by Ulish Carter
Courier Staff Writer
Last season the Steelers had the best defense in football but one of the least effective offenses with the result being an early exit in the playoffs. Well new offensive coordinator Todd Haley was brought in to change all that, and if he’s successful the Steelers will be in the Super Bowl for the 9th time.
|READY FOR DENVER—Mike Wallace jokes with Emmanuel Sanders during pre-game warm ups Aug. 30 at Heinz Field before the Steelers took on the Carolina Panthers. (Courier Photo/William McBride)
Haley’s job is to transform the offense into a more productive unit in the red zone. Meaning simply instead of having to settle for field goals or not scoring at all they put the ball in the end zone for seven. Many believe this is improving the running game, especially in short yardage situations, but actually it means scoring 7 points by any way they can.
The Steelers had big offensive numbers last season with starting wide receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown compiling more than 1,000 yards each through the air, thus leading to Ben Roethlisberger amassing over 4,000 yards. But with all these numbers they finished 22nd in scoring, which is the most important number. Much of the blame was put on the offensive line, so this year they went out and fixed that too.
The first and second round draft picks were offensive linemen. Even though neither were expected to start this season, both expected to see a lot of time as backups, especially when one of the starters were injured which happened a lot last season. But all that changed with the injury to David DeCastro, the first round pick, during the pre-season. He may or may not play this season, but will definitely miss the first half of the season.
The first thing they did was sew up the blind side with two veterans, by moving starting tackle Willie Colon to left guard and resigned veteran Max Starks to handle the left tackle slot
On the right side will be newcomer Ramon Foster at guard and second year player Marcus Gilbert at tackle, with All Pro Maurkice Pouncey manning the center position. Mike Adams, the second round draft pick, will backup both tackles, with fellow rookie Kelvin Beachum adding depth. With the injury to DeCastro, Doug Legursky will be the first backup at center and guard until he comes back. Trai Essex was cut.
This year’s line appears to be the best they’ve had in years. Now if Ben does what he’s told, and that’s get the ball out of his hands quickly they should not only be able to do a better job of protecting him and opening holes for the runners but stay healthy.
Speaking of running, with Rashard Mendenhall hurt the Steelers have compiled a stable of outstanding runners starting with Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Barren Batch, and rookie Chris Rainey. So look for the running game to be much more productive this season in the area of yards per run, as well as running a little more. I said a little more because the Steelers have Roethlisberger, Wallace, Brown and Heath Miller so they are going to pass the ball 60-40.
Even though Wallace pulled one of the dumbest things a player could do by holding out during the pre-season thus missing much needed time learning the new offense as well as working on his timing with Ben, his blinding speed will keep defenses awake, while his partner, Brown, will continue to demonstrate why he just may be the best in the NFL. If not he should be among the top five, with Miller continuing to be “Mister Consistency” at the tight end spot.
As great as the starters are, the Steelers may have the best group of receivers in the league with Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery at wide receivers; and tight ends Leonard Pope and David Paulson ready to step in whenever they are needed. If Sanders can stay healthy this season look for a big season out of him as the third receiver, which may make Wallace expendable.
Barring any major injuries and if the key players execute the way the new coordinator has taught them, look for the offense to become one of the most productive units in the NFL. Ben could lead the league in yardage, touchdowns, and quarterback ratings, with Wallace and Brown establishing themselves as the best duo in the game.
Notice I said touchdown passes, because without the 7s, all is for naught.
For now the Steelers decided to keep Charlie Batch as their third string quarterback with Byron Leftwich as the backup to Roethlisberger.
The Defense next week.
The Steelers face the Denver Broncos this weekend with their new quarterback Peyton Manning. Even though he missed all last season with a neck injury, Manning has been the best quarterback in the NFL the past 10 years and if he’s only 80 percent, this would make him better than most. However, the Broncos have beefed up its running game with 1,000 rusher Willis McGahee joined by Chris Gronkowski, Lance Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno.
But nobody runs on the Steelers, so the bottom line will be the passing game which should be far better than last year. But even with Manning, the Bronco receivers are big question marks. Eric Decker and Demarylus Thomas are nowhere close to the quality he had at Indianapolis but he will make them better.
The Broncos had an outstanding defense last season which helped them defeat the Steelers in the playoffs, but they shouldn’t be able to contain the new Steelers offense.