After a disappointing end, and a season to forget for the Pittsburgh Steelers, they now need unity to move forward, writes our guest writer Owain Jones.
In one of the most competitive and hotly anticipated divisions in football, the Steelers have work to do if they are to make the playoffs, after missing out in 2018 for the first time in five years. Capturing too many headlines for all the wrong reasons, the Steelers will be looking forward to getting back on the field.
How the Pittsburgh Steelers move forward after losing both Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell has been debated all offseason. These are some reasons why the Steelers will improve this season.
2018 will always be remembered as the year Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell deserted Pittsburgh. The Steelers desperately need a change the narrative to move forward into 2019. Passion, dedication and intensity.
Establishing that resolute, rigid and rigorous ethos which has so often been associated with the Steelers in the past will be fundamental heading into this season.
Big Ben Roethlisberger
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger certainly had his critics last year. After taking the blame for so much negativity revolving around the 2018 season Big Ben put up a surprisingly good year.
Roethlisberger topped the league with 5,129 passing yards last year. It’s no surprise the Steelers have gone all-in on their franchise quarterback giving Roethlisberger a $68 million contract extension seeing him through the 2021 season.
Making his job more secure than head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert. If his weapons show up there is no reason this can’t be repeated in 2019.
If the Steelers had a better defense, they would have made the playoffs last year. The Steeler defense led the NFL with 52 sacks last season, but also allowed an average of 27 points per game. This will have to come down considerably if Pittsburgh are going to go one step further and still be competing come the turn of the year.
Thankfully, the Steelers have made some good offseason acquisitions to move this defense forward, signing Steven Nelson, Mark Barron and also drafting Devin Bush. Nelson will add much-needed interceptions to the secondary.
The Steelers recorded eight all season. Nelson got four on his own playing in an unimpressive Kansas City Chiefs defense. Getting Joe Haden back to his best will be imperative as he enters his contract year.
The pass rush in Pittsburgh was already stellar. Adding Bush to a premier defensive front involving T.J Watt, Cameron Hayward, and Javon Hargrave will only increase its potent and dynamic pass rush.
Crowded wide receivers
The Steelers have a history of developing strong skill position players and they will have to do this going forward to replace the touchdowns lost by Antonio Brown. JuJu Smith-Schuster has what it takes to step up from a number two wide receiver to number one. His 1,426 receiving yards were good enough to be ranked fifth in the NFL.
The working process is James Washington. After an extremely underwhelming rookie year, where he finished with just 217 yards and one touchdown, Washington needs to be a breakout star now. There is no more time for development.
Pittsburgh added a veteran Donte Moncrief this offseason to an already cramped wide receiver room. Moncrief has been plagued by injury throughout his career and has never started a full 16 game season. He has also had to deal with some poor quarterback play in Indianapolis and Jacksonville. Pittsburgh will be hoping to have Moncrief back to his best and relying on his experience to tutor the younger guys. The Steelers also have Ryan Switzer, Diontae Johnson and Eli Rogers vying for roster spots involving slot receivers and possible returners.
A time for hope
Every offseason is a time of hope for all 32 NFL teams but for a team as decorated and successful as the Pittsburgh Steelers that optimism is accompanied by expectation.
This offseason has been slightly different though. The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers are going under the radar.
This team was one kick away from making the playoffs last season and with a better defense and no distractions this team has all the ability for a deep playoff run. Now that the circus has left town, there are no more excuses to fall back on.
Beating their divisional rivals will be decisive in how far the Steelers can move forward. Despite all the hype surrounding the Cleveland Browns, they are still a team that hasn’t been there and done it. For all the talent they have they also have inexperience. Since 1999 the Steelers are 34-6-1 when playing the Browns who many see as their nearest competition. The Steelers look forward knowing they have advantages against all three of their divisional rivals.
This Steelers team has quality all over the field and has enough talent to be a playoff team. Now that the futures of Brown and Bell have been resolved, Pittsburgh can move forward on a clean slate. The Steelers are going under the radar, but come week one, they will come out all guns blazing.