The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Have the Steelers done enough to weather the loss of Martavis Bryant for the season?
Third-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant has for the second consecutive season been disciplined by the league due to violation of the substance abuse policy, which this time around comes with a year-long suspension that requires a request for reinstatement following the conclusion of a calendar year.
As with last season, the team knew fairly early in the process that a suspension was at least a possibility. This time, there is no question that they knew it early, and they have ample opportunity to prepare for his absence with about six months or so before the regular season left.
With the retention of Darrius Heyward-Bey on a three-year contract, the team is hoping to retain a vertical threat to the offense after the veteran wide receiver recorded four receptions of at least 40 yards last season. And of course there is still Antonio Brown, and all of the other names that I listed in the flip side into this article.
But, while he may not be the single most important piece to the offense, it is hard to ignore the level of prosperity that the club has seen since he has been on the field, even within the same season, since he was inactive for the first six games of his rookie season, and on the suspended list for the first five games last season.
And that leads to the question of whether or not Bryant’s talent is one that is too specific to replicate piecemeal and still find the same level of success. Sure, there are many talented players on this roster who each can do some of the things that Bryant has shown the ability to do on some level, but perhaps not at the same level, and not as the complete package.
It is Bryant as a complete arsenal, as a player with deceptive vertical speed to match impressive height, as a goal line and distance red zone target, and as a surprisingly elusive open-field threat, that makes him such a potent and dynamic piece of this offense, which helped take the team to offensive heights it had never seen before.
The bottom line is quite simply that the Steelers may not be able to replicate his game well enough without him to regard itself as being at full strength. And one has to wonder if they can win in the postseason at less than full strength.