The Final Four is down to two. Hennessy and I have picked the two people we feel will be most key to how the 2012 season goes for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since any March Madness style tournament needs a little friendly competition, we decided to do our first ever co-post. I’ll present my reasoning why my pick is the man who’ll be most responsible for the Steelers success (or failure) in the upcoming campaign. And Hennessy will make his case. How will we decide who is right? Only time will tell.
I picked Todd Haley as the man most crucial to the Steelers prospects in 2012. With Rashard Mendenhall hurt, the running game will fall mostly on the shoulders of Isaac Redman. Redman isn’t an explosive back and he’s not going to break a lot of big runs but he’s serviceable enough. I like Baron Batch, I was bummed when he was lost for the season because I thought he’d be a younger more dynamic Mewelde Moore. He definitely has a lot more upside than Jon Dwyer or Jon Clay and I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled a Willie Parker (unheralded RB who comes out of nowhere to take starting job) on Redzone.
However, all this running game talk is moot because the NFL is a PASSING LEAGUE. Despite what Art Rooney II may think, grandaddy’s power running football is a thing of the past. If the Steelers really think they can run the ball 30+ times a game and be successful, well, they’re in for a rude awakening. You win by putting the game in the hands of your playmakers and the Steelers best players on offense are Ben Roethlisberger and his Young Money wideouts (Antonio Brown, Manny Sanders, and Mike Wallace). Last year, the Steelers enjoyed a 4,000 yard passer and two 1,000 yard receivers for the first time in team history. While Bruce Arians certainly had shortcomings, one thing he did well was recognize the need for having a high-powered offense in today’s NFL. The team did struggle in the red zone which affected their overall ranking but that was as much a function of the poor offensive line and ineffective running game as his playcalling. Perhaps Batch can help in the red zone but not as much as Ben and his receivers.
Haley is a combustible personality. When he was hired, the stories you heard were of players who either loved him or hated him. Guys like Dwayne Bowe loved him and he helped mold them into elite performers. However, we’ve seen on teams like the Jets how things can fall apart when key offensive personnel, like the quarterback, don’t get along with their offensive coordinator. If Haley can temper his outbursts and focus his intensity in productive directions, the Steelers’ offense has the potential to be among the league’s best. If he doesn’t, well, we’ll all be looking back fondly on the days of the Flying Circus.
Much like the established players in the Superstar showdown, the impact of Pittsburgh’s up-and-coming players will be critical to the 2012 season. In Baron Batch’s case, he will be looking to fill a void that Mendenhall, Medium-Speed Willie Parker, and Issac Redman have not yet been able to – an explosive running game that scores at will. Punching the ball through the end zone was a routine play when Jerome Bettis put a helmet on during the season. Since his departure, Pittsburgh has seen promise of a second coming several times, but nobody has yet to fit the bill. Providing support to Big Ben and Young Money is a long overdue task, and Baron Batch looks to be the next man willing to take on the challenge. Ziggy Hood will need to mature and become the youth needed on an aging defensive staff. He is making that progress with a few productive seasons under his belt, but there is still work to be done. Much like Antonio’s role being more significant than Harrison in 2012, the need to stack up a powerful run game is more critical short-term than more strength at Defensive End. With Baron appearing to be the RB on deck, I am looking for a solid performance and quick movement to a starting position. If Batch’s ACL is healed and his game is as sharp as last preseason, Mendenhall could very possibly have injured himself out of a starting position if he is not ready for the 2012 campaign.