The 2015 NFL season is officially upon us, so I decided I would write something about the Steelers for my long abdanoned blog.
Last year’s team was somewhat surprising. After back-to-back 8-8 seasons, the Steelers seemed destined to turn in another mediocre performance. Early on last season, it seemed all but a certainty after beginning the year with a 3-3 record, including losses to a terrible Buccaneers team at home and getting absolutely embarrassed by the Browns in Cleveland. A three-game homestretch turned the season around, though the Steelers still had a few more losses to bad teams left in them. They went 11-5, won the division, but lost to the Ravens in the first-round of the playoffs.
The 2015 team doesn’t seem destined for mediocrity. In fact, mediocrity would surprise me. I believe this team will either be really, really good or really, really bad. The fate lies with the offense, which by all accounts could be the best offense in Steelers history. The defense could also make history by being one of the worst in Steelers history.
Let’s start with the offense:
- Ben! Brown! Bell! Bryant! I will henceforth refer to these guys as the “Killer B’s,” stealing the nickname from the early 90s Pirates team because I’m lazy and not very clever.
- Ben Roethlisberger is coming off his best season statistically. He looked absolutely unstoppable at different points of last season. After 3 full years in Todd Haley’s offense, Ben has developed into an incredibly effective pocket passer while still being able to extend plays better than any other QB in the league.
- Antonio Brown is Antonio Brown. I’m not sure what I can add to that simple statement. He gets double & tripled team consistently and still makes huge plays on a weekly basis.
- Le’Veon Bell had his breakout season last year and seems ready to be even better. Before the 2014 season, Bell slimmed down and if pictures from training camp are any indication, he looks to have about 0% body fat. The day I visited training camp, he was running some WR routes I hadn’t seen him run before. I have no idea if that’ll be part of the offensive scheme in the regular season. But if those plays show up and can be effective…good luck, rest of the NFL.
- Martavis Bryant could be a superstar in the making. He stretches the field, makes amazing catches, and should develop into an even better receiver this season. He didn’t start the first six games of last season, but when he was given a chance, he showed his potential.
- Maurkice Pouncey is out for at least 8-10 weeks with a broken ankle he sustained in the preseason game against the Packers. So your starting center is Doug Legursky.
- Bell is out for the first two games for getting caught smoking weed and driving under the influence. His absence completely reshapes this offense.
- Bryant is out for the first four games for smoking weed (and apparently four prior failed drug tests) and the Steelers don’t have a ton of depth at wide receiver. An injury to any WR in the first month could spell trouble.
- Markus Wheaton has a big opportunity to shine with Bryant being out the first four games. I thought Wheaton looked pretty good in the preseason, but he’ll have to step it up even more early on.
- Doug Legursky at center.
- DeAngelo Williams was brought in to start the first two weeks that Bell is out. I can’t imagine he won’t be serviceable for those two starts, and I certainly feel better with him starting than Josh Harris or Dri Archer (the thought of that makes me nauseous). We’ll see if he can show something in those first two games that could lead to a bigger role for him in the offense, just so they don’t have to run Bell till the wheels fall off.
- Bryant is at an interesting crossroads: keep getting high and become the next Josh Gordon or he gets it together and becomes a superstar. Here’s hoping for the latter.
Now onto the defense…
- Lawrence Timmons! Cam Heyward! Uhhh…Lawrence Timmons! Cam Heyward!
- Stephon Tuitt showed promise towards the end of last season.
- Mike Mitchell has zero torn groin muscles as of this writing.
- Have I mentioned Lawrence Timmons and Cam Heyward?
- There is no defensive line depth. Steve McLendon is our starting nose tackle. If any of the starting defensive line gets injured, there is Cam Thomas behind them. I don’t even know the names of any other defensive linemen on the team.
- James Harrison is the best outside linebacker on the roster at this point. James Harrison was an incredible player, but he is past his prime. I’m not saying he can’t still be effective, but he’s not the same guy who won Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
- Our starting safeties haven’t played together yet. They are also named Shamarko Thomas and Mike Mitchell. In case you weren’t already missing Troy Polamalu enough…
- The Steelers’ best cornerback is William Gay. I actually like William Gay and think he gets far too much of a bad rap, but it’s not still not a comforting thought.
- The Steelers finally drafted a cornerback in the early rounds of the draft and he’s out for the season with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Definitely a disappointing end to a season that never really began for Senquez Golson.
- Cortez Allen.
- For the first time in eleven seasons, someone other than Dick LeBeau will be the Steelers’ defensive coordinator. It’ll be strange to not see Coach Dad on the sidelines any longer, but it’ll be interesting to see what Keith Butler’s defense looks like. I’m sure it’ll largely resemble LeBeau’s, but it’ll be interesting to see what changes are made. In recent years, LeBeau’s defense had been accused of being too “vanilla,” and not built to go against the high-powered offenses of today’s NFL. Will Butler be less vanilla? Is he a secret defensive genius? Will any of this matter with the personnel on defense???
- Can Mike Mitchell actually be an effective safety? Mitchell was criticized–rightfully so–for his poor play last season and for revealing moments after the playoff loss to the Ravens that he’d been playing with two torn groin muscles. He’s since had surgery (and intact groin muscles are important just for walking, let alone playing football). Many have also wondered if his play will improve with Troy Polamalu’s retirement. Troy was known for freelancing, so it stands to reason that Mitchell’s play may improve with the safeties having set coverage duties.
- The linebacking corps has question marks throughout with the exception of Timmons. This is the year Jarvis Jones will either break out or be declared a bust. There are questions about whether Ryan Shazier was worth passing on a corner in the first round of the 2014 draft. Shazier was injured for a chunk of last year, so those questions have gone unanswered. Will Bud Dupree get much playing time as a rookie in Butler’s defense and be able to nab one of the starting OLB spots?
- Hey, Josh Scobee is a pretty good kicker!
- Josh Scobee just tripped and tore his ACL (he didn’t really, just expecting it with the Steelers rash of kicker injuries).
My predictions for this season:
- The Steelers will win the Super Bowl with this high-powered offense!…or they will have the #6 pick in the 2016 draft after an offensive playmaker gets injured in October.
- There will be calls for the Steelers to fire Butler and reinstate LeBeau after Tom Brady does Tom Brady things against the Steelers on Thursday night.
- There will be calls for Mike Tomlin to be fired in the first quarter of the Patriots game.
- There will be calls for Todd Haley to be fired on the first 3-and-out series of the game and/or the first time Ben gets sacked.
- Yinzers who burned their jerseys and season tickets when the Steelers signed Michael Vick will inevitably want him to start over Ben in the first multi-interception game Ben has.
- The Steelers will lose on the West Coast.
- A caller to The Fan will suggest the Steelers tank so they can draft Cardale Jones; Joe Starkey’s head will explode when hearing this suggestion.
Record: 12-4!….or 5-11.