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Although the Pittsburgh Steelers have had one of the most vaunted defenses in the NFL in recent years, their offensive performances arguably deserve even more credit when considering their glaring weakness – the offensive line.
Pittsburgh took significant steps towards addressing this issue in the first two rounds of the draft, bringing in two potential starters in guard, David DeCastro, and tackle, Mike Adams. They will also have high hopes for linebacker, Sean Spence, their third round draft pick, who will bring some much needed youth to an aging defense.
Due to a lack of cap space the Steelers were unable to make any serious additions to their roster in free agency and were unable to bring back defensive veterans, Aaron Smith and James Farrior. Along with neither Farrior nor Smith returning, defensive stars James Harrison, Ike Taylor, Casey Hampton and Troy Polamalu are all well into their 30’s and questions have been raised about how effective the defense can be this year.
With the defense aging and the general development of the NFL into a passing-orientated league, focus will be firmly upon Ben Roethlisberger and the offense. Although ‘Big Ben’ is undoubtedly one of the best quarterbacks in the league when he escapes the pocket, and has shown incredible durability when you consider how often he takes hits, he needs an offensive line which will be able to keep him upright and allow him to remain healthy throughout the season.
The offensive line hasn’t been at its best this preseason, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the turnover of personnel, but both DeCastro and Adams have huge potential at their respective positions and do have the ability to start in the NFL. It may take them a few regular season games to get fully up to speed with the professional game, but expect Roethlisberger to have much better pass protection this season than he did in 2011.
Unfortunately for Head Coach, Mike Tomlin, the defense and offensive line are not his only concerns heading into the season, but also his receiving corps, which may be without their best deep threat in Mike Wallace. The star wide receiver has yet to report to training camp, and although the Steelers still have a good unit of receivers including Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, his presence has been missed in the preseason games.
Pittsburgh is a team that no matter the adversities they face, they always seem to be competitive, and don’t expect this season to be any different. They face challenges on both the offense and defense but should still be able to finish the season with a record somewhere in the region of 9-7, and will consider anything other than a trip to the playoffs as unsuccessful. Unfortunately for Steelers fans, they could be facing another season of finishing below arch-rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, and could find themselves in a battle with the Cincinnati Bengals for the second spot in the AFC North.
Image Courtesy of The Pittsburgh Steelers