With the “football in shorts” portion of the offseason now behind Mike Tomlin and his Pittsburgh Steelers, it is now time to head for Latrobe to begin the process of assembling a roster that can get two more wins in 2017. The Steelers will head to St. Vincent College with the hope that they now have the answers to several questions that have taunted them since their frustrating loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Although there aren’t a whole lot of questions surrounding the Steelers, they need to find answers to them if they want to visit PPG Paints Arena next February with a shiny new Lombardi Trophy they can show to the Penguins.
Questions Surrounding The Offense:
For the last few seasons, the strength of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been the offense, which has more weapons than any other unit in the NFL. If not for an unfortunate series of injuries and a couple of ill timed suspensions, the Killer B’s could have led the way to another addition to the trophy case and put up some legendary numbers. This leads us to the two biggest questions surrounding the offense. A. Can Ben Roethlisberger and LeVeon Bell stay healthy for a full season, and will Bell hold out? B. Will Martavis Bryant stay on the straight and narrow?
Can Ben Roethlisberger and LeVeon Bell stay healthy?
Considering the beatings that Ben Roethlisberger has taken throughout most of his career, behind some pretty pourus offensive lines, it’s a wonder he can still walk without a limp, eat with a fork, and breathe through his nose. His fortunes have changed drastically since Todd Haley and Mike Munchak have arrived. In an offense with a multitude of weapons, that is designed to get rid of the ball quickly, and playing behind arguably the best offensive line, Ben has become one of the league’s least sacked quarterbacks. It’s relatively safe to assume that with the return of all of those elements, Ben Roethlisberger will be leading the offense all season long.
The health of LeVeon Bell is critical to the Steelers success, as well as his own. It’s a lesson he learned during his rookie year, when a foot injury, and hitting the proverbial “rookie wall”, led to his shedding of fifteen pounds during his first offseason. To lable him as injury prone, as he has been, isn’t really fair, as his consecutive season ending knee injuries, at the hands of the Bengals, were the result of a couple of questionable hits. Taking away those knee injuries, Bell has otherwise been a steady presence on the field. His groin injury early in the AFCC game could be argued to a heavy workload last season out of neccessity.
Bell will be healthy for camp and he will show up. While he may not have signed his tender yet, he will, and he will be ready to go. He wants to remain a Steeler, and the Steelers want the best running back in the NFL to remain with the franchise. Bell knows what’s at stake and he has always been a team player per his teammates, so to those who do, please quit calling him selfish. While it would have been nice for LeVeon to show up at mini-camp in any capacity, he couldn’t per league rules since he hasn’t signed his tender, but either way he’ll be in Latrobe.
Will Martavis Bryant stay clean?
The best addition to any team this offseason was when Martavis Bryant was conditionally reinstated by the NFL, and returned to the Steelers roster. Bryant’s return not only opens up more space for Antonio Brown, but also for LeVeon Bell and the running game. The physical changes to Bryant during his year long suspension are startling, as he put on almost twenty pounds of muscle from his new found dedication in the weight room. Martavis took his punishment seriously, changing every aspect of his life and is looking to prove himself. Bryant is primed to have a big year and will provide a test for Artie Burns and a young Steelers secondary during camp.
Questions Surrounding The Defense:
Speaking of their young secondary, the hot topic regarding the defense this offseason has been the need for the Steelers to play more press-man and man coverage. Perhaps the complaint should have just been to play better man and press-man coverage. Sure the Steelers played a lot of zone coverage last year, but they also played plenty of press-man within the zone scheme. As the year progressed, they actually did a pretty decent job in coverage until they ran into Tom Brady, who pretty much carves up every secondary he faces.
The teams who are most effective in coverage against Brady are also the ones who pressure him up the middle, without the need for blitzing, which the Steelers could not do beyond Javon Hargrave’s early sack. Maybe they would have had more success had Cam Heyward been healthy and available. Still, the Steelers took measures this offseason to boost their pass rush and their secondary, not to beat the Patriots, but to win a very physical AFC North division first, then the Super Bowl.
Will The Steelers Improve In And Use More Man Coverage?
The Steelers did play a majority of zone coverage last season, but they also utilized quite a bit of man coverage within zone (match coverage) as their young secondary improved. As much as the secondary improved by the end of the season, their dismantling at the hands of Tom Brady showed that there was still a need for some more capable cornerbacks, so the Steelers brought in some potential help, signing free agent Coty Sensabaugh, and drafted two more, Cameron Sutton (3rd round) and Brian Allen (5th round), who bring additional size and speed to the table.
Another boost to the secondary could be provided by Senquez Golson if he can stay on the field, and although the Steelers are hopeful, they aren’t relying on his presence. Sutton and Allen have impressed Carnell Lake early on, both with their intelligence and playmaking abilities and he’s hoping it translates over to when the pads are on. While Sutton is a virtual lock to make the 53 man roster, at 6’3″/215 lbs, Brian Allen could end up being quite a steal if he can develop. He’ll be a tough one to hide on the practice squad though if he shows any kind of potential in the preseason.
Did The Steelers Do Enough To Address The Pass Rush?
The failed Jarvis Jones experiment could have set the Steelers back in this department quite a bit, but luckily, here comes T.J. Watt. Yeah, I know, it’s a bit too early to annoint Watt as the second coming of anything, but it’s hard not to have high expectations and hope for someone with his pedigree, work ethic, and determination to be the best. Initialy, Watt will be backing up James Harrison, who can still get after the quarterback with the best of them, which is not surprising for a man who can hump 600lbs and push a sled with 1,400 lbs on it.
The Steelers other addition to the linebacking corps is seventh round draft pick Keion Adams, a 3-4 outside linebacker out of Western Michigan, who Lance Zierlein, of http://www.NFL.com compared to Arthur Moats. While he doesn’t come to the Steelers with the fanfare of T.J. Watt, Adams is one who can also get after the quarterback and chase down ball carriers quickly. If Joey Porter can coach him up to where he can consistently set the edge and maintain position at the point of attack, the Steelers will really have something with this rookie.
Adams and Watt have struck up an immediate friendship and are hitting the playbook hard together. This bodes well for both of them, and should make each other better in the long run. Between Arthur Moats, T.J. Watt, Keion Adams, and Anthony Chickillo, the Steelers could find themselves fairly deep with depth behind James Harrison and Bud Dupree.
10 Predictions For The 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers:
While some of these predictions may be considered a bit of a reach, it’s conceivable that anyone of them can happen. If only one of them comes to fruition, let it be number 10.