Preseason Power Rankings No. 15: Pittsburgh Steelers


I’ve been accused of both being a Steelers fan and hating the Steelers.  Neither statement is accurate.

Here’s one that is:  After spending most of my life living in and within 100 miles of Pittsburgh, I know the Steelers as well if not better than any NFL team.

And here’s one thing I know:  When they are expected to be bad, they usually find a way to be pretty good.

In 2013, that theory could get its toughest test in years.  The roster is in transition, with a mix of aging veterans who are getting close the being kicked to the curb (including one with really long hair), a nucleus of players who are in their prime and who need to lead like it, and youngsters who’ll be relied upon to step up or step off.

For now, the consensus of the six PFT scribes placed the Steelers at No. 15.  Plenty of people think they’ll end up much worse.  Which tells me that there’s a good chance they’ll finish much better.


Perhaps the greatest strength of this franchise, year in and year out, comes from the franchise itself.  The Rooney family leads the team with a steady hand, never getting too high or too low in response to whatever may be happening at any given moment, month, or year.  Their patience could be tested over the next year or two, if the effort to change a flat tire on a moving car doesn’t work out very well.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remains a strength, but he could be an even stronger presence in three ways.  First, he needs to become a real leader of the team, not just a leader in word or title.  When former teammate Hines Ward pointed earlier this year to a lack of leadership earlier this offseason, he was pointing directly at Roethlisberger.  It’s time for Ben to prove the MVP of Super Bowl XL wrong.  (Unless the MVP of Super Bowl XL is right.)

Second, Roethlisberger needs to do less.  In the two seasons the Steelers won Super Bowls with Roethlisberger at the helm, he had his two lowest full-season per-game passing-yard averages, other than his rookie season.  The Steelers have been trying to achieve greater balance between run and pass, and Roethlisberger needs to buy in to that approach completely.

Third, he needs to stay healthy.  Though Roethlisberger apparently has recovered quickly from late-offseason knee surgery, there’s a sense that his very large body will betray him sooner than later, making it very hard for him to match other franchise quarterbacks by playing deep into his 30s.

In contrast to the Patriots’ inability to find quality receivers in the upper rounds of the draft, the Steelers have mastered the art of reaching into the haystack and pulling out mid-to-late-round needles.  Even with Mike Wallace (a third-rounder) gone to the highest bidder, the Steelers have a paid of solid replacements in Antonio Brown (a sixth-rounder) and Emmanuel Sanders (a third-round pick).  This year, the Steelers reached for two more needles, picking Markus Wheaton in (where else?) round three and Justin Brown in (where else?) round six.

The offensive line has been a perennial weakness.  The fact that it isn’t this year sort of makes it a strength.  Marcus Gilbert steps in for Max Starks at left tackle, and Mike Adams will handle the right side.  Maurkice Pouncey anchors the middle, with Ramon Foster on Pouncey’s left and a fully-healed David DeCastro, a first-rounder in 2012, to the right of the apologetic Hernandez apologist.

On defense, the ongoing presence of ageless coordinator Dick LeBeau will be needed more than ever, as the team adjusts to the departure of linebacker James Harrison and the highly unlikely return of nose tackle Casey Hampton.  But the Steelers have shown over the last 20-plus years an ability to interchange parts and still have a strong defense.  Regardless of the names and faces, the end result will be a fierce, hard-hitting defense.


The Steelers desperately need leaders with the will and the ability to influence teammates, on both sides of the ball.  Last year, they simply weren’t able to adjust to the sudden departure of leaders like Hines Ward and Aaron Smith.  This year, it will be very hard to turn around the perceived status of the team without players who take the criticisms personally and motivate those around them to take it up a notch, or three.

The running back position is perhaps less of a weakness than it is unsettled.  Rashard Mendenhall has left via free agency, and the Steelers hope Le’Veon Bell can make a Franco-style impact as a rookie.  If Bell doesn’t, it’ll be up to a revolving door of journeyman to provide the balance the team needs on offense.

The tight end position could be an issue for the Steelers, if Heath Miller has trouble recovering from a torn ACL suffered late in 2012.  If he does, David Johnson (who tore an ACL last August) could get a chance to shine.

The defensive line isn’t necessarily a weakness, but it’s not as strong as it used to be, making it harder for the largely anonymous trio to tie up blockers, which allows linebackers to get to the ball.


On offense, a quartet of big names has bolted:  Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall, Max Starks, and Willie Colon.  On defense, James Harrison has hit the road after rejecting a pay cut.  Casey Hampton didn’t even get a chance to turn down an offer; his contract expired, and the Steelers moved on.  (We still wouldn’t be completely shocked if he returns.)

New faces on offense include backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who displaced Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch.  Rookie quarterback Landry Jones has prompted Batch to suggest that, if Jones develops well, he could eventually displace Roethlisberger.  Three rookie skill-position players, led by Le’Veon Bell, will help the offense find its groove in year two under coordinator Todd Haley.

First-round linebacker Jarvis Jones, if his neck really is a non-issue, could make a huge impact from the get-go, making Steelers fans forget all about Harrison.  (Until, of course, Harrison is chasing around Roethlisberger when the Bengals face the Steelers.)

Position battles.

The Steelers want Le’Veon Bell to become the bell cow back, but he’ll have to earn it.  Other contenders include Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, and diminutive-but-effective La’Rod Stephens-Howling.

Beyond Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, the spots on the receiver depth chart are up for grabs. Don’t overlook Plaxico Burress, who’ll have his first full offseason and training camp to prepare for an NFL campaign in five years, as the primary red-zone target.  The slot job could come down to Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Markus Wheaton.

Pencil in Jarvis Jones as the replacement for James Harrison, but Jones will need to fend off Jason Worilds.

Despite the return of starting corners Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen, the return of William Gay could make things interesting, especially if Allen slips.

At safety, it could be hard to keep rookie Shamarko Thomas off the field, even with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark on the roster.  (It also could be hard for Thomas to avoid the inevitable nickname of “Sharknado.”)

At punter, incumbent Drew Butler will battle it out with Brian Moorman, who was the incumbent in Buffalo a year ago.


The Steelers feel like a team in transition that borders on turmoil.  They missed the playoffs in 2012, and many see them as the third-best team in a competitive AFC North.

But the Steelers have a way of finding their groove when they’re being doubted, and it should surprise no one if coach Mike Tomlin wills the team toward postseason contention.  If they get there, they’ve still got enough talent and experience to cause problems for supposedly “better” teams in the AFC and, if it comes down to it, the NFC.

74 responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 15: Pittsburgh Steelers

  1. This team lost to browns, titans, and chargers, all ranked lower than them. They are also older and less talented than last year.

    This ranking makes no sense.

  2. After every posted ranking, most of their fan base goes wild, thinking they should be ranked higher. Ah, offseason optimism, when everyone is 0-0. They even argue about #31 vs #32. Watch this fan base go to town.

  3. Number 1 rule for Ravens fans…always root for team playing the Steelers. Number 2 rule…never count them out until they are out. I want to jump on the “their rebuilding” bandwagon like my fellow Ravens fans but I just can’t do it because I’ve never seen them rebuild. Prove me wrong though Pittsburgh 🙂

  4. If Tomlin leads this team to another mediocre season, he’d better start watching his back. The Steelers can get any coach they want, and Tomlin isn’t as good as the media makes him out to be.

  5. This team is actually poised to be quite good.

    The offense didn’t lose much – most who have watched this team play know that Wallace was more of a nice-to-have than a go-to guy. Add a true beast of a power back and 5 solid / healthy linemen, this could turn into a top ball-control offense with Roethlisberger only airing it out when he needs too.

    On defense, Harrison was mostly a non-factor last year. Jarvis Jones most likely steps in and makes an impact immediately, and Jason Worilds is no slouch behind him. Hampton was stout enough against the run but pales in comparison to his self of year’s past – Steve McLendon isn’t much of a downgrade, if at all.

    If Roethlisberger doesn’t go down in 2012, this team goes 11-5, makes the playoff, and has as good a shot as any to make a run of it.

  6. There are a lot of question marks to iron out in camp and this team in very unpredictable right now, so #15 may be slightly generous. However, I would rather they not finish in the middle of the pack again this year so that they could have another good draft in 2014 (a bunch of additional compensory picks coming their way next year too) and get back on track.

  7. Around the middle of the pack at #15 sounds about right.

    This ranking should get the Yinzer’s panties in a bunch.

  8. “I’ve been accused of both being a Steelers fan and hating the Steelers. Neither statement is accurate.”

    My guess is that you’re a Dallas Cowboys fan…

    How else would they even stiff at any ranking above 19th?

  9. “This team lost to browns, titans, and chargers, all ranked lower than them. They are also older and less talented than last year.”

    And they beat Giants, Bengals and Ravens (with #3 QB), all ranked higher than them. Plus they let loose 3 of their oldest players, so technically they are younger. If at first and second you don’t suceed, try try again.

  10. A fair ranking but the Steelers will be fine. The #1 weakness of this team last year was the inability to beat the injury bug. With a healthy OLine and defense they will be much better than they were toward the end of last year.

    Lost in everything is the fact that the Steelers were 6-3 and atop the AFCN before injuries really struck. Ben was having an amazing season before getting injured against the Cheifs. The running game was explosive behind Mike Adams until he was injured. DeCastro was a beast when he finally got on the field in week 14.

    The Mike Wallace departure was expected and correct. Cortez Allen will be the Steelers breakout player this season so losing Lewis wont really be felt. McClendon will be a spry, lightweight Big Snack. So long Mendenhall.

    As long as the OLine can stay healthy, therefore Ben stay healthy this team will return to the playoffs. 10+ games out of Troy is a huge bonus but once Shamarko is ready to rock that inevitable pill will be easier to swallow. Lawerence Timmons is really coming into his own and should be the defensive leader.

    Cant wait for week 1!

  11. Big Steelers fan here. Pretty good analysis Florio, unlike Warren Sapp who does his analysis by way of how many Air Jordans a team owns.

    Anyway, I think the rating is fair, we were 8-8 last season. Hoping though that you are right in that when the Steelers are counted out, they usually contend.

  12. Only one team will be atop of the rankings at the end of the season: Steeler Nation.


  13. Rooting for teams in your own division to lose every game is short-sighted and addle minded. I want the teams in my division to finish just one game behind mine. I don’t want them getting top five draft picks year in and year out. I choose not to root for football like I were a ten year old.

  14. I am an admitted fan, but here goes

    On offense: It will come down to the offensive line. They must establish a running game to protect Ben and to control the clock.

    On defense: They better develop a pass rush that pressures the opposing offense into making mistakes. Last year, minimal and random on pass rush and hardly any turnovers created.

    They’ll be competitive, but their not at the top of this division anymore, probably chasing 2nd place. They’ll still lose games that they should win, and win some others that they should have lost.

    9-7, wild card at best

  15. You know who writes of the Steelers…the people that don’t watch them and thus don’t have a clue of what they’re talking about.

    When will people learn that front offices such as the Steelers, Ravens, Patriots, Giants and Packers are always in the mix because they know how to build a team and plug ‘n play new parts in to keep them competitive.

    The Steelers won and lost a lot of close games. They could have easily finished 11-5 vs 8-8. They lost some players but they draft so well that people forget that they always have quality young talent to pull from (keep a close eye on Shamarko Thomas as a future star at safety).

    Provided the Oline plays to potential and keep Roethlisberger healthy they will be there in the playoffs.

  16. AFC North is preseason ranked as first or second toughest in the NFL, but what is happening to teams within the division suggests that in 2013 we will see near parity. All 4 teams within a game or two 0f .500. That’ll get homers shrieking, but it’s also the mostly likely way this season will play out. You heard it here before training camps even open.

  17. 15th? Well, the experts are right about 50% of the time. I don’t put much faith in them.

  18. For all the Steeler trolls talking about how many rings they won before these trolls were even born all I can say is : #15, No more rings for you!

  19. lucky to win 8 games this year, will be fighting for third place in the AFCN….Bandwagon nation looses even more followers

  20. I am surprised they were ranked this high and the assessment overall is very fair….maybe too fair. Last year it was obvious leadership was missing, they weren’t making their own luck, and lost to teams late that they should not have. They were close in a lot of games but good teams win the close ones. Another 8-8 is very likely and possibly worse. Just keeping it very real.

  21. Rank em #32 if you want. Steeler fans know that 2 down years in a row just doesn’t happen to this organization. Ben will be fine, Steelers will roll the AFCN.

  22. For all the Steeler trolls talking about how many rings they won before these trolls were even born all I can say is : #15, No more rings for you!

    Funny, I do not see anyone saying “rings” so far.

  23. If Roethlisberger cuts down on the pump fakes from say 8 to 5, he should stay healthier.

  24. I love it. Truly. Whenever the Steelers fly under the radar in pre-season they end up giving the overated Ravens a big snot bubble twice a year. Get ready Faultimore

  25. Last year Roethlisberger could not get a single win when the defense gave up over 17 points.

    How many teams will the Steelers hold to 17 points or less?

    Take 75% of that number as wins.

    6-10? 5-11?

  26. Not even top 25 in my “expert” rankings. The Bloated QB play will determine, just how little success they will have. Just like steeler fans, the franchise tends to live in the past, and hang onto players hoping they will revive themselves from previous good years they had in past only to see them underperform, and be injury prone. (Polomalu, Roethlisberger, etc.) It appears the odds are favorable that the steelers end up dead last in AFC north this season. Hey at least they have “6” Lombardis to look at in the dusty old trophy case.

  27. Jessica Simpson’s ex boyfriend is going to get what he plays the game for, a top tier preseason power poll position!!!

  28. I look at the schedule and see a winning record. You telling they can’t beat the Browns and Bengals at least once ? Tennessee ? Vikings? Lions ? come on ?
    we beat Baltimore with Batch the 3rd string. We can’t get up for the losing teams and typically lose to them but we get up for winning teams.. Beat Giants, Ravens last year.

    Come on man

  29. Yes, Thanks for putting the steelers at 15. The Steelers will be sure to thank you at the end of the season when they win the division. They always do best with a chip on their shoulder.

  30. Love the absolutely clueless and jealous Steeler haters who actually think the Steelers will be 8-8 or worse this year! History shows the Steelers always bounce back from a down year…if you call .500 a truly down year as opposed to teams that would love to just finish at .500 once in a while. And the Steelers were doing quite well until the injury bug bit them hard last year on both sides of the ball. Especially on the offensive line. Baring injuries, 10-6 this year. Not a doubt about it what so ever.

  31. As someone who eats, drinks and breathes Steelers football (since the early 1970s), I like to think I usually have a pretty good handle on the team…
    Things that concern me:
    — The Steelers have beaten only six teams with winning records in their past 33 games. They are just 20-13 over that span of games.
    — Tomlin continues to have his teams unprepared and uninspired for so-called weaker competition.
    At home, on a Monday night, the Steelers needed overtime to survive the 1-7 Chiefs last season. In 2009, as defending Super Bowl champions, the Steelers lost to the 1-11 Browns, 13-6. That loss ended the Steelers’ playoff chances.
    And, of course, there were loses to the Raiders, Titans, Chargers, Browns and Cowboys last season against the weakest schedule in the league. Tomlin’s inane coaching cost the Steelers at least three wins last season.
    — The argument that the Steelers always rise to occasion when counted out doesn’t always fly. Last preseason, the pundits predicted them to finish 3rd in their division, which is exactly where they ended up.
    As a lifelong Steelers fan, I am concerned about the direction this franchise is headed.

  32. Crown says “steeler fans know that 2 down years in a row doesn’t happen”. Is that what they ALL Know? ’98,’99,00. ‘90,91. ’85,’86,’87,’88. No playoffs. Should I keep going?

  33. To be fair, Bengals were ranked 15th last year and Steelers 6th. As we all know, Steelers failed to live up to expectations and Bengals exceeded them. On the other hand, picking up Jarvis Jones isn’t going to solve this team’s problems, of which Roethlisbooger, Tomlin, the swiss cheese secondary, and the wet noodle O-line are the top four. Also, no decent running backs, receivers, or special teams players, and an overrated safety who should stick to shampoo commercials.

  34. loserburg needs more help.they will be lucky to be 15th at the end.ben misses at least 4 games as usaul.the ax might be swinging for Mr Tomlin..

  35. Yes, Thanks for putting the steelers at 15. The steelers will be sure to thank you at the end of the season when they win the division. They always do best when they have a chip on their shoulder.

  36. To be fair, Bengals were ranked 15th last year and Steelers 6th. As we all know, Steelers failed to live up to expectations and Bengals exceeded them. On the other hand, picking up Jarvis Jones isn’t going to solve this team’s problems, of which Roethlisbooger, Tomlin, the swiss cheese secondary, and the wet noodle O-line are the top four. Also, no decent running backs, receivers, or special teams players, and an overrated safety who should stick to shampoo commercials.
    Ssshh you got Batch slapped last year skippy then 4+29 your way to the SB. Good for you now grow up skippy.

  37. Does every team do better when they “have a chip on their shoulder”, or is it just the Steelers?

  38. I can tell by the number of responses many fans of other teams fear the Steelers team. Here is to a championship season. Seven is a good number!!!!

  39. Calm down fellow Steelers fans, they finished at 8-8. Don’t expect any predictions of 14-2 in 2013.

    Remember if preseason rankings actually came true the Bengals, Bills, and Eagles would have a Lombardi in their lobbies.

    Skilled coaching, skilled players, very few injuries and luck lead to success in the NFL.

  40. This smells like a 6-10 or 7-9 team. The only thing thats likely to be typical Steelers is that when the team is 5-9 in the middle of December, and coming off a down year 90% of owners would fire Tomlin, the Steelers won’t, because that’s not how they work.

    Whether the team can contend NEXT year depends how good a job they do this year rebuilding on the fly.

  41. I still think they have an excellent defense just because of their coordinator and the players they so good in that zone blitzing system. Even with some of their best players hurt, they still were # 1 against the past. On the offensive side of the ball, they were terrible especially on the offensive line like many people already pointed out. I remember the analysts were trying to talk up LG Willie Colon and the next play he got tossed aside like hot garbage by Geno Atkins. Not to mention needing help or health at both tackle spots. Big Ben is tough as nails but he won’t finish another season if under attack like the past two years and a running back needs on o-line to produce more than 3 ypc. Ranked at the right spot in my eyes.

  42. the window has closed on the steelers, this team is way too old, expect more of what you got last year except a little worse. 6-10 sounds about right, no postseason of course and I fully expect all those hits big bendover has been taking to start effecting his level of play. Steeler fans will vote this down and say how crazy I am but im only stating the obvious. I also expect to see troy boy get hurt even more, he is damaged goods at this point and his days of putting in a full season are well behind him

  43. Just like every Steeler fan..
    Defiant, indignant, and unabashed

    It just makes it more fun to beat them. And over time, there are less and less obnoxious Steeler jerseys showing up on Sunday in Church.

  44. Nice analysis. Reading your breakdown makes me feel a little more optimistic. But though I think we’re okay on talent, I’m still not sure these parts will add up even to a #15 ranking. My concern is team leadership. Yes, the Steelers tend to exceed low expectations. But it takes seasoned warriors like Ward, Farrior, Smith, Harrison to convince younger, greener players that “clear eyes, full hearts can’t lose” in those close contest. We’ve lost too many of those guys in the last couple of years.

  45. Still have:
    No RB defined as starting quality
    QB for a starter that tends to get injured

    Still didn’t:
    Upgrade their weak OL
    Find vet depth for the obvious 4+ games Polamalu will miss
    Add depth to an aging DL

    Lost & failed to replace:
    Keenan Lewis (highly underrated)
    Casey Hampton
    James Harrison *Though they drafted J Jones, rush LBs typically take 2+ years to start in or even contribute anything of signifcance* That said, if Jones doesn’t catch on quickly… That leaves J Worldis with a lot of expectations!

    On the plus side:
    It is unlikely to happen immediately, but though losing Wallace, I predict Markus Wheaton to be as good or better than Wallace, & obviously cheaper!

    They’ll know early if Shamarko Thomas is going to be a good replacement to Polamalu or not… As a versatile S, he will likely get a lot of field time at the Free or Strong.

    While the RB spot is still left as unproven, it has some quality to it. In addition, both Bell & LS. Howling will be assets as pass catching backs.

    While the 15 ranking isn’t unrealistic due to the Steelers recent showings when their obvious talent decline started, the decline in talent is becoming steeper while the quality of draft selections aren’t near what the Rooney’s have done in past history!

    Personally, I see the Steelers recent bad drafts catching up to them…. And finishing last in the leagues STRONGEST Division!

    * You guys really don’t expect the Browns to finish there every year do you? If so, sorry for the news, but the Browns are young, talented, & have nothing to lose & everything to gain. The Browns injection of talented youth will show with a 10-6 record & a trip to the Playoffs! *

  46. The old guy who may be kicked to the curb has a contract through 2014. after that he will retire a Steeler. he will 5 years down the road be in the Hall of Fame.
    he will not be kicked to the curb

  47. Jarvis jones is a huge gamble. He was passed by many needing a pass rusher for a reason. Bell was considered a slow RB. (Like Dwyer) lets all take some stock. The secondary is bad. Running game is non existent. And decastro is not dominant. He was abused by Cincy. If they don’t have Heath miller for any time of the season they will feel that. That’s gonna hurt. He was their offense.

    What DL do they have that is scary?

    Woolley often injured

    Palomalo …. Lol. Well when has he not been injured. If jason worlds was good enough he would have played before now.

    They aren’t going 6-10 or anything but they aren’t going 11-5 either. 7-9 to 9-7 is probably more realistic. Split with Balt and Cincy. Maybe split with Cleveland but I doubt it.

  48. Never count out the Steelers-I see them perhaps making the playoffs as a wild card-I think that they have one more try at it with the current group- sic-SB-Are they transitioning-hard to say because they are always competitive. However when PFT states that there must be veteran leadership-then what is Tomlin doing? If he gets these guys prepared to play then he must demand accountability from offensive and defensive leaders to follow through.

  49. jacktheraven says:

    Crown says “steeler fans know that 2 down years in a row doesn’t happen”. Is that what they ALL Know? ’98,’99,00. ’90,91. ’85,’86,’87,’88. No playoffs. Should I keep going?
    Please don’t, you sound ignorant. Did you even watch football pre 96? Other than the Kordell experiment, nothing but consistent success over the past 20+ years.

  50. They have a dumb coach who, in one memorable game last season, gave up on his team by NOT going for a two point conversion that would have put them within two scores of the lead. His “excuse” for giving up on the team and the one that he apparently told members OF the team at the time was, (paraphrased) “It was bleak, and I didn’t think they had it in them to win.”

    No NFL head coach should retain his job after letting his team down like that. It’s inexcusable.

    Tomlin is WHY the Steelers will continue their slide to the absolute bottom of the league.

  51. “Ssshh you got Batch slapped last year skippy then 4+29 your way to the SB. Good for you now grow up skippy.”

    BATCH slapped! GET IT?!?!?!

  52. Continue their slide to the absolute bottom of the league? Secondary was terrible? Didnt address RB? Coachbeck didnt spell a single players name right. Haha these are the best reasons you guys can come up with for the Steelers demise based solely on the fact that you dont like them?

  53. Crown, ignorant? Just in case you don’t know. Wouldn’t want to insult your intelligence. ’98,’99’00 are not “pre 96”.

  54. @jacktheraven, wouldn’t want to insult your intelligence, but those years are the Kordell experiment I referred to.

  55. to all steeler fans who like to harp about the steelers beating the ravens with batch last year which coined the term batchslapped(very clever), may i remind you of what happened to yinz last year..

    you all got casselcrushed…lockerslammed…runoverbyraiders…

    and…ravens are the champs

  56. Great post scoobies. All Batch did was manage the game and not make mistakes. Steeler fans should be happy he started cuz Ben probably would have thrown a int. on the last drive to set up the win for Baltimore. He certainly gave the bengals and cowboys gifts with his stupidity late in games. If your savior was such a great qb, yinz would of made the playoffs last year. Good luck this year without a true #1 receiver, baby ben’s gonna look even worse than mediocre which is what he truly is.

  57. youarejealousof6rings says:
    Jul 17, 2013 3:20 PM
    This is a sham. Seriously, 15? Easily top 5.
    How on earth can you justify a top 5 ranking when they went 8-8 last year, that’s the definition of middle of the pack mediocrity. Please explain how top 5 is even close to deserved…

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!