The Pittsburgh Steelers had a disappointing season in 2012, as they went 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Injuries were a significant factor for the Steelers, as a lot of key veterans missed multiple games and they lost five of their final seven games to watch their playoff hopes evaporate.
When attempting to narrow down who is the most irreplaceable player for the Steelers for the 2013 season, there are a few viable candidates. Injuries have limited safety Troy Polamalu recently, as he has played all 16 games just once in the last four years, but his presence is sorely needed for a Pittsburgh defense that has struggled to force turnovers over the last two seasons. With the loss of Mike Wallace in free agency, an argument can be made for wide receiver Antonio Brown being an extremely important player for the Steelers this season.
But there is one player who I think holds the keys to Pittsburgh being a playoff contender this year, and that is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He again missed time in 2012, this time three games due to a shoulder/rib issue after being injured against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 10, and the Steelers went 1-2 in his absence as their late-season slide began.
Roethlisberger has only played all 16 games once in his career, and the Steelers have long been hampered in his absence by a dismal situation behind him. They have, at least theoretically, upgraded their depth chart at quarterback this offseason by signing Bruce Gradkowski and drafting a potential quarterback of the future in Landry Jones, but if either is forced to play a lot that is not an ideal scenario for the team.
Roethlisberger’s style of play makes a missed game or two a virtual certainty, and at age 31 he is unlikely to suddenly become an iron man in 2013. But if the Steelers hope to return to the postseason, and perhaps win multiple games, no player is more vital.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.