I’m not one to put much stock into rankings like these, but I also understand the information they put underneath each team can often be very telling, accurate and valuable.
For those who care, PFF had the Steelers ranked 4th, but check out what they said about the team:
While the Pittsburgh Steelers survived a scare at home to a hapless Green Bay team, the close score wasn’t because of their offense. When throwing to Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell, Big Ben was 22-of-26 for 257 yards and two touchdowns – helped significantly by 135 yards after the catch. Without Joe Haden (80.8), though, the Steelers have struggled to shut down opposing pass offenses the last two weeks. In the last four games, second-year cornerback Artie Burns has given up 14 receptions (on 21 attempts) for 216 yards and two touchdowns into his coverage (for a 132.2 rating). Luckily for Pittsburgh, they have two of the top four most-efficient pass-rushers among 3-4 defensive ends in Cameron Heyward (12.9 pass-rush productivity) and Stephon Tuitt (10.3) to help suppress some of their issues on the back end.
Even if you are one of the many who can’t stand PFF’s grading procedures, just take a look at the statistics, and names if the above paragraph.
As I was reading this section, I noticed Roethlisberger’s attempts to either Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Talk about relying on a few players to help carry the team. A similar story can be said on the defensive side of the football with Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt logging some serious miles throughout the season.
The Steelers rely on their superstars, but you have to wonder how far these players can carry this 2017 team.
On offense, the amount of carries Bell has logged already has him on pace to set new franchise records, and when his past is riddled with late-season injuries, you have to hope and pray he is able to withstand the abuse a running back takes in the NFL to still be “the man” when it comes to his dual threat capabilities.
A similar tune can be sung in regards to Brown. Brown sees a ridiculous amount of targets, logs a lot of receptions and even returns punts for the Steelers. Although he has proven he is more than capable of producing under these circumstances, defenses will always try their best to remove him from the game.
In both of these scenarios, where would the offense go without these two players? Ben Roethlisberger is a very trusting quarterback, and although he has developed quite a rapport with JuJu Smith-Schuster, the same cannot be said about Martavis Bryant or Eli Rogers. As for the running game, while James Conner is a solid backup to spell Bell, if necessary, he is far from a feature running back in the NFL.
In other words, unless something changes in the near future, something similar to the opening drive of the Week 12 game against the Packers where Roethlisberger was spreading the ball to six different receivers en route to a touchdown, the offense can become too predictable and reliant on these few players making the key plays when the team needs them the most.
On defense the same can be said about players like Tuitt, Heyward and Ryan Shazier. In fact, the team’s secondary hasn’t been close to what it was early in the season since Joe Haden left with a fractured fibula. Fans have witnessed first-hand what happens when a key player on the team is out for an extended period of time.
When you think about a player like Shazier, if the Steelers were to lose him to injury, something which has happened all too frequently in his brief professional career, the next man up is Tyler Matakevich. A far cry from the man he would be replacing in a scheme which has been built around speed and athleticism. For the great depth the Steelers have built along the defensive line, at linebacker it is a precipitous drop off.
So, back to the question at hand. How far can the Steelers’ superstars carry this team?
If everyone stays healthy, they can carry them to some pretty high heights, but all the way to a Super Bowl title? They will still need others to start contributing.
On offense it has to be someone like Martavis Bryant who provides another weapon for an opposing defense to have to account for, and on defense someone like Bud Dupree will have to come alive and be a game-wrecking presence...something he has yet to do in 2017.
The Steelers superstars rank among the league’s best at almost every key position, but time has proven you need more than just superstars to win it all...you need others to step up and make key plays.
For every Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward you need a Nate Washington.
For every Joey Porter and James Farrior you need a Clark Haggans.
When it comes to the 2017 Steelers, secondary players will need to step up to win the big games, and Week 13 against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football would be a great place to start.