The quality of the offensive line couldn’t drag down Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers on their way to a Super Bowl victory and two AFC titles over the span of three seasons ending in February 2011. Yet over the past two seasons the hits to Big Ben took their toll as Pittsburgh’s ignition key was bent out of shape; injuries felled two strong Steelers teams before they could really make a postseason push.
Sticking around the pocket for an anxiously long time is part of what makes Roethsliberger, well, Roethlisberger. Still, the glimpses of how good a passer he’s become in rhythm with his offense over the past two years — when Big Ben’s healthy — show exactly what must happen for the Steelers to capitalize on their championship window at least one more time. Guard Ramon Foster and center Maurkice Pouncey seem like an interior you can win with, and the other three guard spots have much to prove after a horrendous 2012 season and struggles protecting Big Ben thus far in the preseason.
This pass offense could very well finish top-five on Roethlisberger’s arm and sneaky-fast options Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, while I’m a believer in Markus Wheaton replacing Mike Wallace‘s 2012 production on a game-to-game basis by midseason. The recovery of tight end Heath Miller will be crucial and same goes for Le’Veon Bell. Their ability to near 100 percent and hit potential this season should make a huge difference between a decent offense and a very good one.
And the attack needs to be potent if this defense plays like a mix of mostly over the hill stars and unproven first-years starters, which a realistic worst-case scenario.
An aging defense presents many questions over whether this window has closed already. Troy Polamalu has looked an injury-riddled shell of his former self over the past two seasons and other starters from this Dick LeBeau era, like Larry Foote and Ryan Clark, have pushed well past 30. We’ll see how the infusion of youth goes led by Lawrence Timmons, who’s already proven himself among the league’s best inside backers, and who steps up at the corner spot opposite another aging Steelers staple in Ike Taylor.
Predicted Regular Season Record: 8-8 (4th in AFC North)
Predicted Finish: Miss postseason