For the past three years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have delved deeper into the playoffs, going from Wildcard to the Divisional round, to the AFC Championship game. With some of the best offensive players in the league, a young rising defence, and returning hall of fame quarterback, the Steelers will be looking to make a Superbowl run in 2017.
This season will provide the Black and Gold with a multitude of challenges, starting of course with the fact that this could be Ben Roethlisberger’s final season. Stud running back Le’Veon Bell is holding out for a new contract, Martavis Bryant has just been reinstated from a year long suspension, and the Steelers defence is the youngest it has been in a decade. Never in living memory has a Steelers season looked simultaneously so hopeful but at the same time so doubtful.
Coordinator: Todd Haley – balanced attack.
The Steelers are a fun team to watch on offence because the possibilities are endless, on any given Sunday they can pound the football on the ground, or air it out, and the reason for this is the vast talent they have at their disposal. It all starts with Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. An up and down 2016 came out as a statistically average year for Ben (3,819-yards, 29 TD’s, 13 INT’s) as Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 11th best QB that year. That being said he was one of only 4 quarterbacks to make it to the championship game. He is not a stat stuffer, he is an old-school, tough quarterback, he shrugs off tacklers and throws the long ball better than anyone, period. With 2017 potentially being his final season, I look for Ben to let it rip and go out gunning.
Running the ball for the Steelers is none other than Le’Veon Bell. This man is quite literally poetry in motion when he runs the football. His ability to stop, start, juke, truck, stiff arm, or hurdle defenders is incredible. With Bell currently holding out of training camp for a new contract, I look for him to come out motivated in 2017 hoping to prove to the Steelers he is worth a huge contract. That is if he can stay healthy for 16 games…
An equally awe-inspiring player is Antonio Brown. Brown is a freakshow, he stands at 5’10 but plays like he is 6’6. AB’s stats explode off the screen, over the past four seasons Brown has piled up 6,315-yards receiving, 43 touchdowns, and 481 catches. In 2016 he led the league in deep receiving touchdowns (8) and had the least amount of deep passes dropped (0). Outside of Brown is a host of young talented players like the returning Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, Demarcus Ayers, and veterans Darius Heyward Bay and Justin Hunter. This is arguably the deepest receiving group the Steelers have had in years.
The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line is an underrated, tough group comprised of Centre Maurkice Pouncey, Guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, and Tackles Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert. Ranked by pro football focus as the 3rd best line in the league, the unit has no weakness. Ramon Foster didn’t surrender a sack all season, Villanueva allowed only one sack in the final 10 games of the year, DeCastro and Gilbert were ranked as top run blockers, and Pouncey was voted to the pro bowl. Even in times of injury the Steelers reached down to the reserves and found quality play.
Coordinator: Keith Butler – 3-4, predominantly zone.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have spent years playing a 3-4 zone-blitz type of defence which was a concoction of the great Dick LeBeau. It involved dropping players into coverage who usually wouldn’t cover and blitzing players from unexpected angles. While they still continued an adjusted version of this scheme last year, I predict the Steelers to move towards a more man-to-man system this year to play to the strengths of their pacey cornerbacks.
The defensive line features players such as Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Javon Hargrave. All drafted by the Steelers and moulding nicely into excellent players. The group struggled with injuries last year, and depth on the defensive line was somewhat of an issue. If this group can stay healthy, they can be a formidable force, and the Steelers will expect that kind of production from three players hitting their primes.
Manning the middle linebacker spots are Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams. Williams played behind long time veteran Lawrence Timmons (now with the Dolphins) but now will be expected to play like a starter. He’s long had a reputation as a big hitter and solid tackler, we’ll see how his pass coverage is. The big issue for Ryan Shazier is health, he is an eye opening talent when on the field, the problem is he is off the field too often. Rushing the passer from the outside linebacker positions will be the 3rd year player Bud Dupree and the ageless wonder James Harrison. A notable addition to this group is rookie TJ Watt, brother of JJ. Steeler fans are crossing their fingers that this guy plays half as well as his brother!
The cornerback position is the biggest question mark for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In a passing league, the Steelers secondary cannot be surrendering big plays through the air as often as they have done the past two seasons. Cornerback Artie Burns was the 2016 first round pick, and his season was a rollercoaster, playing excellent at some moments, and then making classic rookie mistakes in others. Veterans William Gay, Coty Sensabaugh and rookie Cameron Sutton will most likely compete for the second and slot corner positions.
The biggest strength of the Steelers secondary looks to be their Safeties, Mike Mitchell and Sean Davis. Mitchell is in his eighth year, Davis will be entering his second, both bring something different, Mitchell brings down the hammer hitting tackles, Davis brings turnovers.Their continued growth could be a bright spot in a suspect secondary.
Players to Watch
2017 second round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster looks to be challenging for some significant playing time in his rookie season as the slot receiver position looks to be open for competition.
As I stated before, Bud Dupree really took a step forward in his progression as a pass rusher towards the end of last season. I can’t wait to see what this guy brings into his 3rd year with the Steelers.
Lastly, I am really looking forward to seeing the development that cornerback Artie Burns has made as his level of play will really be the deciding factor on if the Steelers secondary continues to be their Achilles heel.
W1 @ Browns // W2 vs Vikings // W3 @ Bears // W4 @ Ravens // W5 vs Jaguars // W6 @ Chiefs // W7 vs Bengals // W8 @ Lions // W9 BYE
W10 @ Colts // W11 vs Titans // W12 vs Packers // W13 @ Bengals // W14 vs Ravens // W15 vs Patriots // W16 @ Texans // W17 vs Browns
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