Pittsburgh Steelers Season Preview
The 100th season of the National Football League has finally arrived, and the freshly cleansed Pittsburgh Steelers are entering the season with everything to prove.
After a disappointing 2018 campaign that resulted in missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Steelers have had their offseason headlined by one main question: Can the offense match their previous production without Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell?
At 37 years old, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is back for his 16th season, leading a new-look offense. He set career bests last season in completions, yards and touchdowns, proving he can still produce at his age. Pro Bowlers JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner will look to lead the new core, and the Steelers should have every reason to believe they can.
Smith-Schuster led the team in receptions and yards last season, even with Brown hauling in 104 passes for over 1,200 yards himself. This year’s passing attack will likely feature a broader workload with newly acquired receiver Donte Moncrief and second-year wideout James Washington being propelled into bigger roles. Tight end Vance McDonald will absorb the snaps that Jesse James once held as well, meaning Roethlisberger will have plenty of reliable targets to spread the field on passing downs.
With Bell holding out in 2018, Conner picked up the reigns by rushing for 12 touchdowns in an injury-riddled season. At full health once again, Conner looks to become a threat in both the rushing and the passing attack. Second-year back Jaylen Samuels and rookie Benny Snell Jr. fill out a backfield that will benefit from working behind a strong offensive line. Samuels showed flashes of potential last season in the passing game, and Snell completed three 1000-yard campaigns at Kentucky before being drafted last April. Conner and company will draw attention from defenses, giving the Steelers the ability to work between the run and pass.
The defense returns several starters from last season, including Pro Bowlers Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt. Cornerback Joe Haden is fresh off a new extension and will continue to bring a veteran presence to the secondary. Joining the defense will be linebacker Mark Barron and defensive back Steven Nelson, as well as a pair of rookies in first-round draft pick Devin Bush out of Michigan and third-rounder Justin Layne from Michigan State.
The defensive front seven is positioned to have a strong year, especially with Watt coming off of a 13-sack season. Bush will quickly become a presence on the field and could compete for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. The secondary will continue to be the biggest question mark for the Steelers defense, as it has been since Troy Polamalu retired, but the new additions make for a versatile squad. For a defense that has been mediocre for a long time, there were significant strides in the right direction this offseason.
The AFC North will be more competitive this season than it has been in years. The Browns, Ravens and Steelers will all compete for the division title (sorry, Bengals) thanks to talented rosters and favorable schedules. Despite all of the questions leading into the 2019 season, the Steelers are very much capable of winning the AFC North. There was a culture problem in Pittsburgh last season, but the locker room has been cleaned out. Expect this team to compete in every game on both sides of the ball.
Projected record: 10-6, 1st AFC North
Team MVP: Ben Roethlisberger
Most Improved Player: James Washington
Defensive MVP: T.J. Watt
Preston Shoemaker is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact, email firstname.lastname@example.org.