By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
In 2014 and 2015, the Steelers were a few untimely injuries away from making a serious run at another Super Bowl for the Steel City. In both seasons, the Steelers exited the playoffs earlier than they would have liked and left empty-handed yet again. Heading into 2016, there is much promise for the team to bring home a 7th Lombardi Trophy. In this 2 part series, I will be highlighting why I believe the Steelers are (and are not) primed for another Super Bowl Championship. First up: 5 reasons why the Steelers WILL win Super Bowl 51.
1. The Steelers boast the most explosive offense in the league.
Ever since Todd Haley became the offensive coordinator of the Steelers, the offense has improved each and every season. 2016 should be no different. When healthy, the Steelers have arguably the greatest trifecta of any team in the league (Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, & Le’Veon Bell). Each of these players are among the best at their respective position. In 2015, the Steelers ranked 5th in points per game, 3rd in total yards per game, 3rd in passing yards per game, and 3rd in total offense. Antonio Brown was 2nd in the league in receiving yards and was tied for the most receptions in the league. Le’Veon Bell had over 500 rushing yards in the 5 games that he was healthy last season. Ben Roethlisberger put in another strong season when healthy that showed he is still the heart and soul of the Steelers offense. Add in one of the most underrated offensive lines in the league, this offense is poised to help carry the Steelers to another Super Bowl Championship.
2. The Steelers had a quiet but effective offseason to address their needs.
The Steelers have never been a team to make big splash moves during the offseason. This offseason was no different. Rather than signing huge names or overspending on in house players, the team made a number of small effective moves that were all very team friendly. The Steelers were able to resign William Gay, Ramon Foster, Robert Golden, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Ross Cockrell to very team friendly deals that didn’t break the bank. The Steelers also made one of the best under-the-radar moves of the offseason by bringing in the young and ultra-athletic tight end Ladarius Green to help replace long-time starter Heath Miller. By letting expensive players leave via free agency, the team was able to free up a lot of cap space and control their own free agency. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, the Steelers actually had a solid draft by addressing all of their primary positions of need. While it is still too soon to determine the full impact this rookie class will have on the team, early reports seem to indicate that the rookies will be given their fair shot at getting playing time early, especially 1st round cornerback Artie Burns.
3. The young players on the roster now have playoff experience.
After missing the playoffs in back-to-back years, the Steelers have now made the playoffs in 2 consecutive seasons. While it might not seem like much, the Steelers youth movement is getting crucial experience in late season play. Players like Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Le’Veon Bell (although he was injured), and a number of other players have all gained experience in the playoffs that will greatly help improve their growth as a team. With only Big Ben and James Harrison remaining from the 2005-2006 Super Bowl team and only the two of them, Matt Spaeth, Lawrence Timmons, William Gay, and Greg Warren being left from the 2008-2009 Super Bowl team, playoff experience is important for the reloading Steelers. They have definitely accomplished that, all while facing much adversity in the process.
4. The Steelers defense continues to improve.
Not too long ago, the Steelers boasted one of the strongest defenses in the league. Players like Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, James Farrior, and Ryan Clark instilled fear into offenses everywhere. Now, all that remains of the Steelers defense of old is James Harrison. That is not to say that the Steelers defense is weak. After addressing the defensive side of the ball in back to back drafts, the Steelers have a boatload of potential to bring back their defensive dominance. Players like Cam Heyward, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, William Gay, and Mike Mitchell are all now trying to revive a defense that ranked 21st in total defense last season. While this might not seem very impressive, consider that the team finished 3rd in total team sacks and also accumulated 30 turnovers during the season. They were markedly better last season in forcing turnovers and getting after the quarterback, being categorized as an opportunistic defense. The weakest part of the defense has been the secondary, which the team has made moves this year to help improve in this area. The addition of cornerback Artie Burns and safety Sean Davis will add more players with tremendous upside to a secondary that already has talent (albeit unproven). William Gay, Ross Cockrell, and Mike Mitchell will help bolster the secondary while Burns, Davis, and 2nd year cornerback Senquez Golson develop, which I believe can be sooner rather than later. If the defense can continue to make strides and improve, the Steelers can finally be a complete team that matches up well against almost every team in the league.
5. The Steelers schedule will work in their favor.
Last season, the Steelers played every AFC playoff team except for the Texans. With all of the injuries that they had and still competed well against such top competition, the Steelers proved that they are not a team to mess with. Next season, the Steelers will only play against 3 teams that made the AFC playoffs last season: the Patriots, Bengals, and Chiefs. Now I know what you all are thinking: “The Steelers always play down against their competition, so having an ‘easy’ schedule will kill the team”. I understand this sentiment and understand why it is scary. The Steelers have lost 7 of their past 12 games against teams under .500. But consider this: the Steelers play some of their toughest games at home this season. The Chiefs, Patriots, Jets, and Cowboys will all travel to Pittsburgh this season, where the Steelers play some of their best football. The Bye Week is also in week 8 this season, which will give the Steelers rest at the halfway point of the season so they can regroup and make a push during the 2nd half of the season. As it currently stands, the Steelers are early favorites to win all but one of their games (the Patriots are the one projected loss). If they can finally capitalize on their inferior opponents this season, the Steelers will finish the season with one of the best records in the league and be in the running for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which could be a driving factor in the Steelers being back in the big game with scary momentum. If that’s the case, expect the Lombardi Trophy to come back to the Steel City for a 7th time.