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Thursday, January 02, 2014

Breaking down the 2013 Steelers

I'm going to do a little three-part series (OK, not so little) on what went right and wrong with the Steelers in 2013 and where I think the team will go this offseason over the next few days.

I'll start out today with what went right:

Several young players emerged as potential stars of the future, including defensive end Cameron Heyward, linebacker Jason Worilds, guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster and rookie running back Le’Veon Bell.

None of that group played a big role for the Steelers in 2012, but all took turns starring for the team in 2013.

Heyward, a 2011 first-round draft pick, moved into the starting lineup for good after the team’s 0-4 start. 
He finished the season with six sacks, 34 hurries and batted down five passes at the line of scrimmage. Only Houston’s J.J. Watt, with six, had more pass deflections among 3-4 defensive ends.

As good as Heyward was, Worilds might have been better. Despite sharing time with rookie Jarvis Jones for nearly half the season and missing the regular season finale against Cleveland with an abdominal injury, Worilds led all NFL 3-4 outside linebackers with 21 quarterback hits, six more than the next closest player.
Worilds, a 2010 second-round draft pick, led the Steelers with eight sacks, adding 54 tackles and two forced fumbles.

DeCastro drew the ire of fans for accidentally injuring center Maurkice Pouncey’s knee and ending his season on Pittsburgh’s opening drive of the regular season opener. But the 2012 first round draft pick rebounded to become the team’s best run blocker. He only allowed two sacks all season and also had just two penalties.

DeCastro was part of a line that got better as the season wore on. Like DeCastro, left guard Ramon Foster allowed just two sacks and had two penalties all season, while Kelvin Beachum replaced Mike Adams at left tackle after the team fell to 0-4 and solidified that position.

As a group, the line allowed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked just seven times in the final seven games.

Bell was also part of that. The rookie missed the first three games of the regular season after suffering a foot injury in the team’s second preseason game. The 2013 second-round draft pick got off to a slow start, gaining just 282 yards rushing in his first five games. But he gained 578 yards rushing in the team’s final eight games.

Bell also had 45 receptions – just six behind John L. Williams’ team-record for a running back – for 399 yards, giving him 1,259 yards from scrimmage, a total that broke Franco Harris’ record for a rookie running back set in 1972.

In addition to their breakout stars, the Steelers got their usual solid seasons from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown – who won his second team MVP award in three seasons – and safety Troy Polamalu.

After the line play settled down without Pouncey, offensive coordinator Todd Haley began allowing Roethlisberger to run the offense more out of a no-huddle look – something the quarterback had long pushed for.

Roethlisberger responded by throwing for 4,261 yards and 28 touchdowns, both of which rank as the second-best totals in team history, and the Steelers scored 20 or more points in their final nine games, their longest such streak since 2002. Roethlisberger also played every snap in every game for the first time in his 10-year career.

Brown earned his second Pro Bowl berth setting a team record with 1,499 yards receiving and finishing with 110 receptions – the second most in team history – and a career-high eight touchdowns. He ranked second the NFL in receptions and receiving yardage and third in the league in punt return average.

Polamalu, meanwhile, led all NFL defensive backs with five forced fumbles and also had two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown while playing in all 16 games.


Anonymous said...

Happy New Year to you and yours, Dale. And thanks for being there to set some of us straight when we get too emotional during a frustrating Steelers football season. We're all grateful you chose to pursue your calling in sports and not adverbs.

Dale Lolley said...

Ha. That stuff, of course, was out when I was a kid. They spell their name wrong, though.

Anonymous said...

2013 Steelers can be summed up like this - they stink.

They didn't deserve to be in playoff contention. The fact that the AFC stinks is the only thing that kept this mediocre bunch in contention.

They didn't beat anybody that is good. The best win was over Cincinnati at home and we all know the Bengals stink when they play on the road (losing record?).

The Steelers got to play the Browns twice, the Bills, the Titans, the Vikings, the Jets, and Dolphins and still couldn't make the playoffs.

This team is headed dowe the toilet at a rapid pace.

NineFingers said...

wow...Anon 3:10

I read this wrap up and thought, if only we could've gotten one more win. The Steelers of 2013 were actually a better team than their record indicated and because the team that started the season and the one that finished were VASTLY different. They were only getting better.

I'm still bummed we don't have the opportunity to make some serious noise in the playoffs this year.

The hard lessons learned this year will make for a GREAT 2014. Can't out.

Mark said...

Anon has just convinced me that the Patriots are bozos, because eleven of their games were against Buffalo (x2), Jets (x2), Miami (x2), Tampa, Atlanta, Houston, Cleveland, and the Steelers ("they stink").

If they were any good, they wouldn't have lost games to Miami and NY. And if the Steelers could beat Cleveland by 16 and 13, a good team wouldn't have to rally to beat the Browns by a single point.

Easley said...

Hey, that was fun to read! I'm guessing the other installments won't be as enjoyable. We're all so mired in negativity all the time, it's refreshing to read a 'what went right' post for a change.

Dale Lolley said...

What is this "deserves" stuff? I don't get that. The teams with the top 6 records get in every year. There is no deserves.

You rip the Browns, but they beat the Bengals and Ravens at home. Should have beaten NE in New England if not for some questionable officiating.
Dolphins did beat the Patriots. It's all relative.

They will be a playoff team in 2014.

TarheelFlyer said...

I have said this other places...the Steelers didn't DESERVE to go to the playoffs, but they probably SHOULD have been in the playoffs. They allowed their fate to be in the hands of others and paid the price. Sad, but that is the reality.

NineFingers said...

I'm with Dale.

The Steelers didn't deserve to be in the playoffs because they are not there...we can all point to multiple reasons why.

If Succup made his kick, the Steelers would be in the playoffs and therefore they would deserve to be in because they would be there. And we'd all be able to point to many reasons why they deserved it.

If you take any other perspective, in reality, the only teams that would ever "deserve" the playoffs would be the teams that don't lose a game. Anyone with a loss would be undeserving if they didn't make it because they failed to take care of business.

Phil said...

Thanks for praising Haley. It would be a huge mistake to fire him after this year.

I would also single out Jerricho Cotchery (10 TDs? Wow!) and Shaun Suisham as two more individuals who played particularly well in 2013.

Also, despite a few mistakes, Dick LeBeau is still one hell of a DC. And I think Jack Bicknell also had a successful year coaching the OL, especially considering all the injuries.

phil said...

haley went from a guaranteed fire at the beginning of this year to a guy they'd be nuts to get rid of by the end of the year. what strikes me as odd is that he accomplished the turn around by taking the reigns off of Ben and letting him have much more control of the offense. its like he got more done by doing less.

Mark said...

@phil : Kind of like how Worilds went from bust (in some people's eyes) at the beginning of the season, to a must-rehire.

marc said...

I realize this part of dale's series is about what went right, but let's be sure to put that into proper context.

yes, all those things dale pointed out are good, but they only played 3 teams with a winning record this season.

and while QB Rating isn't a perfect measure of the quality of a QB, it still does a good job of rating his effectiveness. with that said, the steelers didn't play against a QB who finished higher than 13th in the league this season. additionally, 37 QB's had enough attempts to qualify for the rankings and the steelers had 7 games against those ranked 29th or worse (they were 5-2 in those games).

the steelers were also fortunate to draw the NFC North this past season and went 2-2 against the worst division in the NFC and a Rogers-less packers team.

there are some bright spots for the team, no doubt, but they were .500 against a relatively soft schedule.

kyle said...

That's all well and good, marc, but are you going to put the "bad" post in context too? Are you going to mention the team losing its all-pro center eight plays into the year? Not having last year's team MVP for several weeks and even then not having him back to his ability for most of the year? Not having their record-setting rookie running back to start the year?

Oh, and will you mention how they went 4-2 in their division?

I'm not a cockeyed optimist by any means but Dale said in the first graf that this is a three part series and that this one is focusing on what went right. I think everyone already understood the intent and context.

Anonymous said...

The nfl is no longer dominated by a handful of superior teams. There is such a thin line between "good" teams and "bad" teams. Two or three plays in a game are usually what seperates a team from winning or losing. With that said, I think no one wanted to see the steelers in the playoffs. They started getting hot at the right time. I have 3 close friends that ate Bengal fans and when succop missed the fg they were jumping around like they just won the Super Bowl. They wanted no parts of us this week!!

marc said...

as I already acknowledged, I realize this is part of a series, but in no way does it reference the quality of the opponent. will dale put the low quality of opponent in his "what went wrong" part - i wouldn't think so as one would think that a soft schedule is a good thing.

all those things you listed clearly attributed to their struggles and once they were closer to full strength they won more games. but who were those games against? - of their last 8 games 4 were against teams picking in the top 10 of the next draft (they were 4-0). they were 2-2 in the other 4 games against supposedly better competition.

finally, if for example dale rails on the o-line in his next part without pointing out injuries, then yes, i will post to put it into - what i feel - is better context. that is, after all, the whole concept behind a blog and discussion, right?

NineFingers said...

At the time that the Steelers played each of their opponents, the Steelers played 7 teams with winning records. For example, the Bears that we lost to were a MUCH better team than the one that tanked at the end, also the Lions team that we beat were a much better team than the one that folded in the end.

Those 7 teams also don't account for the 0-1 Bengals we played (and lost to) in week 2 because they didn't have a winning record yet.

adamg said...

Dale, do you think the Steelers will make an good effort to bring back Cody Wallace? He really played well considering this season was the first where he was a starter, not a sub.

I agree with adding Cotchery and Suisham and I'd add Marcus Gilbert, Dwyer and Timmons, too.

Anonymous Brian said...

I thought the offensive line looked pretty good the second half of the season despite playing with 2nd / 3rd stringers, major injury re-shuffles, street free agents, etc.

What gives w/ Bicknell?

Anonymous said...

firing Bicknell is mind numbingly stupid...

marc said...

i agree with you that teams will go through cycles throughout the season as to when they are healthy, player good/bad.

so let's focus on the second half of the season when the steelers were closer to full strength. there were only three teams with winning records at game time. of those three, i was shocked they beat Detroit - however that game was also the precipice for the lions horrible finish. they beat the bengals at home and the bengals suck on the road. they also beat a packer's team without rogers.

we could go back and forth all day long, but you have to admit the schedule was relative soft compared to other years.

kyle said...

They played the teams on their schedule just like everyone else does. And it's a bit of cherry-picking to say "with a winning record" since the Ravens were 8-8 because they split with the Steelers and the Dolphins were 8-8.

The Steelers were not a dominant team this year. Is that what you're saying? I don't think anyone is disagreeing with that. I would say however, who was dominant? The Seahawks? The Seahawks who could only put up 7 at home against Arizona? Denver who liked like garbage against San Diego?

There's no such thing as "should win" or "should lose" in the nfl. The nba and mlb don't have the kind of playoff turnover the nfl has and I think those leagues are less interesting for it.

The Steelers had an average year. They had an exactly .500 record. They're drafting almost exactly in the middle of the pack. I don't think strength of schedule excuses or informs their successes or failures. I don't feel any better about losing to a "good" team.

Dale Lolley said...

No idea what happened with Bicknell. Had to be a conflict or schematic difference.

You can talk all you want about beating teams with winning records. Six out of 16 AFC teams had winning records. Seven teams in the NFC had winnings records and they crossed over against a division that had one winning team.

Denver played against seven times against teams who finished with a winning record. But that included SD and KC twice. The Broncos went 4-3 in those games.

New England played four games against teams with winning record and went 2-2.

I could go on and on. You play who's on the schedule. But the difference between 12-4 and 8-8 isn't the chasm some would have you believe. Same way difference between 8-8 and 5-11 isn't that great. Though I would say the difference between 5-11 and 8-8 is greater.

marc said...

i don't know if it was on this blog or somewhere else, but i commented during the last week of the season that Bicknell could be fired. it was just mind boggling how underprepared adams was at LT to start the season.

and just because the o-line improved doesn't mean it was Bicknell's doing. very easily could have been a more hands-on approach from haley, etc.

dale, care to speculate as to any other potential coaches to get the axe?

Dale Lolley said...

There was no doubt he was on the firing radar at midseason. But I thought the line play improved.

I really don't see any other coaches being fired. They usually do it all at one time rather than allowing them to trickle out.

It's possible there could be a retirement ... a situation where Tomlin gives a guy a couple of weeks to think about it ... but I don't see any other outright firings.

Anonymous said...

Lookin back we needed to heat teams like the Vikings, raiders, titans etc. but the game we really needed was the 2nd ravens game. We came out flat and didn't look like a playoff contender. Wish we could have that one back!!

adamg said...

Maybe Tomlin and co just decided to return to the power run game. Bicknell was brought in specifically to teach the zone blocking scheme and if that's out the door, then a change was probably in order.

Anonymous said...

Did they continue w/ the zone blocking all year or was there a change at some point?

Curious if changing schemes will affect Bell's running next season.

Dale Lolley said...

They ran some outside zone later in the season. They've always used some inside zone. That was no different.

adamg said...

PG reports Bicknell was sort of phased out during the season and by the end, the asst OL coach was doing all the teaching, etc.

Steve said...

And Dejan Kovacevic has a quote from one of the linemen that it's "absolutely not true" that Bicknell had his duties replaced or diminished at any point. So, somebody's lying or being fed b.s. by their source(s).

Anonymous said...

First Dale says he has no idea what happened with Bicknell... but then, as soon as the team starts feeding the talking points... all of the sudden Dale is saying he was on the firing radar at mid season...

there's already reports contradicting the claim that he was basically removed from "on field" duties mid season

Dale Lolley said...

Uh no. I think if you look back at this blog, you'll see that he was a guy who, at midseason, I said wouldn't surprise me was gone at the end of the season. They couldn't run the ball and were giving up a ton of sacks. That's what I was saying.

I'm surprised he was fired. And I was at practice all the time throughout the season and never saw Bicknell doing anything any differently in practice. The assistant o-line coach always helps out. Didn't see any more, any less.

Dale Lolley said...

Again, I thought the line - and team in general - improved that nobody was going to be fired.

Anonymous said...

After watching the Sugar Bowl I wouldn't mind the Steelers drafting Bama safety Ha-Ha Clinton Dix in the first round. He brings the wood every chance he gets. Got a lot a nasty in his game which this defense could definitely use next season. I miss the Joey Porter smashmouth football days

Anonymous said...

Any chance your talking about Lebeau retiring per you comment "It's possible there could be a retirement", and we bring in Ray Horton to be the next D-coord.?

Dale Lolley said...

Dick doesn't want to retire. Now, maybe he rethinks that after a few weeks, but he wants to keep going