Matt Williamson is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and spent 10 years at ESPN as a scout and co-host of “The Soccer In the present day Podcast.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers are a superb soccer staff. They superior to the AFC Championship Recreation a yr in the past regardless of quite a few accidents, and whereas they didn’t do a lot to enhance within the brief time period this previous offseason, they’ve the most effective rosters in soccer. That is clearly a secure and profitable franchise all the best way round.
The Steelers function a Corridor of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who’s nonetheless enjoying at a excessive degree. Additionally they possess the league’s greatest and deepest offensive line, and fairly probably the NFL’s prime operating again and extensive receiver.
Pittsburgh even has one of many league’s really elite receiver skills in Martavis Bryant coming back from suspension, as a part of a particularly deep group on the place after drafting JuJu Smith-Schuster within the second spherical.
Final yr – and this was very true within the AFC Championship Recreation after Le’Veon Bell was injured – groups targeted their cross-protection recreation plans round slowing down Antonio Brown. In consequence, Brown noticed heavy coverages leaning in his course. That will probably be harder for Pittsburgh’s opponents to tug off now, assuming the workforce isn’t hit arduous by accidents.
As for the protection, Pittsburgh has used a bevy of early draft picks to bolster that aspect of the ball. There’s good cause to consider the unit is primed for an enormous step ahead as its younger gamers come into their very own and mature collectively.
The defensive position now goes 4 deep following the signing of Tyson Alualu. Javon Hargrave must be a good greater contributor in his second season, whereas Cameron Heyward is already established as an higher-tier participant and one of many prime leaders on this staff. His loss to damage final yr had greater ramifications than most understand.
In the meantime, Stephon Tuitt is much more gifted than Heyward and really a lot primed to take a considerable step ahead. This foursome ought to present higher inner strain than what Pittsburgh had a yr in the past.
The sting strain also needs to be improved. James Harrison refuses to age and stays a pressure, whereas Bud Dupree has gotten higher and higher and appears to be dwelling as much as his first-spherical billing. Pittsburgh then added one other first-spherical edge participant in T.J. Watt, who’s tailored shortly and must be enjoying high quality snaps faster than most anticipate.
Pittsburgh isn’t actual deep at inside linebacker and will play a better proportion of what appears like a 5-1-5 protection in 2017 with Ryan Shazier as the one true second-degree participant on the sector. His expertise degree is off the charts, however he additionally has an in depth damage historical past.
Shazier is the defensive participant Pittsburgh can least afford to lose, and far of the staff’s destiny on that aspect of the ball rests on his availability and potential excellence.
(Photographs courtesy: Getty Photographs)
The secondary also needs to be improved as gamers like Artie Burns and Sean Davis take steps ahead. There are nonetheless questions on the again finish of the protection and the teaching employees realizes it should transition to extra of a person-protection scheme, as Pittsburgh performed extra zone protection than simply about any workforce within the league final yr.
The Steelers do additionally make use of a number of matchup zone rules, which is principally zone that shortly distinguishes itself into man. An enhanced move rush would definitely assist the Steelers’ protection a fantastic deal.
A particularly robust case may be made that Pittsburgh is the second-greatest staff within the NFL. However there’s nonetheless an enormous elephant within the room: New England.
Not solely did the Patriots eliminate Pittsburgh in final yr’s playoffs after which go on to win the Tremendous Bowl, however New England can also be noticeably higher now than once we final noticed the staff.
Bell was injured very early within the AFC Championship Recreation and Pittsburgh was with out Heyward, however the Patriots didn’t have Rob Gronkowski. The Steelers, as regular, didn’t make an enormous splash in free company and stored the sluggish and regular strategy of constructing by means of the draft (a philosophy that has handled them very properly by way of the years by the best way).
The Steelers are a superb soccer group and if they will stay more healthy than they’ve been in current playoff appearances, they will hold with any workforce within the NFL. Nevertheless, the Patriots have had Pittsburgh’s (and nearly everybody else’s) quantity through the Tom Brady/Invoice Belichick period.
Something can occur and so much can change all through an NFL season, however because it stands proper now, the most secure guess is that it’ll stay established order between these organizations as soon as once more in 2017. And that’s unlucky for the Steelers.