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Dec 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown catches a 60-yard touchdown pass against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half of the game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers: Will passing game take a step back in 2013?

Much has been made about how the Pittsburgh Steelers need to find a running game in 2013, but they also need to continue to throw the football at the rate they have been – or better – to be successful.

But is major success through the air even possible? Many, including myself, have often said that as long as Ben Roethlisberger is under center for the Steelers, then they will be just fine.

October 7, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (88) runs after a pass reception against the Philadelphia Eagles during the second quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

However, that may not be the case this year.

The Steelers had a problem making big plays and scoring touchdowns a season ago and will be without their two best receivers to start the season. Mike Wallace signed a lucrative deal with the Miami Dolphins and tight end heath Miller can’t truly be expected to be back until the middle of the season after major knee surgery last December.

That begs the question of how exactly the Steelers are going to be able to replace the 135 receptions, 1,670 yards and 16 touchdowns that Wallace and Miller had a season ago?

Some feel, and I’m not one of them, that Emmanuel Sanders is ready to step up and replace Wallace’s production. He even said that he expects a 70-catch, 1,000 yard season in 2013. That would be nice and would go a long way to solving some problems, but Sanders hasn’t exactly done anything in his career that should make you feel confident that he is capable.

I’m sure Sanders will have his moments next season, but I’m far from confident that he has the talent to step up and become a solid No. 2 receiver in the NFL.

That brings me to other options.

There’s rookie Markus Wheaton, who has speed and talent but will likely take a while to get acclimated into the Steelers’ passing game. He will also experience some growing pains along the way.

Then throw in grizzled veterans such as Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress. Both guys are likely to be more productive than they were a season ago, but neither should be expected to do big things.

That brings me to the tight end position. Without Miller, that means the likes of Matt Spaeth and David Paulson will be asked to produce. If they could combine to give the Steelers just half of the production lost by Miller, which would be great. However that’s very doubtful as well.

With so little options for Roethlisberger in the passing game, that means Antonio Brown, the Steelers clear-cut No. 1 receiver, will get more than his share of attention paid to him this season. As the Steelers’ best option in the passing game, it is quite possible that Brown could see a dip in numbers in 2013 as teams will certainly be game planning to stop him.

Since that will be the case someone like Sanders must step up and have a huge season. If he doesn’t, then it’s quite possible the Steelers’ passing game, which ranked only 14th in the NFL a season ago, takes a huge step backwards.

If that ends up being the case, it could be a scary thought on how this offensive will perform.

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Tags: Antonio Brown Emmanuel Sanders Heath Miller Pittsburgh Steelers

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