PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers won six of their final eight games last season in large part because the offense thrived with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger running a no-huddle attack.
The Steelers only lose one starter from that group – they didn’t show much interest in re-signing wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders – and they effectively add a Pro Bowler to the mix assuming center Maurkice Pouncey returns from the torn ACL he sustained in the 2013 season opener.
The offense appears poised to drive a team that is retooling its defense, and a strong finish in 2013 bodes well for it carrying the Steelers back to the playoffs.
Then there is Mike Tomlin on the assumption that the offense will pick up where it left off last season when the Steelers averaged 28.2 points in their final nine games.
“I think that if that’s your mentality, you set yourself up for failure,” the seventh-year coach said at the NFL owners meetings. “I think that each year stands on its own. We have some quality guys that grew together in the latter parts of 2013, but I am not going to assume that means in anything in regards to 2014. I just think that’s the appropriate mentality to take.”
Indeed, as well as the offense played in the second half of last season it hasn’t been immune to change.
Along with Sanders the Steelers lost wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, and the two combined to catch 16 of Roethlisberger’s 28 touchdown passes last season.
Will Lance Moore provide Roethlisberger with a reliable, productive No. 3 wide receiver as Cotchery did last season? Is Markus Wheaton, who has all of six career receptions, ready to take over for Sanders and start?
There are other questions, such as whether running back Le’Veon Bell will build on a stellar rookie season, and injuries are always an X factor. The Steelers’ offensive line has been consistently scrambled by injuries and there is no way to foretell how they will impact that unit in 2014.
That is not to say there isn’t a lot to like about the Steelers’ offense.
Roethlisberger always gives the Steelers a chance to win and he played every snap last season. Tight end Heath Miller will be better almost two years removed from reconstructive knee surgery. And new offensive line coach Mike Munchak could prove to be the Steelers’ most significant offseason addition given his body of work and the respect he will command from his new players.
So was Tomlin just trying to downplay expectations for the offense or just simply being a downer when he refused to buy into any hype surrounding the unit?
What looks good on paper does not always translate to success on the field, and Tomlin is nothing if not a realist.
“What we were able to do in terms of finding traction down the stretch was significant in 2013,” Tomlin said, “but I am not going to assume that it means anything in 2014, to be honest with you.”