If you ask scan across the league, there’s arguably not a division as tough and gritty as the brand of football found in the AFC North. In fact, up until the final week of the season as they jockeyed for playoff positioning, ultimately the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals all made the playoffs.
The Steelers obviously took the division crown but doing so this season will be a much tougher task, considering the schedule that awaits them. As the team went defense-heavy in the draft to fortify a questionable unit, the offense remains intact from last year, and with another year of chemistry and experience, the unit looks to be even more dangerous in 2015.
When comparing the offenses in the division, the Steelers may not have a household name left tackle like the Browns’ Joe Thomas or the dynamic running back depth of the Bengals with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard, but they have arguably the best at their positions in Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. The team not only has the best offense in the division but arguably across the whole league.
Under the guidance of Todd Haley, the offense exploded last season, and NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks recently even gave Haley the ranking of the third-best offensive coordinator in the NFL.
“The evolution of the Steelers’ offense under Haley has coincided with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s ascension to the ranks of the elite,” Brooks said, according to NFL.com. “The crusty coach challenged his star signal-caller to become a more efficient player from the pocket while crafting a scheme that showcased an electric receiving corps brimming with young talent.”
A much-maligned signing, Haley was often the scapegoat for the offenses’ previous troubles when fans didn’t see the immediate results. However, Haley’s name isn’t on the front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette anymore, with people calling for him to be fired, which is certainly a good thing.
Aside from rush yards per-game, the Steelers took the cake in the division, with 301.6 passing yards per game, 411.1 total yards per game and 27.3 points per game. A major reason why is the fact that the team has an elite franchise quarterback behind center. True, a team like the Bengals is brimming with talent at the skill positions, but with lackluster play from Andy Dalton, it’s basically handcuffing the team.
Aside from the skill players of Pittsburgh, who often get the loads of praise, the offense wouldn’t be where it is without the “big uglies” up front. According to Pro Football Focus, the Steelers have the eighth-ranked offensive line in the league. After years of surrendering countless sacks to Roethlisberger and being scrutinized as the weak link on the team, it’s actually morphed into a strength, with David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum solidifying their positions, and the banner play from Maurkice Pouncey. Offensive line coach Mike Munchak needs some props as well, as the unit has taken major leaps and bounds under his guidance. With another year of seasoning and the unit remaining intact from last year, expect those offensive statistics to climb.