UA-59049186-1 NFL Team Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers - Good if it Goes

NFL Team Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers

20170428lf-Steelers02-1

pittsburghsteelersschedule

Last Year:

Record: 11-5

Offense: 24.9 (10th)

Defense: 20.4 (10th)

Offseason: 

Key Acquisitions: N/A

Key Losses: TE. Ladarius Green, LB. Lawrence Timmons

2017 Draft Picks

RD(PK) PLAYER POS SCHOOL
1(30) T.J. Watt OLB Wisconsin
2(30) JuJu Smith-Schuster WR USC
3(30) Cam Sutton CB Tennessee
3(41) James Conner RB Pittsburgh
4(29) Joshua Dobbs QB Tennessee
5(30) Brian Allen CB Utah
6(30) Colin Holba LS Louisville
7(30) Keion Adams DE Western Michigan

2017 Outlook 

Coaching Staff

  • HC: Mike Tomlin
  • OC: Todd Haley
  • DC: Keith Butler
  • ST: Danny Smith

Offense

QB. Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones

RB. Le’Veon Bell, James Conner

WR. Antonio Brown, Darrius Heyward-Bey

WR. Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster

WR. Eli Rogers

TE. Jesse James, David Johnson

LT. Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler

LG. Ramon Foster, Jerald Hawkins

C. Maurkice Pouncey, Kyle Friend

RG. David DeCastro, Mike Matthews

RT. Marcus Gilbert, Chris Hubbard

Defense

DE. Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu

NT. Javon Hargrave, Daniel McCullers

DE. Stephon Tuitt, Leterrius Walton

OLB. Bud Depree, Arthur Moats

MLB. Ryan Shazier, Tyler Matakevich

MLB. Vince Williams, L.J. Fort

OLB. James Harrison, T.J. Watt

CB. Artie Burns, Senquez Golson

SS. Sean Davis, Malik Golden

FS. Mike Mitchell, Robert Golden

CB. Ross Cockrell, Cameron Sutton

NB. William Gay

Specialists

K. Chris Boswell

P. Jordan Berry

 Breakdown

Offense:

The most important factor for the Steelers offense is having their best players consistently on the field. Over the past two seasons various suspensions or injuries have hurt this unit. It all starts with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who has dealt with minor injuries that have caused him to miss a few games or play hurt in others over the past two seasons. And the injuries must be starting to weigh on him as he seriously considered retirement during the offseason. Big Ben is a future hall of famer and when healthy and on his game is an elite player but one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank and how bad does he really want to keep playing? Running back Le’Veon Bell is another guy that has dealt with injury on a consistent basis and on top of that suspensions as well. And now this season he is holding out of training camp in hopes of inking a long term contract. Bell is the best running back in the league and can do great things both as a runner and receiver. However, the elephant in the room is how will his contract dispute play out and even if everything works out can he finally stay healthy for a full season? The Steelers receiving corps took a major blow last season when they found out Martavis Bryant would be suspended for one whole season. He returns from that suspension this season to rejoin Antonio Brown and hopefully form one of the top receiver duos in the NFL. Antonio Brown is already shaping up to be an all-time great at his position and Bryant is as naturally talented as any receiver in the league at 6’4 and apparently 4.2 speed, something he showed off in a workout after being reinstated during the offseason. Eli Rogers is projected to be the guy in the slot after surprisingly playing well for an undrafted rookie last year for Pittsburgh. But reports out of camp are that the team is giving second round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster the opportunity to compete against him for the job and he may just win it before it is all said and done. There are legitimate concerns at the tight end position. The Ladarius Green experiment did not really work out as he was cut in the offseason after just one year with the team. Jesse James ended up being the Steelers starting tight end the majority of last season due to Green being injured and is projected to be the starter in 2017. James is a pretty decent run blocker but he does not pack a lot of punch as a receiving threat. The Steelers will need their explosive group of receivers to compensate for the lack of talent at tight end this season. The group with the fewest question marks, if any at all, is the offensive line. They were ranked the third best line in the NFL by pro football focus last season and with all five starters coming back and all but one under 30 there’s no reason to expect any decline. The team is strongest at guard where their most senior member Ramon Foster played the best of the five a year ago and David DeCastro was not far behind. Both had pro bowl caliber seasons and the Steelers easily have the best guard tandem in the NFL. In between them at center is Maurkice Pouncey, who is one of the best pass blocking centers in the game and the leader of the group. At right tackle is Marcus Gilbert who was one of the top five right tackles in the NFL last season. He received the second highest pass blocking grade among right tackles from pro football focus and was not too shabby run blocking either. Alejandro Villanueva will be at left tackle and looked like he might be the one weak link of the group early at times last season but finished the year very strong only allowing one sack in his final 10 games. Overall health is the only thing that can possibly derail this offense in 2017. They have what I believe to be the best O-Line on paper going into 2017, the best running back, the best receiver, and a future first ballot hall of famer under center. Good luck trying to stop these guys this season.

Defense:

There has been much talk of the Steelers defense being a problem over the past few years but that definitely was not the case last season as they finished 10th in points allowed and 12th in yards allowed. They may not be an elite unit but they are far form bad and they did all of that a year ago mostly without the services of their top defensive lineman Cameron Heyward who only played in seven games. With better health Heywerd looks to lead the up front group from his defensive end spot and play up to the high level he did in 2014 and 15. With Heyward compromised someone had to step up and that someone was Stephon Tuitt who really played well in his third season. He can rush the passer and stop the run and has gotten better every year of his career so far and there is no reason to believe that trend will not continue as he enters a contract year. Javon Hargrave, the team’s third round pick in 2016, ended up taking over the starting nose tackle position and after a decent showing in his first year the position appears to be his moving forward. What if I told you that in 2016 the 10th ranked overall edge defender by pro football focus would be a 38 year old man. 30 for 30 anyone? Anyway, that was not just a hypothetical it actually happened as the ageless wonder James Harrison is somehow still one of the best edge players in football. At this point I am not going to even try and predict when father time will catch up to him I will just wait for it to happen and expect him to keep playing well until we see otherwise. At the other outside linebacker spot opposite Harrison will be 2015 first round pick Bud Depree, who the team is still waiting for to produce like a first rounder. He did improve from his poor rookie season but going from bad to ok is not going to cut it.  Harrison cannot keep playing at a high level forever and the Steelers need this guy to step up and be their next great outside linebacker and keep the tradition of guys like Jason Gildon, Joey Porter, and Harrison going. If Depree cannot pick it up then this year’s first round pick and brother of J.J. Watt T.J. Watt might have to step in for him. Watt is reportedly already having a really good camp so far and regardless of whether he starts or not figures to see the field plenty. For the first time since 2009 the Steelers will be without Lawrence Timmons at middle linebacker as he moved on and signed with the Dolphins in the offseason. Which means now there will be more pressure on their other starting linebacker Ryan Shazier to step up and now be a leader on this defense. He had the best season of his career last year in his third season and will be out to play even better as he is one of many Steelers in a contract year and they most likely will not be able to resign everybody so he needs to play very well in 2017. Veteran Vince Williams will take over the other starting linebacker spot for Timmons. Williams has not seen significant action since starting 11 games his rookie year back in 2013 when Larry Foote went down for the year. They then drafted Shazier the following offseason and he has been buried on the bench since. But some believed in the snaps he got last season he outplayed Timmons and should have taken over for him last season. Well he will get his shot in 2017 as the Steelers signed no other significant free agents or drafted anybody else to play the position and clearly have confidence in him to take over the job without even having to compete for it. Even though the Steelers defense has not been nearly as bad as advertised the secondary did have it’s ups and downs last year finishing 19th in passing defense. That may not be horrible but when your Super Bowl hopes and dreams rely on your ability to stop Tom Brady and the prolific passing attack of the Patriots 19th simply is not going to cut it and such was the case when Brady and company lit the Steelers up for 36 points spearheaded by Brady’s 3 passing TDs and 127 passer rating. It worried me that the Steelers did not address the secondary with one of their first two picks in a draft that had so many really good defensive backs, but at the same time when you consider that they have taken a cornerback and safety in the first or second round in both of the previous drafts it makes a little sense as the team does need to give those guys the opportunity to grow and get better. Last year’s first round pick Artie Burns showed flashes of promise and should be even better in year two. He ended up starting nine games last season but is expected to be the number one corner this season. Burns took over the outside corner spot full time during the year from Gay who was moved to the slot where he was a lot more effective, which you can read all about here. Gay had one of the most productive seasons of his career and was one of the most underrated corners in the league last season. He will go into camp with the plan of playing the slot full-time this season. Ross Cockrell came over after being cut from the Bills after just one season with the team that picked him in the fourth round. Maybe they just were not using him right because he has played better than expected in both of his season’s with Pittsburgh and will start again at the other outside corner spot. Mike Mitchell has played well over the past two seasons for the Steelers after a rough start to his stint with the team back in 2014. He has become a very solid free safety for the team that does his job in coverage and provides decent run support. Sean Davis, the team’s second round pick in 2016, became the starting strong safety last year and will have the job again this year. He showed some good things in his rookie season and should be better in 2017. Overall the Steelers did not sign a free agent or draft a player that is projected to start on defense this year instead expecting growth and improvement from the players they already have and honestly it might work. The secondary is where the boatload of that improvement could happen. The team’s second round pick Senquez Golson missed the entire year in both of his first two seasons and has yet to step on the field so he can help and all the other young guys they already have should be even better this season. I think going from Timmons to Williams will prove to be addition by subtraction at linebacker and hopefully with a healthy Heyward the D-line will be even better. I’m not saying the Steelers are going to be an elite defense but this is an orginization that has proven they know what they are doing and this defense has the potential to surprise a lot of people this year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.