The 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers fell short of expectations when their 12-4 regular season translated into an embarrassing overtime loss to the Denver Broncos in the first round of the playoffs. Inevitably, “there's always next year” could be heard echoing in the streets; here then are the predictions for the 2012 Steelers.
Rashard Mendenhall will not regain his starting running back job:
Reports out of Pittsburgh indicate that Mendenhall will start the 2012 season on the PUP list. Isaac Redman should be taking steps now to prepare himself for the chance to be the starting running back of the Steelers. While Mendenhall seems to have endeared himself to Head Coach Mike Tomlin, his somewhat tippy-toe style has annoyed fans and the media alike. Redman's style rekindles fans' love affair with the power running game. Expect Redman to start strong in 2012 and hold onto the starting job even after Mendenhall returns.
Mike Wallace will be a Steeler in 2012 (and the Steelers will not use the Franchise Tag on him):
The team can not afford to pay Franchise Tag money—which is north of $9 million for a WR—even with all the restructuring going on in Pittsburgh. That will leave two other options: either sign Wallace to a long-term contract or let him test the waters as a restricted free agent. The Steelers will require a first-round draft pick as compensation for another team to sign Wallace away and Pittsburgh would have the opportunity to match the monetary aspect of any tender. The draft pick will be enough to scare away most would-be suitors and the wealth of unrestricted talent available at WR should be enough to keep any other teams from taking too serious a look at the speedy Wallace.
Ben Roethlisberger will stop mourning the departure of Bruce Arians:
It's understandable that Roethlisberger would be unhappy about the loss of Arians as his Offensive Coordinator; however, if he wants to be a Super Bowl Champion again, Arians was not the guy to get him there. Statistically, the offense looked good with its 372.3 yards/ game (12th in NFL), 5.9 yards/ play (11th) and 46% conversion on third down (4th), but a lack of scoring chances and points was telling. The 20.3 points/ game was tied for 21st in the league; while Pittsburgh finished 17th in Red Zone touchdowns at just 50.91% and 16th in Red Zone attempts with 3.2/game. Those numbers are a far cry from the elite offenses that Roethlisberger alluded to being one step behind. New OC Todd Haley has shown the ability to get the most out of the talent given him and runs a similar system to Arians'. In 2010 (before the wheels fell off in 2011) Haley's Chiefs ranked eighth in the NFL with 59.62% Red Zone touchdowns, and in his final two seasons as the OC for Arizona, his offenses posted 59.74% and 69.84%.
Casey Hampton will be the next casualty on the Defensive line:
With Aaron Smith contemplating retirement after playing in less than six games in each of the last three seasons and back-up NT Chris Hoke all ready hanging it up, the ACL injury and recovery of Hampton becomes key to the Defensive line. The only other NT on the roster is Steve McLendon—a two year veteran who originally signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent. At 280 lbs, McLendon does not provide the anchor that Hampton has mastered. Widely regarded as the epitome of the 3-4 Nose, the 34-year-old Hampton may find it difficult (if not impossible) to return to form following off-season knee surgery. Looking to upgrade in free agency or the draft may be the wise route to take, with Antonio Garay (SD) and Sione Pouha (NYJ) hitting the market and top draft prospects in Dontari Poe and Alameda Ta'amu.
The Steelers will win the AFC North:
The AFC North is the Steelers' division to lose every season. Since 2001, they have won the division 6 times and only once did they miss out two seasons in a row (but one of those they still won a Super Bowl). Mike Tomlin hasn't posted a losing season yet and is coming off back-to-back 12-4 seasons. There is no reason to think 2012 will be any different.