Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers have been able to keep the pieces of their high-powered offense from last offseason together, NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt still has them high on his list of teams least likely to repeat as division winners in 2015.
Forget the fact that the Steelers face the league’s toughest schedule in 2015, Brandt wonders mostly if Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can repeat or exceed the numbers that he posted in 2014.
Ben Roethlisberger had a phenomenal 2014, setting career bests in completion percentage (67.1) and passing yards (4,952). I’m just not sure we can count on him hitting those high-water marks again. When you succeed like that, opponents tend to adjust, game-planning different tactics to stop you. I also worry about the looming absence of running back Le’Veon Bell, who is facing a three-game suspension to start the season. We saw how much the Steelers struggled in their playoff loss to the Ravens when Bell was out. Yes, Pittsburgh signed veteran back DeAngelo Williams, but he’s 32, played in six games last year and has averaged just 4.1 yards per carry over the last three seasons.
While Brandt surely isn’t going out on a limb with his suggestion that the Steelers are the second most-likely division winner from last season to not repeat in 2015, I think he might be forgetting just how bad the team’s defense was in 2014. In short, Roethlisberger might not need to hit last year’s stats if the defense is able to produce more turnovers and limit the amount of explosive plays given up.
As long as Roethlisberger remains healthy, the Steelers will have a legitimate shot at winning every game on their 2015 schedule. The play of the defense, however, should be the biggest question mark when wondering if the team can repeat as AFC North champions, not the play of the offense.