Pittsburgh Steelers Season Preview
Super Bowl LVI is set to take place in California in February and the race for the Lombardi is ready to get started. The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be in win-now mode as they secured their franchise Quarterback for one more year and have put the weapons in place to let him succeed. In 2020 the Steelers struggled to have a run game of any note, and the addition of a college star at running back and a big blocking tight end should help ease the pressure from Ben Roethlisberger’s arm in 2021.
At the end of 2020, the Steelers had absolutely no cap space available and were on the verge of waving goodbye to the quarterback who delivered two Lombardi Trophies to the Steel City. After some, frankly miraculous, work from the General Manager Kevin Colbert, the Steelers now find themselves with space below the cap and they have managed to bring in some new faces and are on the verge of a new long-term deal with star defensive player T.J. Watt.
The quest for a seventh Lombardi is in the works and if the Steelers are to be successful on their “Stairway to Seven” quest then the GM may need to make some more moves prior to the Week One opener against the Buffalo Bills.
Best Position Group
For as long as I can remember the strength of the Steelers has been the defense and their ability to get at the opposing quarterback. Since 2017, the Steelers have either led the league in sacks themselves or jointly led (2018 season with the Kansas City Chiefs) so you would be easy in saying that they boast the best Edge group in the league. 2021 could be no different. T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Melvin Ingram III could be in line for another huge season. However, that is not the position group I am going for.
Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud make up one of the best receiving cores in the NFL. Johnson has got better in each of the two years he has been in the league and he has seen his targets go up as a result. With the addition of a running game, which should be good, Johnson is likely to have more space and more room to show his route running ability. If he can forget the drops from last year then he could be a top-10 receiver in 2021.
Next up you have Smith-Schuster. Everyone remembers his 2018 season where he went off for over 1400 yards and seven touchdowns. This was when he was lining up opposite Antonio Brown and never had to face double coverage. Unfortunately for him, Brown departed and he became the main guy and couple that with a few seasons of no run game and his numbers have dipped. Or have they? Yes, he hasn’t managed the same number of yards again but in 2020 he actually had more touchdowns than he ever has before (nine), and despite the emergence of Chase Claypool and sharing the load with Johnson, he still accumulated 831 yards. More so, he became a reliable target from the slot and was exactly where his Quarterback needed him to be. Especially on third-down attempts.
So they have the route running ability of Diontae Johnson, the ever-reliable JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot and then they have their Canadian sensation, Chase Claypool, as the deep threat. 2020 saw the emergence of the rookie from Notre Dame. Claypool put together quite the rookie year as he amassed nine touchdowns and 873 yards. Claypool is a big-bodied, reliable, and fast deep threat and with a new run game, he will only bet more opportunities to take the ball deep.
After the three starters they still have James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud waiting in the wings should they need to step up. That’s what I call depth.
Who do you cover if your the defense? With all three starters on the field, Najee Harris coming out of the backfield and either Eric Ebron or Pat Freiermuth (who looked incredible in preseason) lined up as the Tight End it’s impossible to keep them all in check. If the Steelers can get the offense clicking for 2021 then opposing teams will struggle to stop them from scoring at will.
Worst Position Group
Now, the biggest question in whether or not the Steelers’ offense will be one of the best in 2020 is the offensive line. 2020 saw the retirement of long-time center Maurkice Pouncey and the departure of Matt Feiler and Alejandro Villanueva. Next saw the surprising cut of long-time guard David DeCastro. There goes the core of an offensive line that has been together for years. Roethlisberger not only loses his friend and trusted center (minus that 2020 playoff game) but he also loses guards and tackles all over the place.
Up steps the new guns. Kendrick Green, Trai Turner, and Dan Moore Jnr are all set to join Kevin Dotson and Chukwuma Okorafor as the new starters in Pittsburgh. It might be harsh to label them as the worst position group for the Steelers but the fact of the matter is that they are untested and are part of a team that is pretty strong all over. Kevin Dotson was a bright spark in the preseason as he improved from the few outings he had in 2020. As for Green and Moore, these are two rookies who are getting the start for one of the most famous and successful franchises in all of sport.
There will be a lot of attention on the offensive line in Pittsburgh this year. Not only because of the aging Quarterback playing behind them but also because of the scrutiny the run game will face this year. If these rookies can get up to pace quickly then the Steelers are one of them, if not the most, underrated teams headed into the 2021 season.
Surprise Star Player
In the 2021 draft, the Steelers selected a player with the nickname of one of their biggest rivals. Baby Gronk, otherwise known as Pat Freiermuth, was selected with the 55th pick by the Steelers. The Penn State alumni earned the nickname of Baby Gronk in college as a result of his big downfield plays and his blocking ability on the line. Granted he is not the blocker that Rob Gronkowski is but he will only get better as the season goes on.
Freiermuth’s best ability is his red-zone production. In 2018 he brought in eight touchdown passes and in 2019 he added another seven. 2020 was a down year in production as he only played four games. In those four games, he managed 310 yards from 23 receptions and a score.
Ben Roethlisberger has already stated how much of a fan he is and that he is reminded of another tight end that they used to have in Pittsburgh. High raise for a rookie who has only played in preseason games so far but he has earned it. 2021 could be a big year and the league could have a new star tight end.
Record and Playoffs Prediction
With the addition of a seventeenth game in 2021, we will see all new records at the end of the year. Could we have the first-ever 17-0 season and the first-ever 0-17 season? The first year without an 8-8 record could also be on the cards. That being said, the most important thing is that we have more football and that can never be a bad thing. Pittsburgh started 11-0, then went on to finish 12-4 and have a disappointing playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns. All that was done with no run game and the Quarterback just back from elbow surgery.
That being said, after winning the AFC North in 2020 the Steelers have one of the toughest schedules in 2021. So, despite the addition of a run game and another year for Roethlisberger to get better the Steelers are going to need to be a lot better than 2020. Luckily, I think they will be better. They will win the AFC North with a record of 12-5 and will make it to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh will win another Super Bowl and secure their seventh Lombardi Trophy and Roethlisberger will ride off into the Californian sun.
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