2017 Offseason Questions: Who Is Steelers’ ‘Jenga’ Piece If Not Roethlisberger?

The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: Who is the Steelers’ ‘Jenga’ piece, Ben Roethlisberger excepted?

Earlier in the day I happened to come across an article—I don’t even remember where at this point, because frankly I didn’t even read it—that attempted to apply ‘Jenga Theory’ to each NFL team. The premise, as should be gathered by those who have played Jenga before, is that there is one piece that, if removed, would initiate the collapse of the entire structure.

Now, given the nature of the position, the answer for the vast majority of teams—certainly the most competitive teams—will inevitably be a quarterback, so it would be wise in this exercise to make Ben Roethlisberger an exclusion here. Of course if the Steelers lose Roethlisberger, everything falls apart.

But who would be the second-most damaging player to lose? I think there are a few options that stand out to me, and you can decide which would be the most significant loss, or choose another candidate. My three candidates as the Steelers’ Jenga piece would be Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Ryan Shazier.

There simply is nobody else on the team aside from Roethlisberger who has more control over what happens with the football than Le’Veon Bell, simply because he touches the ball more than anybody else. His yards per game average last season was among the highest in NFL history. To lose all of those quality touches—and there is no sufficient substitute—makes him an obvious prime candidate.

But the Steelers have nobody at the wide receiver position who can match the talent and skill of Antonio Brown, the most decorated player on the team—tied with Pouncey. Quite frankly the Steelers haven’t had to get a good look at what their offense would look without him. A brief glimpse in the 2015 Divisional Round game wasn’t pretty.

Yet carries and receptions can be filled, even on this team. The running back position is regarded as the most fungible in the game, and the Steelers have a strong offensive line. They also have a bevy of talented wide receivers.

What they don’t have is anybody who could fill the shoes of Ryan Shazier on defense. Especially not with the departure of Lawrence Timmons. Shazier is the wildcard piece that offenses have to account for. Taking him out of the lineup makes the defense much less dynamic, and much more predictable. And a lot slower.

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