I love sports for a lot of reasons.
For one, there is something special about having a favorite team. Not just being a casual fan, but being seriously invested in everything your team does, win or lose.
Sports are also entertaining, and simply great TV to watch.
However, sports can also be extremely exciting. Watching your team in the fourth quarter of a close game against a divisional rival is an exhilarating experience. Feeling your heart thumping like crazy as the kicker lines up for the potential game-winning field goal, while the non-sports fans in your family wondering why you’re so freaked out is a feeling shared by football fans across the world.
That’s why I love watching sports. It’s the unknown - having no idea how it’s going to end until the clock shows all zeroes. I’m the kind of person who’s always searching for a new movie to watch instead of an old one, just so I don’t know what exactly happens next.
A lot of that love for suspenseful games translates to the offseason. I always catch myself obsessively reloading the news on my phone during free agency, and sitting through the draft desperately hoping other teams don’t take the players I want my Steelers to draft.
But I got an extra treat this year: I have absolutely no idea what to expect from the Steelers offense in 2020.
The defense is a proven commodity, in a good way. They are a great, consistent, solid-across-the-board squad that hardly changed heading into 2020, sans losing a talented yet rarely used nose tackle in Javon Hargrave. They could use some depth, but their starters are set and and the level of star power is incredible (T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cameron Heyward).
However, it’s near impossible to get a reading on the 2020 Steelers offense. Last year’s slew of injuries, especially at quarterback, make it hard to predict what a fully healthy offense could look like.
At quarterback, the team’s starter is obviously Ben Roethlisberger, who was injured week 2 of last season and didn't return. All signs are pointing to him being ready to go by the start of the 2020 season, but we don’t know what his level of play will be. Ben has been sprouting a Duck Dynasty level beard, possibly looks like he is gaining weight, and has had an elbow surgery on his throwing arm. However, it’s unwise to make assumptions on Ben’s progress based off a few sideline photos of him in a winter jacket, and the team execs, as well as the quarterback himself, seem confident in his progress. I’m cautiously optimistic about Ben this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he severely disappoints - or wins Comeback Player of the Year and throws for 4,000+ yards.
Wide receiver is another enigma, as the team has a talented top 3 (Smith-Schuster, Johnson, Washington), but their production didn’t match their abilities last season. Smith-Schuster had an incredibly disappointing 2019, punctuated with a few key drops, a game-losing fumble, injuries, and less than half of his 2018 receiving yards total. James Washington impressed at times, but was hot and cold throughout the season, with some big games as well as many where he completely disappeared off the stat sheet. Diontae Johnson had the best year, totaling 680 receiving yards as a rookie, and displaying plenty of talent and potential.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the production drop-off happened, as losing the team’s starting quarterback obviously hurt, but was Smith-Schuster having a third-year slump regardless? Can James Washington and Diontae Johnson continue their progress while becoming more consistent?
Receivers like Ryan Switzer (who was injured for a good portion of last year), and Deon Cain are also on the roster, who will look to up their game with a healthy Roethlisberger in 2020. There is also a possibility of the Steelers selecting a wideout in the draft this year. Wide receiver is a solid positional group on the team at the very least, but still is a major unknown.
Tight end is more of a black and white issue. If Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald can stay healthy, they will form a dynamic duo. If not, we are back to 2019 levels of production. Behind them, Zach Gentry (and Zach Banner in some cases) are decent depth for TE3. The draft could impact this group, but for the most part, it depends on the health of the two starters.
The running back room is led by the excellent-when-healthy James Conner, who would make running back one of the strengths of the team if he could prevent his injuries. Behind him, Benny Snell is a young, bruising runner with lots of upside. Rounding out the depth chart are Kerrith Whyte Jr., Jaylen Samuels, and Trey Edmunds - three backs with different skill sets that might be fighting for one roster spot this season. Once again, injuries may dictate what happens at this spot, but there is always the possibility of drafting another back this year as well.
Adding fullback Derek Watt could help form a formidable rushing attack if Conner and co. can stay healthy, but the true state of Pittsburgh’s running backs will remain unclear until the season starts.
The Steelers’ offensive line will be facing the most major turnover it’s had in a while. Guard Ramon Foster retired, and his backup, the versatile B.J. Finney, left in free agency, starting a domino affect on the depth chart. Alejandro Villenueva, David DeCastro, and Maurkice Pouncey seem to be the only linemen cemented in their positions, but even Pouncey faced injuries and a drop-off in play in 2019. Offensive tackle Matt Feiler might switch to playing Ramon Foster’s old position in 2020, leaving a battle between Zach Banner and Chuks Okorafor at Feiler’s old spot. Don’t forget about newcomer Stefen Wisniewski either, a two-time Super Bowl champion and B.J. Finney replacement who looks to compete for a starting spot as well. The Steelers are also expected to select an offensive lineman or two in this year's draft.
The offensive line looks like it will be solid for another year, but some new faces will be starting and backing up what used to be an unchanging group.
Even though every offseason is a bit of a mystery, it seems as if we have no idea what we are getting from any of the positional groups on the Steelers offense this year.
These unknowns are not the most comforting to think about, but to me, they are part of the suspense that make sports so amazing. I want the Steelers to field a dynamic offense as much as anyone, but not having any idea what it will be like this year gives me even more reason to be excited for the upcoming season, if that was even possible.
Make sure to keep checking BTSC to find more news and analysis on what the Steeler’s mysterious offense could look like this year, and don’t forget to drop your predictions for 2020’s offense in the comments below.