Kevin Walsh Aug 6th, 2019
The Pittsburgh Steelers came out of the gate relatively fast (if you ignore that Browns tie), starting with a 7-2-1 record, despite the holdout of Le’Veon Bell. They exerted some pure dominance against Carolina at home and wore down a tough Jacksonville defense. After a few head-scratchers against the AFC West, they managed to beat back New England to stay on track for a playoff run. A close loss to a very good New Orleans team coupled with Antonio Brown giving up on the team going into Week 17 buried them, and they limped to a 9-6-1 final record, missing the playoffs.
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Did any team have a more tumultuous offseason than the Steelers? They have jettisoned two locker room cancers in Bell and Brown, who were monster pieces to this high-powered offense. They lost Offensive Line Coach Mike Munchak, which may prove to be a huge loss. Also exiting the squad is Marcus Gilbert, Morgan Burnett, and Jesse James.
The additions look promising at least, to fill some of the voids the team has. Donte Moncrief was brought in to shore up some shallow wide receiver depth. Mark Barron will join first-round pick Devin Bush to clog up the middle of the field. Steven Nelson and third-round pick Justin Layne are welcome additions to the mediocre secondary. Add two potential playmakers in Diontae Johnson and Benjamin Snell Jr. and just maybe the Steelers can have some success in life after Bell and Brown.
The offense is going to have to find productivity without Bell and Brown. They did get by without Bell already last season, where James Conner shouldered the load and did so with success. Juju Smith-Schuster is a promising piece of the offense, but they need to find ways to get him in space when there is no Brown on the field to double cover. Moncrief can show that he was worthy of his draft selection, even though he never got a fair shake in Indianapolis. If Moncrief ends up being a bust, they will have to lean on a second-year jump from James Washington and rookie Johnson. Vance McDonald will be more active this season in the passing game now that he is fully healthy.
This offense could go so many ways, but like every other year, the offense will go as Ben Roethlisberger goes, and as the offensive line goes. If they can squeeze another good year out of the offensive line, Big Ben will find receivers and drive the field. This is still the same high-powered offense, but all of AB’s production will have to be picked up by somebody.
The defense didn’t lose much (other than Shazier’s continued absence), but they did pick up some solid pieces in Devin Bush, Mark Barron, and Stevin Nelson. If they can improve their secondary play a little bit, and continue to stuff the run, they could be an underrated defense this season.
The other side of that coin is that an injury or two, especially to some corners, would totally flip this team on its head. The biggest weakness is defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who has no business being a coordinator right now. He was lucky he wasn’t canned mid-season, especially after that Chargers game. He is unfortunately still around to make sure this decent defense does not look the part. I have no faith in Butler, but the talent here could show him up and play solidly.
Predicting the 53 Man Roster
QB (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Joshua Dobbs, Mason Rudolph
Obviously, Ben is locked in, but I have the feeling they keep both Dobbs and Rudolph for both insurance and because of general uncertainty between them.
RB (4): James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benjamin Snell Jr., Roosevelt Nix
Conner has proven himself as the starter, despite all the Samuels buzz lately. Nix is the FB and is excellent at his job. Snell is a draft pick that they intend on keeping. Not a whole lot of hard choices here at this position.
WR (6): Juju Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Ryan Switzer, Eli Rogers
This is pretty cut and dry, between new signings, rookies, and special teams players, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room here. Thankfully, the Darius Heyward-Bey experiment is over in Pittsburgh.
TE (3): Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble, Zach Gentry
McDonald becomes the number one guy, Grimble will be the 12 personnel blocking tight end, and Gentry is a rookie that I can’t imagine they cut. There is not much to talk about here.
OL (9): Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Matt Feiler, B.J. Finney, Chukwuma Okorafor, Jerald Hawkins, R.J. Prince
With Feiler filling in at right tackle for Marcus Gilbert, the starting lineup is set in stone. They could keep Zach Banner over Hawkins or Prince, but I think Banner is the odd man out.
DL (5): Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Dan McCullers
Another unit that remains mostly intact, with Alualu being a backup to every position and McCullers being the second defensive tackle when such a package is required.
LB (5): Vince Williams, Devin Bush, Mark Barron, Tyler Matakevich, Matthew Thomas
This unit got some upgrades. Not only did they draft Devin Bush, who should be great in the middle, they also brought in Mark Barron, who they could really make some interesting packages with, or remain in nickel much of the game with him playing some linebacker/safety hybrid. Thomas could be on the chopping block if somebody else stands out, such as Sutton Smith.
EDGE (4): T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi
Watt is a stud, but Dupree is fairly weak for his pedigree on the opposite side. He shows flashes of brilliance, but with no real competition behind him, he isn’t going anywhere. Chickillo, much like Matakevich, is a preseason hero and special teams darling, and he can fill in to give somebody a breather if necessary without too much of a drop-off in talent.
CB (7): Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Mike Hilton, Artie Burns, Justin Layne, Cameron Sutton, Brian Allen
Considering the issues at cornerback, they almost have to keep all these guys. I don’t know how many off-the-street options they will have, but if they do manage to find somebody else, I imagine Hilton or Allen hit the bricks.
SAF (4): Sean Davis, Terrell Edmonds, Marcus Allen, Jordan Dangerfield
Another position with not much room for error. I suppose they have Barron in a pinch, but I don’t think that is why they signed him.
ST (3): Chris Boswell, Jordan Berry, Kameron Canaday
The Boz will likely have a short leash this season, so if he can’t keep it together, I imagine they don’t hesitate to cut that albatross of a kicker contract. Berry and Canaday are as safe as possible.
They are saying all the right things, boasting that this team can be even better now that Bell and Brown are gone. While they may be better cohesively, they still lack in some areas that they haven’t addressed. Butler still being defensive coordinator is going to lose them at least one game that they had no business losing, and probably against a good opponent (probably the Chargers again). I think they still manage to split with the Browns and Ravens and sweep the Bengals, but their schedule is tough. I think there is some chance they win the division, but that will be mostly due to Baltimore and Cleveland totally imploding.
It’s not the most pessimistic outlook on the Steelers, but I still lean towards a season that leaves us wanting more.
Season Prediction: 9-7 and miss the playoffs, mirroring last season’s disappointment.
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