While the 2016 season didn’t end with a championship parade after a seventh Super Bowl title, objectively speaking the Steelers had a year they should be proud of. They made it to the AFC Championship game, where they came up short against the eventual NFL champion New England Patriots. While a loss to a bitter rival is always a tough pill to swallow, the Steelers and their fans can take solace in the fact the team appears headed in the right direction. The Steelers made it beyond the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season, and retain a dynamic core of players which should make them contenders in 2017.
However, according to the advanced stats website www.Footballoutsiders.com, the Steelers ranked dead last in one key category: Consistency.
According to Football Outsider’s Team Efficiency ratings, the Steelers ranked 32nd in variance, which measures a team’s week to week DVOA rankings. DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) is a stat that measures how much better or worse a team does per play compared to the league average. The Steelers ranked 5th in total team DVOA, however, week to week it was a mystery as to which Steelers’ team was going to show up.
Variance is not the be-all-end-all for a successful team in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns ranked 7th in variance in 2016. They won one game all year long. The Steelers were lucky in that they had enough talented players at various positions they could win in different ways. Sometimes Chris Boswell would kick six field goals to carry an offense that was slacking, sometimes Le’Veon Bell would account for 300 yards of offense and sometimes the defense would come up with a clutch stop.
Still, just because the Steelers had the talent to overcome their lack of consistency doesn’t mean Mike Tomlin and his staff should ignore the issue. Resiliency and finding ways to win are great traits for a team to have, but not at the expense of knowing what you are getting from your team week in and week out.
The first fix for the consistency issue is the most obvious: Do nothing.
Seriously, some of the Steelers lack of consistency can be explained by bad luck. Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell both missed time. Sammie Coates dealt with an injury for most of the year. Losing Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton for a combined 29 games forced inexperienced players like Cobi Hamilton and Eli Rogers to see significant playing time. Jesse James was essentially the starting tight end for the entire year. Bryant, Roethlisberger, and Bell should all be back for a full 16 game season, hopefully. Young players playing significant time on defense like Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave should have gained enough experience that they can contribute even more in 2017 to give the Steelers formidable units on both sides of the ball.
The second fix for the Steelers is to add veterans at key positions. While the promise of young players is exciting, the fact is not every player will progress at the same rate, and every player’s ceiling is different. That’s why the Steelers should look into signing veteran talent to provide depth and knowledge, particularly at the cornerback position. The Steelers were reportedly interested in cornerback Logan Ryan, but saw him accept a big money contract to go to Tennessee. Still, the Steelers have moved on to targeting other available players like Brandon Flowers of the Chargers. As long as the Steelers don’t overpay, they can come up looking like winners without getting their first choice in the free agency market.
The addition of veterans to compliment the infusion of youth that’s taken place over the last few seasons could be the right recipe for fixing a flaw that plagued the Steelers in 2016. With all the talent on the Steelers’ roster, some consistency could go a long way towards cementing their status as serious contenders in 2017, as well as giving their fans less headaches week to week.