Coach: Mike Tomlin
General Manager: Kevin Colbert
2020 Regular Season Record: 12-4
2020 Season Result: Lost Wild Card Round
Super Bowls: 6
New Additions and Losses – Offensive Outlook
There’s going to be a bit of a new look to the Steelers offense in 2021. They still have their longtime coach and QB duo of Tomlin and Roethlisberger intact, but there’s a lot of turnover up front. The offensive line has been completely decimated. After consistently having one of the best offensive lines throughout most of the 2010s, it’s been a slow decline since Mike Munchak left. Now it’s arguably at an all time low, as many of their long time center pieces are gone. Maurkice Pouncey retired, David Decastro was released and Alejandro Villanueva signed with the Ravens this offseason, 3 key pieces to this line over the past 5-8 years.
The new line looks extremely shaky. Chukwuma Okorafor is swinging out to left tackle after grading out as the 74th ranked tackle last season. Kevin Dotson was the backup last season while JC Hassenauer and Zach Banner are just below average offensive linemen. They brought in Trai Turner formerly of the Chargers, but he has looked pretty bad recently too. No piece of this line looks solid so things could go south extremely fast.
Instead of investing heavy draft capital into the offensive line, the Steelers used their first round pick on Alabama running back Najee Harris. Najee has looked pretty good so far this preseason, so the hope is that his talent can overcome the lack of help up front. Pittsburgh has always been a team that’s loved utilizing 1 workhorse running back in every aspect of the game, now Harris is the next man up for that job. The running game was very lackluster last season, so they need Harris to produce at a first round talent right off the bat to be a more efficient offense this season.
The strong point of the Steelers has seemingly been the wide receiver corps for a long time now, this year no different. Chase Claypool had a massive rookie season breakout, Diontae Johnson is one of the better separators at the position in the league and JuJu has proven he can be an elite level receiver in the past. James Washington is also arguably the best number 4 receiver in the league. So it’s safe to say they’re stacked with talent at the skill positions, the question is, will Big Ben have enough time to get them the ball?
Last season they relied on the short passing game a lot, but that really fizzled out towards the end of the season. So they definitely need to stretch the field a little more to get back to that elite status.
Best Player – Chase Claypool
Breakout Candidate – Najee Harris
Biggest Concern – Offensive Line
New Additions and Losses – Defensive Outlook
This defense was very strong last year, even breaking the record for the most consecutive games with a sack (73), a record they’d been working on since 2016. Luckily for them, almost their whole defensive line stayed intact this offseason. Cameron Heyward just signed a new 4-year contract, great news for the Steelers as he’s arguably the 2nd best interior defensive lineman after Aaron Donald. Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu are also above average interior lineman, giving the Steelers a top tier defensive line.
On the outside, TJ Watt has asserted himself as the leagues best pass rusher, leading the league in sacks in 2020. Unfortunately, he’s been holding out this offseason as he’s expecting a monster contract extension. Currently in the 5th year of his rookie contract, Watt would most likely become the highest paid edge rusher in the league, surpassing Joey Bosa’s 27 million per year mark when signed. One player they did lose up front, was Bud Dupree, who signed with the Titans on a massive contract this offseason. Dupree has been a consistent producer opposite Watt, particularly in the past 2-year, racking up 19.5 sacks in 27 games. Filling in in his place is 2020 3rd round pick Alex Highsmith, a definite downgrade, but this front 7 is still flush with talent.
A sad sight for Steelers fans was seeing their longtime linebacker Vince Williams retire this offseason. A key piece to the defense every year, he’s got some big shoes to fill. Pittsburgh hopes they found them in new acquisition, middle linebacker Joe Schobert formerly of the Jags and Browns. With stud interior linebacker Devin Bush still recovering from a torn ACL, the Steelers desperately needed someone to fill that middle of the field role. Once Bush is back, they’ll form a very solid duo. Schobert has been a bit inconsistent over the past few years, but he’s proven he’s a more than capable starting linebacker. In this incredible Steelers system, I’d expect a great season from him.
If there was a weak spot to this defense it’d be the cornerback position. Joe Haden has always been a very reliable guy, but he’s getting up there in age. Mike Hilton left in free agency this offseason, meaning Cameron Sutton will fill that nickel corner role. Justin Layne has been dealing with legal trouble this offseason and may get suspended and James Pierre is extremely inexperienced. I wouldn’t be surprised if this group struggles in 2021, hopefully the rest of the defense can make up for the lackluster crew.
Finally, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds both return this season. Fitzpatrick has been one of the better safeties in the league since getting traded to the Steelers, and Edmunds has looked better since his rookie season. However looking into the future, Pittsburgh is entering Minkah’s 5th year option year, just like with TJ Watt, and it may be tough to keep both on the roster considering how much they’ll want financially. If it comes down to keeping one, they’ll most likely keep Watt. They also declined Edmunds 5th year option, making 2021 the final year on his contract. There’s a chance we could see both guys gone after this year, which would put this entire secondary in a very tough spot moving forward.
Best Player – TJ Watt
Breakout Candidate – Alex Highsmith
Biggest Concern – The cornerback room
Season Schedule, Predictions and Steelers Season Preview
Week 1: @ Buffalo Bills – L
Week 2: vs Las Vegas Raiders – W
Week 3: vs Cincinnati Bengals – W
Week 4: @ Green Bay Packers – L
Week 5: vs Denver Broncos – W
Week 6: vs Seattle Seahawks – L
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: @ Cleveland Browns – L
Week 9: vs Chicago Bears – W
Week 10: vs Detroit Lions – W
Week 11: @ Los Angeles Chargers – L
Week 12: @ Cincinnati Bengals – W
Week 13: vs Baltimore Ravens – L
Week 14: @ Minnesota Vikings – W
Week 15: vs Tennessee Titans – L
Week 16: @ Kansas City Chiefs – L
Week 17: vs Cleveland Browns – W
Week 18: @ Baltimore Ravens – L
Season Total: 8-9
After getting out to a hot start last season, the team faded down the stretch. They most certainly didn’t get better this offseason, as they lost more key pieces than they gained. With a large portion of the team either getting up there in age or being highly inexperienced, I think we might get a Steelers team closer to the end of year Steelers vs beginning of the year. Ben Roethlisberger is well past his prime and without a good offensive line in front of him, they may have some struggles offensively.
The front 7 is among the leagues best, along with the run defense, but I think high powered passing offenses could shred them. Which is why I have them losing to teams like the Bills, Packers, Seahawks, Chargers, Titans and Chiefs. All of those teams will likely be powerhouses through the air and I’m not sure if the Steelers will be able to keep up. Somewhere around .500 seems appropriate and most likely on the outside looking in come playoff time.
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