Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 NFL Season Preview: Fantasy Sleepers, Predictions: Is this Mike Tomlin’s Last Chance to Turn the Steelers Into a Contender?
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With the NFL season fast approaching, Latino Post looks at the offseason moves that will make or break each team.
Last Season: 8-8 (2nd in AFC North)
Key Additions: RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Darrius Heward-Bey, WR Lance Moore, DE Cam Thomas, CB Brice McCain, ILB Arthur Moats, FS Michael Mitchell, OLB Ryan Shazier (1st round), DE Stephon Tuitt (2nd round), RB Dri Archer (3rd round)
Key Losses: RB Jonathan Dwyer, OLB LaMarr Woodley, ILB Larry Foote, S Ryan Clark, WR Emmanuel Sanders, WR Jerricho Cotchery, TE David Johnson, OT Levi Brown, C Eric Olsen, DE Ziggy Hood, NT Al Woods
Games to Watch: Sept. 11 at Baltimore, Oct. 26 vs. Indianapolis, Nov. 2 vs. Baltimore, Dec. 7 at Cincinnati
Three Questions Heading into the 2014-15 Season:
1. Can the Steelers succeed without a running game?
Ask any high school student what a DUI is and they'll tell you. Apparently, Le'Veon Bell was never told.
"I didn't know you could get a DUI from being high," Blount quipped to a Ross Township police officer hours before the team's game in Philadelphia Thursday night. He and LeGarrette Blount were arrested for marijuana possession. Only Bell was formally charged.
Head coach Mike Tomlin played the duo late in the preseason game as a form of punishment, bringing skepticism to Pittsburgh's hollow disciplinary tactics. Tomlin's statement does more than that. It reveals their dearth at running back.
Bell gained 1,259 yards-860 rushing- and eight touchdowns in his rookie campaign. He outplayed Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones in every aspect and solidified himself as Ben Roethlisberger's top all-around target. Losing him to a suspension would be devastating.
Blount's arrival is somewhat of a surprise. He resurrected his career in New England last season running for 772 yards on 153 carries. For whatever reason, Blount relinquished the starting slot for a backup role in Pittsburgh, not that Tomlin is complaining. The Steelers near the league's cellar in rushing yards, yards per carry, and yards per game.
Tomlin said any discipline would come from the NFL. Blount and Bell's absence would leave rookie Dri Archer as the team's only viable option. Archer is of the Darren Sproles mold; a speedy playmaker who doubles as a dangerous kick returner.
He returned a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with Kent State last year and had the fastest 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine. It will be up to Tomlin and heavily criticized offensive coordinator Todd Haley to use Archer wisely.
2. Who will Ben Roethlisberger target?
Ben Roethlisberger is coming off one of his most productive season in memory. He threw for 4,261 yards and 28 touchdowns while throwing just 14 interceptions.
The kicker is Pittsburgh missed the playoffs for a second straight season. Roethlisberger started out slow, throwing just as many touchdowns as interceptions through the first six weeks. By the time he got into rhythm, the Steelers were too far behind Cincinnati. With suspension to Bell and Blount looming, the importance of an already pass-heavy game plan grows.
Two of Roethlisberger's top targets are gone. Emmanuel Sanders signed with Denver and Jerricho Cotchery bolted for Carolina. The duo combined for 1,342 yards, 113 receptions, and 16 touchdowns.
Pittsburgh still has an explosive option in Antonio Brown, the first wide receiver in NFL history to five or more catches for 50-plus yards in every game. Opposing secondaries will place double coverage on Brown throughout the season, making a dependable second receiver a necessity.
Second-year wideout Markus Wheaton will be key to the Steelers' success. The flanker starts ahead of veterans Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey despite recording just six receptions last season. He didn't make a catch in the final six games.
It's a heavy burden to place on an unproven receiver, but it's one the Steelers are willing to putting all their chips on.
3. Was anything done to shore up an ageing secondary?
Pittsburgh surrendered an uncharacteristic 23.1 points per game last year. Troy Polamalu played like a Hall of Fame candidate, but he's entering his 12th NFL season. 34-year-old Ike Taylor is also back at starting corner, as ineffective as he was.
They led a group which tied for the third-fewest interceptions in the league.
The consensus was that the Steelers' would target defensive backs in last spring's draft. They didn't, instead selecting a linebacker and defensive end. Newcomer Mike Mitchell signed with Pittsburgh after a breakout 2013 campaign in Carolina. Mitchell signed a five-year, $25 million deal, making him the team's biggest defensive free agency acquisition since Ryan Clark, who he is replacing at free safety. It's a risk, given his four underwhelming season in Oakland.
Next to Mitchell, Cortez Allen starts his first full season at cornerback. He's coming off a solid season where he began as a nickel and gradually moved up to starter. William Gay brings six career interceptions over 112 games to a Steelers secondary that desperately needs a mix of youth and experience.
Markus Wheaton- WR
Pittsburgh is placing a lot of stock on a receiver who hasn't recorded a touchdown. Still, they see enough in Wheaton to name him Roethlisberger's No. 2 option at wideout. Needless to say, his success coincides with Roethlisberger's.
Sitting behind Lewis and Cotchery didn't help Wheaton's progress. He missed four games with finger injury and was limited to 64 yards. Wheaton is a sleeper based solely on potential. The Steelers' will mostly abandon their running game and the second-year man will benefit greatly from it.
He's got the route-running ability of a Mike Wallace with speed Wallace never had. Any doubts were put to rest on Wheaton's 16-yard touchdown reception against Buffalo last weekend. The Roethlisberger-Wheaton connection will be successful. If anything, he's worthy of late-round pick up.
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