The ending to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2011 season was tragic at best. The Steelers were one of the three favorites to win the AFC title going into the 2011 season having come off a defeat by the Packers in Super Bowl XLV. The team played well throughout the season battling the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC North’s top spot. However, Week 14 was the beginning of the end for the Steelers’ season. While playing the Cleveland Browns, Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle injury while scrambling out of the pocket. Instead of deciding to heal the ankle Big Ben decided to start the next game against the San Francisco 49ers in order to clinch a playoff birth in Week 15. Roethlisberger was noticeably limping during the game and ultimately had to sit out. Charlie Batch started the next two games for the Steelers, eventually clinching a Wild Card playoff spot. The Steelers were heavily favored in the Wild Card game against the miracle Denver Broncos and Tim Tebow. In shock and amazement to everyone in the world, the Broncos were successful in passing the football against the top defense in football. With a single overtime play of 80 yards, the Steelers were sent packing home and left scratching their head. With the collapse of the 2011 season behind them, what will the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers bring to the table?
The 2012 Steelers will be quite a bit different from the Steelers of the past five years. Due to the new collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players, the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves with salary cap problems during the 2012 offseason. Player casualties from front office decisions were the releasing of veteran Steelers players such as Hines Ward, James Farrior, Aaron Smith, and Max Starks. An analyst once said that the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have backup players but “starters in waiting” and there has been no other time more important for those “starters in waiting” to play at the same level of standard that the Steelers fans are accustomed to than during the 2012 season. Other veteran Steelers players have restructured their contracts to also help the organization in its salary cap problems.
The historic franchise has done its best in trying to replace its cap casualties by signing back Max Starks, resigning Jerricho Cotchery, and signing Leonard Pope. The Steelers also addressed its offensive line disasters through the draft, using its first two picks in selecting two offensive linemen, David DeCastro and Mike Adams. The Steelers have also drafted several other weapons to develop as “starters in waiting” as is the Steelers way. Electric running back Chris Rainey looks to be a change of pace back on third down situations and the primary kick and punt returner, Sean Spence will be developed into a Steelers future middle linebacker, and Alameda Ta’amu looks to replace nose tackle Casey Hampton in the future.
The Steelers have also dealt with disgruntled wide out Mike Wallace. Mike Wallace has demanded a long term contract with money equivalent to one of the top players in the league. Not giving into the demands of Wallace, the Steelers prepared to play the season without him and rewarded second year standout wide receiver Antonio Brown with a five year contract extension. Wallace and company finally decided to sign the restricted free agent tender offered to him by the Steelers and report to the team with only two weeks away from the start of the 2012 season.
The Steelers have always had one of the best defenses year in and year out. With Dick LeBeau still in command of the defense and some younger players being inserted into the starting roster, it looks like the Steelers will continue its dominant defensive tradition. The offense on the other hand might need some time to adjust to new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s offensive system. It’s no secret that Ben Roethlisberger loved Bruce Arians’ offense the past couple of seasons but with a changing of the guard and Pittsburgh native Haley in command of the offense, the Steelers may struggle early on in the season.
All in all, the Steelers have an elite defense and playmakers on offense. They may struggle for the first month, trying to learn the new personnel changes but they will once again be a heavy favorite in the AFC rivaling the Patriots, Ravens, and Texans for top honors. The first test will be against the same team that sent them home last season, in the same building, however Tim Tebow is no longer running the team, that job now belongs to Peyton Manning. We will see how prepared the Steelers are to redeem its 2011 season right from Week 1.