When it comes to divisional matchups, particularly when speaking about stability, I think it’s reasonable to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers have the steepest dichotomy between offense and defense.
I wouldn’t imagine many would argue against the notion that the Steelers have the highest quality and surest offensive unit in the league, which sent three players to the first-team All-Pro list last year, four total to the Pro Bowl, and featured a raw, emerging, tall rookie wide receiver who caught nine touchdowns in 11 games played.
While the offensive lines throughout the division are quite solid overall, the Steelers match up well with any of them. it helps to have a number of early draft picks pan out, with a helping of late-round and undrafted players as well.
But when we turn to the defensive side of the ball, it seems as though the biggest questions in the AFC North predominantly reside in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have arguably undergone the greatest amount of transition with the smallest amount of proven depth to account for the changes.
Gone are Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Brett Keisel, Jason Worilds, and even Dick LeBeau. Shamarko Thomas, we can only hope, will ease the transition at safety, but we have seen so little of him at safety during the regular season that it’s hard to say.
While Stephon Tuitt has secured a starting spot along the defensive line, there are serious questions as to whether or not the Steelers have adequate depth behind the starters, especially given how much they like to rotate along the line early in the year.
With Worilds gone, the Steelers re-signed James Harrison at the age of 37, all the while being uncertain about Jarvis Jones’ future, and, arguably, whether or not Arthur Moats can hold up for a full season as a starting outside linebacker in this system, even if he was promising.
The cornerback position, meanwhile, is likely the least sorted out within the division. The Browns and Bengals have stockpiles of first-rounders and free agent signings, while the question the Ravens face with their starters is simply whether or not they might remain healthy.
The Ravens, admittedly, have lost some pieces, such as Haloti Ngata and whoever the starting safety de jure was, but they already have the pieces in place to replace them, and added Kendrick Lewis at safety in free agency.
The Bengals struggled to bring pressure on the quarterback last year, but they put an emphasis on adding to their defensive line during free agency. They also took the opportunity to insulate themselves at the linebacker level.
The Steelers have insulation at inside linebacker as well, but what they would really like to know is quite simply if Ryan Shazier is the player they believe they drafted. That question is still unresolved because of the number of injuries that marred his rookie season. While he was handed the starting job as a rookie last season, the position is now regarded as an open competition.