Will the Blitzburgh Steelers Resurge in 2020?

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FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 08: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass during the game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the more historic franchises in the NFL. “Blitzburgh” has not made the playoffs in consecutive seasons. In 2019, a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tanked the season. This would hope to be a drama-free season with the departures Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Bell and Brown brought down the locker room with drama, as the Steelers missed the playoffs in 2018.

Will the Blitzburgh Steelers Resurge in 2020?

2019 Recap

Unfortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers finished the 2019 season with an 8-8 record and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Inconsistent quarterback play from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges troubled the offense. Injuries to James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster also played a major role in an abysmal offensive performance by the Steelers. Not to mention an aging offensive line played a part. The offensive line was 30th in run-blocking DVOA and were 12th in sacks allowed and adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders.

The Blitzburgh defense was dominant in 2019. They ranked sixth in total defense, third in passing defense, and 14th in run defense, according to Pro Football Reference. One strength of the pass defense was the pass rush led by T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Cameron Heyward. Watt posted a career-high 14.5 sacks and was a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year. The other strength of the pass defense was a secondary led by pro-bowlers in free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerback Joe Haden. Cornerbacks Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton followed up with strong seasons as well. The defense was the upside to an abysmal year for the Blitzburgh Steelers in 2019.

2020 Preview

The Pittsburgh Steelers did see some key changes in the offseason. Fullback Roosevelt Nixon and inside linebacker Mark Barron were released from their contracts. Tight end Nick Vannett and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave departed in free agency. Veteran left guard Ramon Foster retired after 11 years with the Steelers. They did add tight end Eric Ebron, guard Stefen Wisniewski, and fullback Derek Watt.

With their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Steelers drafted Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool to an already loaded wide receiving core. In the fourth round, the Steelers selected Louisiana guard Kevin Dotson, hoping to fill Ramon Foster’s shoes long-term. Shortly before, they added Charlotte edge rusher Alex Highsmith.

Positional Battles

For the first time in a while, there will be actual competition among the offensive line. The right tackle and left guard positions are up for grabs. Previously, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced that last season’s starting right tackle Matt Feiler will have the first opportunity to become the regular season starter at left guard. Veteran guard Wisniewski will likely be the backup center. Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okafor will battle for the right tackle position. Otherwise, every position on the offense is set in stone.

There isn’t any ongoing competition on the defense. The Steelers acquired defensive tackle Chris Wormley from the Baltimore Ravens to fill the hole left by Hargrave.

Schedule Preview

The Steelers currently have the second-easiest schedule in the NFL. They will have to face the mediocre NFC East and AFC South. Outside of the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers will have to face an uphill climb to be at the top of the division. The Baltimore Ravens are one of the most complete teams in the NFL with an elite defense and offense. The Cleveland Browns strengthened their offense with a bolstered offensive line and the signing of emerging tight end, Austin HooperThe offense should be expected to soar. The defense should reach new heights.

Question Marks Around The Steelers?

Every team has question marks around their roster. But the Steelers have questions that lie on the offense.

Will Roethlisberger return to form or begin to decline?

Can JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner rebound after injury-riddled seasons?

Will the offensive line rebound and return to form?

Can the Blitzburgh pass rush continue to dominate?

Will the secondary hold down the fort?

2020 Record Prediction: 11-5 (2nd in AFC North)

I predict the Steelers will rebound and return to the playoffs again. Ben Roethlisberger and the offense will return with a vengeance. The defense will continue to dominate.

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