NFL 2014 Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

Troy Polamalu is coming off a bounce-back year in which he played in all 16 games. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Last year’s record: 8-8

Coach: Mike Tomlin

2014 is about… Still not giving up. Versus outside expectations, anyway, last season could be considered a roaring success. With a porous o-line, an ailing D and football’s strangest run game (more on that later), the Steelers started the year as a decent bet to finish last in the division, but ended up pulling out eight wins. What’s more, they got far better as the season went on, winning six of their last eight. Many of the same problems remain from last year, but you can count on Tomlin and Co. to scrap, at least until the faces of the offence and defence move on.

Core players: Ben Roethlisberger (QB), Antonio Brown (WR), Troy Polamalu (S)

But they lost… Emmanuel Sanders (WR) will be missed now that he’s fled to Denver to catch passes from Peyton Manning, especially with the subsequent loss of Jerricho Cotchery (also WR). That removes the No. 2 and 3 receivers from last year’s team. Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Felix Jones (RBs, the lot of them) have all moved on as well, continuing the skill-position slate-cleaning and potentially ending the most frustratingly mediocre period in Steelers running-back history.

Yeah, but they got… Mike Mitchell (S) is coming off a career year with the Carolina Panthers in which he intercepted four balls and notched 3.5 sacks, and he’ll be a great fit alongside Polamalu. (He’s six years younger than his fellow safety, too.) But the most important addition might be offensive line coach Mike Munchak, brought in to shape up an inexperienced o-line that gave up 43 sacks last season. The Steelers also snagged LeGarrette Blount (RB) from New England to back up Le’Veon Bell. Speaking of which…

Growing from within: First-year man Bell (RB) took over from the brutal platoon in front of him in the fourth week and got at least 13 carries in each of the team’s final 13 games. The 3.5-yards-per-carry average for the season isn’t spectacular, but he did his most impressive work in the final five games, going for 405 yards on 101 carries with four touchdowns. He also caught 45 passes on the season for an additional 399 yards. Given a full pre-season with Bell as the No. 1 guy, Tomlin and the coaching staff should find ways to better utilize him.

Why this team? Because the Steelers have won six Super Bowls, more than any other team in the NFL. Or because they only need a logo on one side of their helmets. Or because Pittsburgh is the new Portland.

Why not? Because you’re tired of those Polamalu shampoo commercials—we get it, Head and Shoulders, his hair is really big. Or because, you know, everyone hates Ben Roethlisberger.

Perfect for fans of… Pedal-steel guitar. (No, wait, that’s everybody.) Also perfect for fans of good nicknames: The Bus, The Steel Curtain, Mean Joe Greene, etc. Also perfect for fans of the greatest play in football history:

How much hope? 6/10. Point: They’re exactly 16-16 over the past two seasons, the very picture of middling performance. Counterpoint: They’ve finished below .500 just once since 2000. Point: Polamalu’s aging and overpaid. Counterpoint: He’s still better than the majority of safeties in the league and made the Pro Bowl last year (his eighth appearance). You can count this team out if you like, but don’t be surprised if they’re making things interesting in the wild-card chase in December.

Will you be mocked for front-running? A bit, yeah. They’re one of the winningest teams in the history of the league. Kind of goes with the territory.

A Meme To Remember: This isn’t “accurate,” per se, but it’s “indicative”:


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