When the 2020 NFL season begins, the Baltimore Ravens will look to win the AFC North for the second straight year. And when you look at their roster, it’s a scary proposition if you’re a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. But let’s forget about the Ravens and focus solely on their biggest rival. In the past, the Steelers have never been a team to make a lot of splashy free-agent signings. Instead, they’ve chosen to build through the draft. However, over the last two years, they’ve shifted that strategy some. As a result, the Steelers have one of their most promising rosters under head coach Mike Tomlin. In this piece, we’ll be dissecting the strengths and weaknesses of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Strengths And Weakness Of The Pittsburgh Steelers
Strengths: Return Of Steel Curtain-esque Defense
Does this Steelers defense have the chance to be the best since the 2008 Super Bowl team? The short and sweet answer is yes. In 2019, the Steelers were the leaders in many defensive stats. First off, they led the league in takeaways per game (in large part due to Minkah Fitzpatrick playing the modern-day role of Troy Polamalu). Secondly, they led the league in sacks (54) even without key piece Stephon Tuitt for the last ten games. When you forget about stats and look at the talent, room for growth is exponential. For example, T.J. Watt is already one of the most feared pass rushers in the league and is only entering his fourth year. The aforementioned Fitzpatrick is only 23, and Devin Bush (who led rookies and the Steelers in tackles) is only entering year two.
After all that, there are still two pro bowlers on defense who haven’t gotten a mention. Lockdown cornerback Joe Haden earned his first pro bowl appearance since the 2014 season a year ago. Now entering his fourth year with the team, Haden should still be as reliable as they come at 31 years old. The final pro bowler from a year ago is fellow 31-year-old Cameron Heyward, who earned his second first-team all-pro selection in three years. If Bud Dupree can prove last year’s breakout was no fluke, the Steelers should finish near the top in sacks once more. And if third-year safety Terrell Edmunds can build off of improvements from the second half of 2019, scoring on this team will be hard. Out of all the strengths and weaknesses that the team has, the defense is their unquestioned biggest strength.
Weakness: Offensive Woes Could Continue
What made last year’s team so frustrating was for as elite as their defense was, their offense was unwatchable. A lot of fans put blame on “Captain Checkdown” Mason Rudolph for tanking the offense. And, although blame is warranted for Rudolph, there are numerous parties at fault. After the season ended, I mentioned how bad the Steelers skilled position players were. Even though Ben Roethlisberger is healthy, he’ll be in a similar situation as Aaron Rodgers is. In Green Bay, Rodgers is surrounded by young talent that has struggled to click with him as well as his prior weapons did. Let it be known that I’m not writing off the young guns at wide receiver. In fact, I really like Diontae Johnson’s potential and still believe in JuJu Smith-Schuster to have a bounce-back year. But Steelers fans shouldn’t expect Roethlisberger to be the league’s leading passer again.
As for the running game, the Steelers were the fourth-worst running team in the league last year. Many things contributed to this, including the offensive line regressing majorly. All year long the Steelers line failed at making holes for James Conner to run through, and Conner being slowed by injury didn’t help either. Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster had their worst seasons in the league a year ago. Since then Foster has retired, and Pouncey figures to bounce back with Roethlisberger taking snaps again. In terms of pass blocking, the unit should be solid, but if the run blocking doesn’t improve, the offense becomes more one dimensional. Conner will have to prove himself and that he’s worthy of being re-signed in his contract year. Even though the biggest weakness of the Steelers is their offense, it has the potential to be a strength.
Strengths And Weaknesses Can Be Changed
The phrase “any given Sunday” stems from truth. Any NFL game can take what you think you know and throw it upside down. But that’s what makes football fun. Even though the Steelers have strengths and weaknesses now, they could be completely different whence the games start. Entering 2019, the offense was viewed as a massive strength, while the defense was seen as average, much like how this Steelers offense can be perceived. But all it takes is one injury (like to Roethlisberger) or a trade (aquiring Fitzpatrick) to change. And if any team can be trusted to improve on weaknesses, the Steelers are as good a pick to do it as anyone.
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