You hear something long enough, and from enough people, you start to accept it as gospel.
As it pertains to the prospects of the Steelers being actual contenders in 2020, the opinion held my many this offseason is that they won’t be, at least not on the same level as the Chiefs, Ravens and even the Tom Brady-less Patriots.
Can they win the AFC North? That seems doubtful to many. How about clinching one of the now three wildcard spots that will be available since the NFL decided to add a seventh playoff seed to each conference? If they’re lucky, the Steelers may be able to nab the old last seed, but more than likely, they’ll have to settle for the new last seed.
I just don’t get it.
I don’t understand why so many people are down on this franchise in 2020. Is it me? Am I living in a bubble (I think that’s now the law)? Do I just not see how bad Pittsburgh truly is, even with a healthy and in-shape Ben Roethlisberger poised to return as the starting quarterback?
I realize Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are long-gone, but we knew that heading into last season, and last season, there was talk of the Steelers being at least as good as ever thanks to team harmony and a lack of locker room distractions.
Obviously, that didn’t happen, but only because of the loss of Roethlisberger in Week 2. Without him, and with receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner struggling to perform and also stay healthy a year ago, Pittsburgh’s offense hit many potholes.
But the defense sure didn’t.
In fact, what a fun group to watch, right? Out of nowhere, the Steelers defense went from mediocre—and that was after many years of being even less than that—to a bona fide force.
This was in the works for years, but the offseason additions of cornerback Steven Nelson and inside linebacker Devin Bush, as well as the in-season acquisition of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (especially him) were the finishing touches which put the defense over the top.
Does anyone really expect a huge drop-off from this defense in 2020? Maybe the loss of Javon Hargrave to free agency will hurt, but will it hurt all that much if Stephon Tuitt stays healthy all year?
Not only do I think Hargrave’s loss won’t hurt all that much with a healthy Tuitt around, I expect Keith Butler’s unit to reach another level. T.J. Watt has yet to win Defensive Player of the Year. Bud Dupree still wants his money. Fitzpatrick still has yet to freelance.
As for the offense, do you really expect it to average 18 points again? I sure don’t. It seemed to me a huge dose of No. 7 could have gone a long way toward winning the Steelers two or three more games last year, even without Smith-Schuster at his best, even without Conner healthy for much of the season.
The offensive line is getting older, and there will be at least one question mark at right tackle which needs to be answered by a youngin’—Chukwuma Okorafor or Zach Banner. But it’s still a formidable unit. There’s still talent at the top of the depth chart and, in addition to Okorafor and Banner, even some waiting in the wings.
To reiterate, maybe I’m drinking the black and gold Kool-Aid (The thought of what flavor it would actually be makes me cringe), but the 2020 edition could actually be one of the more complete teams in recent Steelers history.
That’s right, even more complete than the mid-2010s versions that boasted the Killer B’s. You remember those teams, don’t you? They’re the ones people used to refer to as “The most talented in all the land and/or the history of the NFL.” In actuality, those teams had two All-Pro skill-position players, a decorated offensive line at the height of its powers, a future Hall of Fame passer, and Ryan Shazier.
That’s about it.
It was actually quite apparent at the time, but nobody really wanted to admit it because we all had Lombardi trophies and parades dancing around in our heads.
This team could actually be better than those teams.
What I see with the Steelers in 2020 is a team that may simply need its future Hall of Fame passer back. You add him to the mix, Smith-Schuster and Conner return to their 2018 forms—or as close to them as possible—throw in a really good, young receiving corps, a decent running back stable, two pretty good tight ends and a line that won’t be tortured all season by eight and nine-man fronts, well, how can that offense not be productive?
Add in a now very elite defensive unit, and I see big things from the Steelers this fall and winter.
Am I crazy? Do I have too much faith in Big Ben and the boys?
What’s the over/under for wins for the Steelers? Nine, right?
I’ll take the over.