Reasons why the Steelers will or won’t win Super Bowl this year
A Super Bowl-or-bust mentality from a team that hasn’t won a playoff game in almost five years could be considered a leap of faith.
That, however, will be the Steelers’ mindset when they report to training camp Saturday at St. Vincent College after an up-and-down 2014 campaign that ended with a home playoff loss to the rival Baltimore Ravens.
“Anything less would be a failure,” said linebacker Arthur Moats, who signed a three-year deal in the offseason and is set to replace the retired Jason Worilds in the starting lineup. “All the guys know we have one goal. We have a lot of unfinished business, and it is time to make it happen this year.”
The Steelers seemingly have everything in place to make a run at the Super Bowl. Their offense returns all 11 starters, including the trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, and their defense got a revamped look with Dick LeBeau moving on in addition to Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel.
In fact, the Steelers’ biggest obstacle might be themselves.
“As a team, we all want to be more consistent,” defensive lineman Cam Heyward said. “As a defense, we want to make sure that we are the most dominant group out there all the time.”
The Steelers were inconsistent on both sides of the ball last season. They alternated wins and losses during the first seven weeks and again through Weeks 10-14. Three of their five regular-season losses were to teams under .500.
“It is paying attention to details,” Moats said. “From the start, we have to be firing on all cylinders. There is no time to wait around for people. In this league, any team can beat you, and we have to make sure we are focused.”
Why the Steelers can win the Super Bowl
He is at the point in his career when his athletic ability and mental capacity for the game are at their highest points. That makes him a dangerous quarterback, one who can be mentioned with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady as among the best in the NFL.
Ben Roethlisberger is coming off the best season for a Steelers quarterback. He shared the NFL passing title and established franchise single-season marks in passing yards (4,952) and completions (408) and tied his team record with 32 touchdown passes. Armed with a lucrative contract extension, offensive weapons such as Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and a grasp of Todd Haley’s offense, Roethlisberger has an opportunity to lead the Steelers to a fourth Super Bowl appearance since 2005.
Todd Haley on Roethlisberger: “He understands he probably has less games to play than he has played, and he is as competitive as anybody I’ve ever been around. He wants to win.”
Mike Tomlin’s offseason decisions
Mike Tomlin is all about winning. If it takes shoving a couple of all-time greats out of the way, so be it. Who else — at 43 years old mind you — has the guts to get rid of Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau and future HOFer Troy Polamalu and two of the more popular Steelers in recent history in Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel? Tomlin, who has the fourth-highest winning percentage among active coaches, is entering his ninth season and has revamped a once-aging team into one of the younger ones in the league. The only regulars over age 30 are Roethlisberger and Heath Miller.
Mike Tomlin on change: “That’s something that we can’t be resistant to and that we have to embrace in an effort to continue to be the best that we can be.”
It was time for a change on defense. Well, at least Tomlin thought as much. After 11 years patiently waiting behind 77-year-old Dick LeBeau, 59-year-old Keith Butler was promoted to defensive coordinator. Finally, Butler will get to put his twist on a defense that has historically (other than the past two years) been successful. What kinds of twists? That’s yet to be seen, but the Steelers have assembled enough defensive talent via the draft over the past couple of years to give Butler plenty of options. No. 1 on that list is pressuring the quarterback. The Steelers finished 18th in 2014 and 20th in 2013 in total defense and had two of their lowest sack totals (33 and 34) in franchise history.
Keith Butler on defensive changes: “We have to try to marry two things, the things that we did well last year and maybe some things we haven’t done before here. We are going to try to do those.”
Why the Steelers cannot win the Super Bowl
The NFL is a passing league (we all have heard that), and defenses better be able to stop the pass. It’s a legitimate question whether the Steelers have the personnel to get that accomplished. On paper, they probably don’t. William Gay had a solid season but didn’t even open 2014 as a starter; Ike Taylor wasn’t asked back; Cortez Allen was benched midway through the year, and Brice McCain went to the Dolphins. The Steelers didn’t upgrade the secondary, at least with immediate impact players despite having back-to-back seasons in which they finished in the bottom third defending the pass. Gay, Allen and Antwon Blake are penciled in as starters, which ultimately could be the Steelers’ undoing.
Carnell Lake on Cortez Allen: “We need him to not only improve upon last year, but this is his fifth year, and we have some younger cornerbacks behind him. So we need him to take a leadership role as well.”
A lot of times the success of a team is based on who it plays and when the games are played. When you play in the AFC’s best division, have a first-place schedule and it is your turn to go against the NFC’s best division, no game is going to be easy. The Steelers have the most difficult schedule of every team (.579), based on last year’s winning percentage coupled with West Coast trips to Seattle and San Diego. Last year, the Steelers farthest game west was Tennessee. This year, they have games in St. Louis and Kansas City along with Seattle and San Diego. Incidentally, the last time the Steelers had the most difficult schedule was in 2008 — they won Super Bowl XLIII that season.
Cam Heyward on the schedule: “You can’t use that as an excuse. You still have to play the games. All we can do is take care of business.”
Every team’s success is based on health. For the Steelers, it is a requirement for them (at least their core group) to stay healthy. The Steelers have nobody who can pick up the slack if Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell or Antonio Brown miss an extended period of time. Bell already is reportedly expected to be suspended for the first three games because of his marijuana and DUI arrest last preseason, and it will be a difficult task to replace his production. Also, the defensive end position is light behind Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt; the secondary has no experience behind Cortez Allen, William Gay and Antwon Blake; and the offensive line is pretty thin behind Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and David DeCastro.
Maurkice Pouncey on staying healthy: “We got lucky (last year). Injuries happen in the NFL. (Players) get hurt every single year. Hopefully, we will get the same thing we did last year and get lucky and nobody will have a serious injury.”