The Pittsburgh Steelers were dealt a bad hand when the league chose to give running back Le’Veon Bell a three-game suspension to start the 2015 season stemming from his DUI and possession of marijuana charges back in August. While it was a self-inflicted wound, it is an obstacle nonetheless that they will have to overcome.
I do find it interesting, however, that the Steelers’ three opponents in those games have undergone quite a bit of upheaval themselves over the course of this offseason in a continuing chain that has stretched all the way into June so far.
I have earlier in the offseason examined each opponent individually based on how their defense might stack up against a Steelers ground game that lacked Bell in the equation, but let’s take a look at these teams now as a whole, at present day, because, after all, it’s one team playing one team, not individual matchups.
Starting with their first opponent, the New England Patriots, the big angle, of course, is that they will be dealing with two key suspensions themselves for that game. That includes running back LeGarrette Blount, who was arrested along with Bell back in August, and of course quarterback Tom Brady, which is the biggest loss any individual team in the league has suffered through a quarter of a season, in my opinion.
Beyond that, they have also parted ways with four cornerbacks, including Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, as well as Vince Wilfork. Also gone are Shane Vareen and Stevan Ridley, making Blount’s suspension sting just a bit more. The turnover at the running back and cornerback positions should be interesting to monitor, especially on opening day.
The Steelers’ second opponent will be the San Francisco 49ers, and, quite simply, they have had among the worst offseasons of all time. Not only did they part ways with their head coach, they suffered a barrage of surprising and significant retirements.
Both Patrick Willis and Chris Borland retired. Then Justin Smith decided to call it a career. Just recently, right tackle Anthony Davis also decided to retire. They also lost Mike Iupati, Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore, and a pair of starting cornerbacks in free agency.
Most recently, they even traded away their punter, among the best in the game. And they really haven’t done all that much to replace all of the talent that has come off the books. As discussed in another article today, nobody suffered a greater net loss of snaps in the league from last season.
Finally, there is the St. Louis Rams. The Rams are depending upon the decision to trade quarterback Sam Bradford for Nick Foles to be one that pays off, even though it seemed as though Foles’ success in Philadelphia may have been scheme-dependent. They also added defensive lineman Nick Fairley during free agency in hopes that it will strengthen their front seven even more than it already is.
Beyond that, they’ve also lost three fifths of their primary starting offensive line from last year, which is not exactly the best thing for a new quarterback, given how important consistency is in offensive line play.
The Steelers will have to get by to begin the season without Bell, which won’t be easy. But I would say that they are somewhat fortunate that their scheduled opponents for that duration are going through their own set of transitions that won’t make winning any easier for them.