The Pittsburgh Steelers had it rough in 2015, to say the very least. While other teams may have had more injuries, no team had injuries to more of their major core players than the Steelers. Starting with losing all-pro center Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers have lost Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Le’Veon Bell, Ryan Shazier, Will Allen, Kelvin Beachum, Garrett Hartley and Shaun Suisham, to injury for part or all of the season, not to mention the season opening suspensions that were served by Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell. On Sunday, the Steelers suffered another casualty, as Deangelo Williams was lost, for at least the first postseason game, to a serious ankle sprain. Just like in the regular season though, the Steelers will not panic, they will just keep on persevering. All season long, the Steelers have done more with less, and that perseverance has put them, with help from the Buffalo Bills, in the 2016 NFL postseason. Of the Steelers six losses on the season, only one of them can be considered an all out disappointment, which was a loss to the Baltimore Ravens two weeks ago.
The Steelers performance in that loss to the ravens was much less indicative of who these Pittsburgh Steelers are, than were the ten wins they reeled off despite playing the toughest schedule in the league. With wins over the Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Denver Broncos, they beat some of the best teams with the best defenses in the league. The Steelers could very well be 12-4 if it weren’t for the failings of early season kicker Josh Scobey, whose ineffectiveness directly cost the Steelers two games. Aside from the injuries, they have overcome a secondary that possesses less talent than they would prefer, through rotations and an increase in a pass rush that has generated 48 sacks, with the 7 from the secondary, 15.5 from the defensive line, and 25.5 from the linebackers. Unlike in years past where five or six players racked up the Steelers sack numbers, the sack numbers were spread out over 16 different players. Pressure on the quarterback and coverage go hand in hand towards the success of any defense, and when there has been no pressure generated, the secondary has been exposed. Overall though, the defense has done what they have had to do to help get the Steelers back to the postseason, and have gotten the most out of who they have had to work with. Along the way, they may have found a future starter at cornerback, in free agent signee, Ross Cockrell.
The offensive side of the ball is where the Steelers were hit the hardest with injuries, losing five core players for multiple games, including three for the season. It’s easy to think about what could’ve been, had those players been healthy, while overlooking what was actually accomplished, but the Steelers offense still had quite an impressive showing, in a 10-6, 2015 season. Despite missing four games, Ben Roethlisberger passed for an average of 328.2 yards per game, which is the third highest average in NFL history for a season. Antonio Brown broke his own team records for receptions and yards for a third straight season, finishing the 2015 with 1,834 yards on 136 receptions. Brown is the first receiver in NFL history to have 125+ receptions in two straight seasons, and his 375 receptions over the last three seasons, is the most for any three year period in history. Those accomplishments, however, represent only part of the reason why the Steelers were able to return to the postseason for the second consecutive season, it’s the players who stepped up in place of the injured starters that are the real story.
Although Antonio Brown was justifiably named the Steelers 2015 team MVP, it very well could have been a group of backup players that were named Co-MVP’s. The unsung hero’s of this season, are guys like Deangelo Williams, Cody Wallace, Alejandro Villanueva, Chris Boswell, and yes, Landry Jones, all of whom contributed towards critical victories in the absence of the starters they replaced. They all represent what Mike Tomlin’s “Next Man UP” philosophy is all about. Although Mike Tomlin won’t fully get the credit he deserves for the teams perseverance this season, he did a fantastic job of keeping players united, focused, and pointed in the right direction. Nothing about this season has come easy for the Steelers, but then again, the Steelers have always earned everything they have ever achieved. Some will say they backed into the postseason, but that could not be further from the truth when you consider where they were predicted to finish because of the injuries.No, the Steelers belong in the postseason because they continue to do the things that Chuck Noll started back in 1969. The Steelers belong in the postseason because they didn’t panic in the face of adversity, like the Cowboys and the Ravens did. Anything can happen in the postseason, and if the Steelers continue to believe in themselves, and stick together, there is no telling how far they can go.