The Pittsburgh Steelers offense that will take the field for their first playoff snap of the year will look a fair bit different, and in very important areas, than the offense that played for much of their 2015-season playoff journey. And it is nearly universally for the better, barring, arguably, the retirement of Heath Miller.
The obvious points have already been discussed. The Steelers have made the playoffs three times in a row, but this is the first time that they are actually going to get All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell there in one piece. They are more likely than not going to be resting him and others in the regular-season finale to preserve them for the postseason.
Let’s also not forget that the Steelers had Cody Wallace starting at center last year. All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey was on injured reserve. Now the roles are reversed, and the offensive line is in much better position now. Wallace, frankly, may not even be on the roster next year.
Of course, they also had to play half of the postseason—one of two games—without Antonio Brown, when he was delivered a concussive hit at the end of the Wildcard game against the Bengals. The offense had a hard time moving the ball through the air without him a week later in Denver.
Even quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was playing through pain a year ago, suffering, most recently, a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the Wildcard game initially and nearly cost them that game when his backup promptly threw an interception that should have clinched the game.
It’s actually somewhat impressive to look back at the state of the Steelers’ four most important players on offense—not to mention DeAngelo Williams also missing the postseason due to an injury—and consider just how close they were able to come to the AFC Championship game with the likes of Fitzgerald Toussaint and Darrius Heyward-Bey playing such big roles.
Of course, the developments haven’t been universally positive. Martavis Bryant has shown himself to be a bigtime player in the postseason, if you take a look at his numbers in the three playoff games the Steelers have had since he’s been here. His absence is not ideal, nor is the fact that Sammie Coates is far less than 100 percent.
We are also still awaiting clarity on the situation surrounding Ladarius Green, who has been dealing with his most recent concussion. He finished out the week of practice as a limited participant and was able to talk to reporters—though he did not—but while there is optimism he will be ready for the first playoff game, it is uncertain.
Still, when it comes to their most important players, their offense is practically night and day looking back at what they had available to them in the Divisional Round a year ago, in terms of both health and availability. It should be no wonder that they are expected to rest several starters against the Browns, given their recent history.