Early Stat Projections for Pittsburgh Steelers' Top Impact Players
For years, it was the defense that carried the Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the season, but as many of the top impact defenders have aged and moved on, it is the offense that will be in position to carry the team in 2014.
Several of the top playmakers on Pittsburgh’s roster are on the offensive side of the ball. Players such as Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will be key components of the offense as they try to develop a top-10 unit this season.
Meanwhile, the Steelers have been unable to adequately replace veteran members of the defense, leaving the team with the lack of young playmakers in the starting lineup. However, players such as Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds and Mike Mitchell will look to help the defense regain some of its swagger that has been missing in recent years.
So how does the balance of power on the Steelers roster impact the stats column? Here is what can be expected from some of the top impact players during the 2014 season.
Stat Projections: 4,034 yards, 27 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 65% completion
Ben Roethlisberger has had some rough moments since Todd Haley took over as offensive coordinator, but he has also played some of the best football of his career. Even after a poor start to the 2013 season, he finished with the second-most productive season of his career with 4,261 yards passing and 28 touchdowns.
He looked very comfortable with the offense over the second half of the season and should pick up where he left off. However, with questions at receiver and the addition of offensive line coach Mike Munchak and running back LeGarrette Blount, the running game figures to be a more prominent part of the offense.
Roethlisberger will still put up very impressive numbers, but the offense will take a more balanced approach.
Stat Projections: 230 Carries, 1,012 yards, 40 receptions, 360 yards, 7 touchdowns
Le’Veon Bell began to show why the Steelers took him in the second round last season with 860 rushing yards as well as 45 receptions. He got stronger as the season progress, as he averaged over 4.0 yards per carry in four of the final five games.
It appeared as though Bell was poised to be the workhorse for the Steelers in 2014, but the signing of LeGarrette Blount means a reduced workload. Expect Bell to lose carries in short yardage situations as well as near the goal line.
However, as a running and receiving threat, Bell can still produce nearly 1,400 yards of total offense this season.
Stat Projections: 94 receptions, 1,278 yards, 7 touchdowns
Antonio Brown put the league on notice last season after he finished second in the league in receptions (110) and yards (1,499). His 23 receptions of 20 yards or more was good enough for third in the league, while he finished seventh in yards after catch (602) and tied for second with 69 receptions for first downs.
It will be difficult for Brown to reproduce these numbers in 2014 with the receiving corps that the Steelers currently have in place. Markus Wheaton is unproven, and Lance Moore should be limited to playing the slot. Without a legitimate second threat for Roethlisberger, defenses can key in on Brown.
That does not mean that they will shut him down. Brown will still be one of the most productive receivers in the league.
Stat Projections: 66 tackles, 11 sacks, 1 forced fumble
For the first time in his career, Jason Worilds will enter the regular season as the clear-cut starter at outside linebacker. He was very good over the final six games he played in 2014 with a combined 37 tackles and five sacks.
Worilds looked more comfortable playing on the left side, and that should show this year. His play against the run has improved, and he has become more disruptive as a pass-rusher. As the Steelers’ top pass-rusher, he will be in position to put up double-digit sacks.
Stat Projections: 115 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception
Pittsburgh’s linebackers have had so much success over the years due to a strong defensive line. That may not be the case this year, as they are without a starter at one of the defensive end spots, and they lack a wide body at nose tackle.
Without a strong defensive front, Lawrence Timmons may get washed out of plays as he tries to fight through blocks. There also is not an established inside linebacker playing next to him. Despite this, Timmons is their primary playmaker in the middle of the defense, and his statistics will reflect this.
Stat Projections: 81 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 interceptions
Mike Mitchell had a breakout season with the Carolina Panthers last season after a relatively disappointing start to his career with the Oakland Raiders. Playing on one of the league’s best defenses, he finished with 66 tackles, 3.5 sacks and four interceptions.
Mitchell will step right into the starting lineup at free safety and will provide an upgrade over Ryan Clark in terms of athleticism and in deep coverage. However, it will be tough for him to match Clark’s production in his first year.
Clark accumulated over 100 tackles in each of the last three seasons. That is a lot to ask from Mitchell, who will need to learn the defense. As a result, Mitchell will not reach triple digits in tackles, but he will see a moderate increase over his numbers in Carolina.
All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com.