I get frustrated when commenters label me as a pessimist and not a realist. In my opinion, there is a vast difference between being pessimistic and realistic. Here are my realistic expectations for 2020.
I doubt there were many who had bigger expectations than me for the 2019 season. The Pittsburgh Steelers were stacked at so many positions on defense, let alone the offensive juggernaut of 2018. But that all came to a crashing halt with the loss of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger early in the season and running back James Conner’s continued inability to remain healthy. The stout defense dragged the pathetic offense kicking and screaming to a .500 record but could not secure a playoff berth.
Fast forward to the 2020 season. There are a few concerns, but overall the Steelers should shoot no lower than winning the AFC Championship Game and a Super Bowl berth and win is within reach. Are these real expectations? Absolutely they are for the following six reasons.
Ben Roethlisberger appears to be healthy and on track to start the season. Few teams can remain successful after losing their starting quarterback, and the Steelers could not overcome the loss. Until last season, the Steelers first-round pick in 2004, had missed a handful of games in the past six seasons.
Ten starters are back from the 2019 defense that was top five in the NFL in yards given up (5th), passing yards (3rd), interceptions (2nd), and sacks (1st). Think about how much better this defense will be while not having to drag around a dead offense. The defense should be improved with the continued progress on 2019 first-round draft pick Devin Bush.
A Better Running Game
The running game should be improved because of the resurgence of the passing game. The worst kept secret in 2019 was that the Steelers could not run the ball. Blame it on the quarterbacks, blame it on poor offensive line play, or blame it on the play calling, with Roethlisberger back under center defenses will have to respect his abilities and not just focus on stopping the run and blitzing young inexperienced quarterbacks.
Increased Time of Possession
With the running game humming and 38-year-old Roethlisberger moving the chains, the resurgence of controlling the clock will become a staple on game days. The team plunged from 11th to 26th in time of possession over the past two seasons — having future Hall of Fame quarterbacks calling the plays tend to have that effect.
A Bigger Offensive Playbook
Randy Fichtner (unfairly) has taken a ginormous amount of heat for his vanilla offense in 2019. Not sure what fans expected of him with two quarterbacks who had never thrown a pass in the NFL before last season. He will have the luxury of opening up the passing game to keep defenses on their heels while pounding the rock to maintain leads late in the game while moving the chains.
A Difference in That Team Up North
Not having Tom Brady in the AFC for the first time since I was in my 20s, is just fantastic. While the New England Patriots will have former MVP Cam Newton under center, he is not Brady. While I disagree with many in Steelers Nation that the Patriots will be a dumpster fire, they will not be the same dangerous team in the playoffs.
The 2020 season will hinge on the health of Ben Roethlisberger and his recovery from his serious elbow surgery. From the videos popping up, he seems on track to break the 60,000 passing yard mark this season. With the resurgence of the offense and a defense that could be named alongside some of the greatest of all time, Roethlisberger and company should hoist the Lamar Hunt trophy come January.