2018 NFL Season Preview- Pittsburgh Steelers
It was a disappointing ending to an outstanding season for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh went 6-0 in the AFC North, 13-3 overall, and claimed the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. Unfortunately the Steelers fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars 45-42 and were the only home divisional round team to lose.
After contemplating retirement in the offseason, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played at a high level, but did throw six interceptions in the two games against Jacksonville. Running back Le'Veon Bell had another strong season playing on the franchise tag but he will be an unrestricted free agent. Tight end Jesse James has been dependable and durable but has not emerged as a key part of the passing attack or running game. Vance McDonald came on strong in the second half of the year after dealing with multiple injuries. Wide receiver Antonio Brown once again showed why he's the best receiver in the NFL despite missing two games with a calf injury. Martavis Bryant played better late but didn't show the big play ability he did before his 2016 suspension. Eli Rogers was disappointing, Justin Hunter was buried on the depth chart, and Darrius Heyward-Bey is just a special teams player at this point in his career. The offensive line performed well with three Pro Bowlers. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert struggled with injuries and missed four games due to suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt had a disappointing year with just three sacks after signing a $10 million extension while Javon Hargrave was inconsistent at nose tackle. Linebacker Ryan Shazier is the defensive leader but he was lost for the year with a spinal cord injury in early December. Sean Spence filled his place as best he could. Vince Williams played well in his first year as a starter with eight sacks. Anthony Chickillo is a nice reserve while Bud Dupree has underachieved. The team signed cornerback Joe Haden before the start of the regular season and helped stabilize the secondary but struggled in the second half of the season and in the playoff game. Artie Burns was too inconsistent and had mental lapses at the worst possible times. Safeties Sean Davis and Mike Mitchell didn't create enough turnovers and missed a lot of tackles. Mike Hilton was a solid nickel corner in coverage and on blitz plays.
Kicker Chris Boswell has another excellent year on field goals but is one of the worst onside kickers in the league. The return game needs a lot of work. Eli Rogers replaced Antonio Brown as the punt returner and the Steelers were among the worst teams in the NFL in kickoff return average.
The team produced 10 Pro Bowlers and four All-Pros including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell, fullback Roosevelt Nix, wide receiver Antonio Brown, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, right guard David DeCastro, center Maurkice Pouncey, defensive end Cameron Heyward, linebacker Ryan Shazier, and kicker Chris Boswell. Roethlisberger finished with 4,251 passing yards and 28 touchdowns. Bell finished third in the league in rushing with 1,291 yards and was named All-Pro as a flex player. Nix scored his first two career touchdowns on his way to his first Pro Bowl. Brown led the league with 101 receptions and 1,533 receiving yards to go along with nine touchdowns. Villanueva made his first Pro Bowl, DeCastro made his second All-Pro team, and Pouncey made his sixth Pro Bowl and fourth All-Pro team. Heyward registered a career high 12 sacks and was the anchor of the defensive line. Shazier's injury was the main reason the defense struggled down the stretch. Boswell made a career best 92.1% of his field goal attempts.
The rookie class played well and will be ready for a bigger role in year two. Linebacker T.J. Watt showed nice versatility in pass coverage and recorded seven sacks. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster emerged as the team's second leading receiver with 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Running back James Connor averaged 4.5 yards per carry as a backup to Le'Veon Bell before a knee injury ended his season. Quarterback Josh Dobbs spent the season as the third string quarterback and doesn't appear to be the successor to Roethlisberger.
Opponent Passing YPG
Opponent Rushing YPG
Going 13-3 and being one and done in the playoffs would put most coaches on the hot seat. That isn't the case with head coach Mike Tomlin. Tomlin will be entering his 12th season in Pittsburgh and the team around him looks poised to make a deep playoff run.
On January 17, the Steelers announced that offensive coordinator Todd Haley's contract, which had expired at the conclusion of the 2017 season, would not be renewed. The team then promoted quarterbacks coach Rick Fichtner to be the new offensive coordinator.
On August 21, wide receiver Eli Rogers was suspended by the NFL for one game for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
Notable Additions- WR/KR Ryan Switzer, LB Jon Bostic, S Morgan Burnett
Notable Departures- LB Arthur Moats, LB Sean Spence, CB William Gay, S Mike Mitchell, S J.J. Wilcox
Steelers 2017 Highlights
2018 NFL Draft
Holding the 28th overall pick in the draft, the Steelers have to add key pieces if they expect to get over the hump. Most notably at defensive lineman, inside linebacker, and safety.
The defense had trouble stopping the run against physical running teams like Jacksonville. A big body is needed at nose tackle.
Ryan Shazier may never play another down in the NFL, despite what he says. The team needs a linebacker who can cover sideline to sideline.
Mike Mitchell was let go as he played like the oldest player on the defense. Morgan Burnett is a nice addition but more depth wouldn't hurt.
On draft day, Pittsburgh ended up selecting Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds with the 28th overall pick. Edmunds has good ball skills to make difficult interceptions, but may lack the to end speed to play free safety.
The Steelers also notably drafted Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington in the second round, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph and Western Michigan offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor in the third, and Penn State safety Marcus Allen and NC State running Jalen Samuels in the fifth. Washington has the best hands of any receiver in this draft, but has the body more of a running back than a wide receiver. Rudolph looks the part with a well built frame, but played in a simplified offensive system in college. Okorafor has impressive quickness for someone his size, but will too often take blows from defenders rather than deliver them. Allen was viewed as the top tackling safety in this class, but lacks the build of a strong safety. Samuels was seen as the top receiving running back prospect this year, but has just average speed going east and west.
Terrell Edmunds Highlights
What To Expect
As many people see it, this a Super Bowl or bust season for the Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger is 36 and has two years left on his contract. Keeping him up right is a priority, The team gave Le'Veon Bell the franchise tag again and might be his final year in Pittsburgh if he doesn't get a new deal. Antonio Brown will be entering his ninth season and shows no signs of production dipping. JuJu Smith-Schuster will look to take a bigger role in the offense as the number two receiver. If Jesse James isn't careful, Vance McDonald is capable of taking the starting job from him. The offensive line should continue to be dependable with the same starting five.
Cam Heyward has been the glue of the defensive line for seven years but Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave have to have rebound years if the defense is going to stand out. Jon Bostic is no Ryan Shazier, but he and Vince Williams should be a nice pair. I expect T.J. Watt to take a bigger role in his second season but either Bud Dupree or Anthony Chickillo has to step up an play opposite Watt. The secondary is still an enigma as Artie Burns might lose his starting job and the team could start one or two rookies at safety in Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen.
I can see the Steelers running through the AFC North once again, but whether they have the talent on defense to win a Super Bowl is still unknown.
Best Record They Can Hope For: 12-4