people at Football Outsiders took some time out of their own training camp madness to answer a few Steelers-related questions.

BTSC: In Andy Benoit's State of the Team column in April, he was particularly impressed with Antonio Brown, despite Brown having regressed quite a bit statistically from 2011 to 2012. What is your feeling on how Brown will do this coming season?

I agree with Andy's overall scouting report. Brown is a true go-to receiver, very dangerous on the deeper part of the route tree because he is such a smooth, quick, precise cutter.

The statistical slide ... when I was breaking down the Steelers stats and tape, I practically had to chuck the Leftwich and Batch games. Superficially, the passing numbers from those games look okay, but when you break things down situationally, you can see the effect they had on everyone's passing numbers.

From a purely production standpoint, I cannot predict what the loss of Wallace and the potential absence of Heath Miller is going to do. Brown will be without the guy who took the lid off the top of the defense and (potentially) the guy who worked the layer below him. That is going to lead to double teams and rolling coverage.

BTSC: David DeCastro, the team's first round pick in 2012, played three games last season - only two of which mattered, their Week 17 game was a throwaway against Cleveland. In a way, it's like his rookie year Part II. How do you think he'll fare this year, given his experience but noted athleticism?

I was a big DeCastro fan coming out of college. He is an excellent on-the-move guard, and I think he will be very effective in a zone blocking system. Those Stanford rookies of the Harbaugh era have a habit of arriving in the NFL close to game ready. I am more comfortable with DeCastro than with Adams, who was a stiff-and-slow guy coming out of college, may have trouble in the new system, and of course is coming off an offseason injury that may limit his reps early in camp.

BTSC: We made the (useless) claim that Roethlisberger was a top five MVP candidate after nine weeks in 2012. He was injured, and didn't really get back to his pre-injury status. Do you see the pre-injury Roethlisberger or the post-injury version being more likely this year?

The rebuilt receiving corps is as likely to be a factor for Big Ben as his health. I am actually impressed by how consistent Roethlisberger's numbers have been over the years, considering the pounding he has subject himself to.

The sack rates have gone down, but completion percentages and other rate stats hold their own (more or less), so you have a pretty good idea of what you will get when Roethlisberger is available. The question becomes whether that will be 12 or 16 games, and if some of those games will be "gosh, maybe he should not be playing" games.

I don't think we have reached the point where he will enter the season slowed by nagging injuries, or that he has lost any athletic ability permanently.

BTSC: The Steelers are an odd anomaly on the defensive side of the ball. They have one of the top scoring and yardage defenses in the league over the last two years, yet, they are historically poor in forcing turnovers, considering the fact they've won 20 games since 2011. Can you speak to the rarity of a team having success preventing points with so few takeaways?

The real anomalous year for that was 2011, when the Steelers forced only six fumbles. Interception totals have a high year-to-year volatility rate, caused by a bunch of factors. Fumble recoveries have a huge random element.

Forced fumbles are generally tied to sack totals and other measures of defensive dominance. The Steelers forced 15 fumbles last year, which was about on par with what you expect from a team with 37 sacks or so: again, 2011 was the weird year.

To get a truer sense of a team's turnover potential, I look at the health of their pass rush, and this is obviously a cause for concern for the Steelers, who have gotten old on the front seven and are changing out some pieces.

What I think we saw in 2011 was the pass rush slipping and turnover potential slipping with it, but it got masked by several factors, from a good offense to a pretty easy schedule.

Last year, things fell more into line. The Steelers still led the league in least yards allowed, but DVOA showed them slipping, particularly on pass defense, when breaking things down by situation and opponent.

BTSC: Dwyer, Bell or Redman? Choose two, and show your work.

I have watched Redman since high school here in South Jersey. I think he can be an exceptional power back in a committee system, and his receiving chops are a bonus. Bell should be effective in a zone-blocking offense and could end up being the best system fit. Dwyer is a little like the other two, only less so.

For the life of me, I cannot imagine the need for three big backs with one-cut ability who can catch, but Todd Haley loves to juggle, and maybe he wants interchangeability. I would start Bell and use Redman as my veteran change-up and third down guy, with Dwyer as an emergency guy. And I would not send running backs into the doghouse for a month every time they fumble.

Football Outsiders' Almanac is a must-read for any football fan. You can purchase it through their web site here.

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