The NFL is back, and Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to kickoff on Thursday, Sept. 10. Today, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Last year’s record: 11-5
Head coach: Mike Tomlin
Core players: Ben Roethlisberger (QB), Le’Veon Bell (RB), Antonio Brown (WR), Lawrence Timmons (LB)
2015 is about… Winning a playoff game. The Steelers haven’t won in the post-season since they beat the New York Jets in the AFC Championship game in 2010, only to fall to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV. That’s a really long time for a team with the pedigree that Pittsburgh boasts. Offensively, there’s no reason why this team can’t get over the hump and notch a second-season win. The only thing holding it back is the defensive side of the ball, which really only needs to play at about league-average level to see an improvement.
They lost… There really is no way to replace surefire Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu (S), who retired at the end of last season. Moreso than the emotional blow to not having him on the field, the Steelers’ already-suspect secondary now looks even shakier—not an encouraging sign seeing how Pittsburgh gave up the sixth-most passing yards per game last season.
Making matters even worse for the Steelers was the sudden resignation of Dick LeBeau. The long-time Pittsburgh defensive co-ordinator, hailed for his creative zone-blitz schemes, left the Steelers to join the Tennessee Titans in the off-season. For the past decade it’s been LeBeau dialing up the defences in Pittsburgh, now without him there will certainly be an adjustment period.
Yeah, but they got… DeAngelo Williams (RB). It’s been a while since his excellent 2008 and 2009 campaigns, and much of his 2014 season was derailed due to injury, but he’s still a guy capable of rushing for over four yards per carry. With star halfback Le’Veon Bell suspended for the first two games (down from three), expect to see Williams do much of the heavy lifting during that period and then act as an effective backup the rest of the season, something he should have no problems doing as he split a lot of carries with Jonathan Stewart when he was in Carolina.
Growing from within: Team rookie of the year last season Martavis Bryant emerged as a real sparkplug for Tomlin and Co. after he was activated for the first time in Week 7. The six-foot-four receiver from Clemson hauled in a 35-yard touchdown that week and never looked back, catching eight scores on the season. Bryant was able to capitalize on the attention all-pro wideout Antonio Brown receives, and thanks to his size and athleticism he became a favourite target of Roethlisberger’s when he was looking for the end zone. Now entering his second year, Bryant’s numbers should only go up.
Why this team? Because they boast some of the most exciting skill-position players in all of football in Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown. This team definitely isn’t the “Steel Curtain” anymore, but boy are they fun to watch.
Why not? Because Roethlisberger can be too courageous for his own good. There will inevitably be a time when Big Ben stays in the pocket too long desperately looking for a shot down field that isn’t there when he can simply throw the ball away or dump it to his checkdown receiver, or a time when he will take off and try to extend the play when, instead, he should run out of bounds or slide. In both instances, he will get lit up and there will be injury concerns aplenty. Oh, and there’s also the fact the Steelers just signed this glutton-for-punishment quarterback to a five-year extension when he’s already 33.
Perfect for fans of… Stability. There’s no more stable organization in football than the Steelers. Pittsburgh has only known three coaches since 1969—Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Tomlin—and Tomlin just signed an extension through 2018. There’s no panic when it comes to the Rooney family and the affairs of its pro football team. In this day and age of sports, and in the NFL in particular, when knee-jerk-reaction firings happen all the team, the level-headedness that the Steelers convey is a breath of fresh air.
How much hope? 7/10. There’s no reason why this team won’t make the playoffs again this season, and as long as their defence can hold out enough, the likes of Brown and Bell can only be contained for so long.
Will you be mocked for front-running? Yeah, probably. Pittsburgh is one of the most historic and popular teams in the league. They have a lot of likeable players on the roster, but that won’t stop people from claiming you’re a bandwagon hopper when rooting for them on Sunday.
A Meme to Remember: Not surprisingly, other teams’ fans are reveling in the Steelers’ recent lack of playoff success.