In 2012, the Steelers were overcome by injuries and their division foes in were able to take advantage. The Bengals and Ravens soared past them this season, both locking up spots in the playoffs. Their age showed against younger, more explosive teams and by season's end, they could only muster an 8-8 record.
One could argue that these problems began in the offseason.
They brought in Todd Haley to be the offensive coordinator with intention that it would open up the passing attack. However, it led to an identity crisis that was reflected throughout the season. They did not field the same cohesive attack fans were accustomed to.
No. 1 wide receiver Mike Wallace also held out for a long-term, big money deal. The Steelers turned around and extended his counterpart, Antonio Brown and retained Wallace with a restricted free agent tender.
And despite the talent on the roster, the passing game could not find a rhythm. The Steelers were out of sync off the field and it reflected on the field. It also did not help that their running backs was banged up and changed biweekly.
Biggest Need: Running back
The Steelers need to get back to basics here by bringing in a workhorse running back. They need a true feature back to help balance this offense and help account for the lackluster play on the offensive line. Pittsburgh will look to pickup an every-down guy who can run in between the tackles and be a consistent threat.
They seemed to have lost that element this past season with guys like Isaac Redman and scat-back Chris Rainey. Rashard Mendenhall's production dropped, and he has struggled to stay healthy. Finding a productive running back would also help get this offense back on track and take some pressure off of Ben Roethlisberger.
They can do that by emphasizing the run game this offseason.
Other Needs: WR, OL, LB, S
In the eyes of many, Max Starks has been done for a couple years now. Starks gets washed out against most pass rushers. He was solid because he provided a wall but his game has been in decline. What kind of player do they have in second-year tackle Mike Adams? He struggled on the left side last season, but another year of experience could help. Another first-round pick for an offensive lineman might be out of the question, but Pittsburgh can find some much-needed depth later in the draft.
The Steelers also need to realize this linebacking corps needs a serious reboot. Inside linebacker Larry Foote is a free agent. Both in their mid-20's, Lawrence Timmons and LeMarr Woodley restructured their contracts to help clear cap space. Finding a replacement for James Harrison, 35, should be a priority.
But a new outside rusher and a general to command this unit from inside out would be ideal for this defense. Pittsburgh also has to concern themselves with their aging defensive line and secondary. Troy Polamalu is going to be 32 years old this season and Ryan Clark's on-the-field time has been limited. They also lack an above average cornerback.
And finally, with the anticipated loss of Mike Wallace via free agency, the Steelers will need to add some talent to the wide receiving corps as Antonio Brown looks to take the lead.
Steelers will be at least $10M over 2013 salary cap. Would be a surprise if they re-sign free agent WR Mike Wallace: bit.ly/rdpVys— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) January 10, 2013
NFL Draft Outlook:
The running back position and replenishing this defense have to be points of emphasis for the Steelers in this year's draft.
With this draft class, Pittsburgh can refresh their entire running back corps this year. In terms of a fit, someone that should be on the Steelers' radar is Montee Ball, formerly of the Wisconsin Badgers. This guy projects to be an every-down back and is a tough runner by nature.
Ball does a nice job finding the run lanes and attacking the line of scrimmage with good quickness in tight areas, showing the speed to get around the edge. He has good balance and deceiving run power to slip out of tackles, rarely going down easily.
Ball has sharp change-of-direction ability to quickly redirect his momentum and the footwork to sidestep defenders, bursting upfield. He is determined and runs with purpose, but also stays patient, following and allowing blocks to develop.
But Ball is expected to go somewhere between the second and third round. The Steelers have the 17th overall selection in the draft and could look to add the best defensive player available.
Outside of the running back position, the Steelers clearly need to bulk up on defense. They need to add some high-ceiling players that have a chance to develop behind these seasoned veterans in Pittsburgh. When their turn comes to pick in the middle of the first round, they should take the BPA on defense. Jarvis Jones would be a great pick, if he falls that far in the draft. If not, Alec Ogletree could be a player to watch.
From a personnel standpoint, this team could look very different this coming season. Age and huge salaries are preventing this team from being more cohesive across the board.
Expect some changes in 2013.