Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ryan Shazier's Bold Prediction: Super Bowl In Steelers' Near Future?

The Pittsburgh Steelers first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier is already making quite an impression. Not all of it may being so good. 

As the Steelers OTAs began Tuesday, Shazier lined up as first team Mack linebacker, with his speed and aggressiveness turning heads. However, not all have appreciated his aggressive play. Ask recently-returned center Maurkice Pouncey.  

“I didn’t want to break rule No. 10,” said Pouncey, referring to coach Mike Tomlin’s edict which forbids fighting.

He said this because, as reported by Chris Bradford of TimesOnline.com, "Shazier threw down C Maurkice Pouncey during a drill." He tried to "make amends," but Pouncey wasn't having it." -  http://tinyurl.com/n6svq3t

Shazier, buddy, c'mon. Love the aggression, but we can't have Pouncey hurt...again. 

But the impetus of this article is born of a tweet by Shazier (@RyanShazier on Twitter) on Monday when he portended great things for the city of Pittsburgh when he wrote that within "5 years" the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates would all win a championship in their respective sports. 

Leaving the Pens and Bucs to hockey and baseball blogs, the question needs to be asked of the erstwhile Pittsburgh Pirates: Are the Steelers close to reaching and winning another Super Bowl?

First off, I think we have to acknowledge that winning a Super Bowl title involves a healthy dose of good fortune as well as skill. We all agree there? Good. 

That said, back in February of this year, If It Ain't Steel laid out what we believed were the seven musts for this offseason. In it we wrote, among other things, that the Steelers need to make sure to have few changes on offense. Because, make no mistake, the offense wasn't the problem. -  http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-seven-musts-for-steelers-2014.html

Sure, things started off badly as the offense was anemic early on. There were a plethora of turnovers - nine in the first four games by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger alone - and no offensive line to speak of - just 1,383 yards rushing, easily their fewest in a 16-game season at only 3.51 yards per carry.

Most all of this was early, however, and it turned around to the Steelers advantage in the second half of the season. 

Only the Carolina Panthers (7-1) had a better second-half record than the Steelers (6-2). To accomplish that, they scored 28.2 point average over the final nine games, they went from a -11 in turnovers in the first four games alone to +7 over the final eight, they allowed just seven sacks in the final seven games, they were a more efficient offense going 14-for-20 (touchdowns) in the red zone in the final six games, and they committed to the run more culminating in 461 yards gained with a 4.0 YPC average in the final four games. 

Not that the offense will just hit the ground running and automatically beat everyone 28-17, especially with the loss of wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and the addition of WR Lance Moore and also of running back LaGarrette Blount. By no means, though, is the offense the problem and won't ultimately be the reason this team fails. 

Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the defensive side of the ball.

The Steelers' porous defense surrendered 17 plays of 40 yards or more, including 11 of over 50 yards, last season. Five of those those 17 plays were runs, two of which being by quarterbacks. 

There is no way that can continue if the Steelers want to be successful. 

We have seen what a brutal, intimidating and opportunistic defense has done for the Steelers in the (recent) past, and we saw what such a defense did for the Seattle Seahawks this past season.

Having a high-powered offense can only get you so far. Just ask the Denver Broncos. Or the 2007 New England Patriots. Or almost any of the top offenses that have faced the top defenses in the Big Game. 

Even in this pass-happy, fantasy football-driven NFL, defense still wins championships. And the Steelers must successfully rebuild their unit into a dominant one if they want to be considered Super Bowl contenders again.

There is good news and bad news, however, when it comes to turning around those pathetic statistics and results. The bad news is that upgrading the defense isn't a quick fix. There were holes to fill everywhere - in the defensive line, in the linebacking corps and in the secondary. 

The good news is that the Steelers defense still has good players and very good coaches, although it is far from a Super Bowl-contending unit. But, even though it's too early to say definitively, via free agency and the NFL Draft, GM Kevin Colbert and company have seemingly brought together the appropriate pieces.

Finally, though we won't discuss it in detail here, the last thing that shouldn’t be overlooked is Special Teams. The return game is an area the Steelers are continually lacking, but which can only be benefitted by the addition of rookie Dri Archer. 

Well, was Shazier's prognostication valid and potentially accurate? 

It still may be a couple of years before the Steelers can call themselves Super Bowl contenders or even champions again, but that five-year window is certainly attainable. Why? The aforementioned Super Bowl champion Seahawks had back-to-back 7-9 seasons in 2010 and 2011. It is absolutely feasible. 

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TIDBITS: Cam Thomas started at left defensive end opposite Cam Heyward during the first OTAs. Thomas will play both LDE and NT, much like Al Woods and Chris Hoke before him. Heyward is coming off a very good year - 59 tackles (35 solo), 30 QB pressures, 8 passes defended, 5 sacks and a fumble recovery. 

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Markus Wheaton opened OTAs as the starting X receiver opposite Antonio Brown. He naturally has the inside track on the job, as that is why he was draft last year. 

"There are a lot of us chasing that spot," a humble Wheaton conceded. "It’s not mine. There’s a lot of good competition." The 5'11", 189-pound WR ran a 4.4/40 at the 2013 Combine.

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ROLB Jarvis Jones said he hasn't really gained many actual pounds, but that he is much stronger and that he studied hard to be ready for the new season. 

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According to the a Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly, the NFL’s transactions wire said that the Steelers were awarded former Alabama corner Deion Belue (5'11"/182 LBs) on waivers from Miami on Wednesday.

Belue was a two-season starter for the Crimson Tide, notching 60 tackles, breaking up 10 passes and recording three interceptions.

Steelers waived offensive tackle Kaycee Ike.