The last couple of post seasons have been pretty rough on Steelers Nation. Not only have our beloved Steelers missed the playoffs for two years in a row, but the Steelers have been faced with the unknown concerning some of their best offensive weapons due to injuries and mental instability. All the while, the Steelers window of opportunity has grown increasingly smaller due to Ben Roethlisberger's advancing age.
The Steelers hierarchy needed a plan, and needed to implement it immediately. This off season they went about doing just that.
After the Steelers torturous season finale against the Ravens and the underwhelming NFL postseason, at least in my book, I sat down and outlined a two-fold plan. A plan that would dictate my articles throughout the off season, based theoretically on what steps the Steelers front office needed to take to improve the offense and help the franchise return triumphantly to the playoffs.
First off, the Steelers needed NFL caliber performance from the QB position obviously. They also desperately needed an injection of speed into the backfield. Next item on the wishlist was the addition of a receiver or two with length to the receiver's meeting room. Finally, an injection of youth and power along an experienced offensive line.
At the conclusion of the free agency period and the NFL Draft, it became all too clear the Steelers recognized the same deficiencies. At first glance, the Steelers appear to have expertly filled each area of concern.
The first area of need was the easiest to alleviate. All it required was a little time and patience. Time was needed for Ben Roethlisberger’s surgically repaired elbow to mend. Patience was necessary to trust the rehab process, plus Ben's unquestioned desire to return to form. So far, so good. Ben looks fit and trim, and sounds extremely motivated to lead the Steelers to another title.
The second issue was the focal point of a few of my articles this offseason. I surmised and suggested the Steelers brass look into the availability via trade of speed merchant backs Phillip Lindsay and Matt Breida, players who were rumored to be disenchanted with their current situations. Each possessed the big play, game changing abilities which were sorely lacking in the Steelers backfield last season.
The Steelers love to build through the draft, and they value their draft capital, so they addressed the need as they are prone to do—through the draft. Anthony McFarland Jr. definitely fills the Steelers need for speed out of the backfield. As a rookie, he will be tasked with learning a specific group of plays where he will be able to contribute immediately without the pressure of overwhelming responsibility. He can also contribute right out of the gate on special teams.
They even added fullback Derek Watt to the equation via free agency. He can immediately impact the running and passing games with his blocking and receiving out of the backfield, along with being a special teams standout.
Then the Steelers added wide receiver Chase Claypool in the draft and tight end Eric Ebron as a free agent. Both gentlemen are blessed with length which equates to a superior catch radius. They create mismatches whenever they step on the field, especially in the redzone.
While Ebron is an established veteran who should need little time to gel with his Hall of Fame caliber quarterback, Claypool is a rookie. As mentioned earlier concerning McFarland, Claypool will only be responsible for learning a limited package of plays specifically designed for his skill set, this way he will be able to play meaningful minutes right out of the gate. This will be especially important considering the greatly reduced or maybe even nonexistent preseason due to COVID concerns.
For example, I can see Claypool getting his feet wet so to speak at first by utilizing his superior blocking ability in the running game. He will probably be targeted early on some of those back shoulder throws Ben loves to throw where his size and reach will make him nearly impossible to defend. Once the offense reaches the redzone, with Ebron and Claypool on the field together, good luck to opposing defenses trying to match up.
Finally, the injection of youth along the offensive line settled itself with the somewhat unexpected retirement of longtime line stalwart Ramon Foster. Mike Tomlin's corresponding move to address the opening at left guard reportedly is to move Matt Feiler to guard, and let the combination of Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor battle it out for the right tackle spot. While it remains to be seen if this will be the line configuration that starts the season, or if the addition of youth improves the lines mobility and quickness, the line undoubtedly got younger. Hopefully it will lead to marked improvement and consistency.
The Steelers appear to have addressed their concerns on offense across the board. The conditions are optimal for a triumphant return to prominence for Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020.
In the words of the immortal George Peppard character Hannibal Smith in the 80's television series The A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together."
I don't know about you, but I am beyond ready to get this party started.