The Steelers finished their disappointing 2012 season with a relative bang Sunday, as the Pittsburgh defense forced four turnovers and Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes to beat the hapless Browns, 24-10. The victory marked the end to what was, in most ways, an inconsistent and frustrating season.
Because of the Steelers' 2012 performance and problems with the 2013 salary cap, this offseason could see the departures of a number of well-known players. These could include wide receiver Mike Wallace (who disappeared for long stretches of time in 2012, and generally failed to progress), Rashard Mendenhall (who lost his starting job to Jonathan Dwyer), Casey Hampton (who will likely be replaced by Steve McLendon) and Max Starks. It's possible star linebacker James Harrison could be gone as well. This follows a 2012 offseason that saw the departures of Hines Ward, James Farrior, and Aaron Smith.
The Steelers are an old team. There's no question about that. And injuries, to players young and old, have been a significant problem in the past two seasons. But what undid them this season wasn't primarily their age. It was their underwhelming offense. Ben Roethlisberger's injury, and his uncharacteristically erratic play after he returned, were a major factor in their late-season slide. Wallace and Antonio Brown took steps backward after strong 2011 seasons. And Mendenhall all but fell off the map in a season in which he rushed for just 163 yards and annoyed the Steelers with his attitude. Jonathan Dwyer stepped up and was passable, but the Steelers still had one of the NFL's worst rushing offenses.
Pittsburgh's offensive failures became especially clear in late November against the Browns, when Charlie Batch threw three interceptions and Mendenhall, Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Sanders all fumbled. In truth, they weren't that bad most of the time, and Heath Miller's terrific season helped offset some of the disappointment surrounding the Steelers' young receivers. But the Steelers will head into the 2013 offseason needing to address their offense. They'll be picking in the middle of the first round of the draft, for once, and the moves they make, in the draft and elsewhere, will take on greater urgency than usual.