The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on 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: Are the Steelers better or worse-equipped this season to avoid humiliation against the Browns while playing backups?
It appears that, for the second season in a row, the Steelers intend to enter their final game of the season against the Browns while resting a number of their key players. The primary difference between this year and last year is that they still have the ability to improve their playoff position, though the odds of that happening are not in their favor.
Last season, with no ability to help or hurt their positioning, the Steelers rested Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncey, and James Harrison. The Browns took the game into overtime before Pittsburgh was finally able to win, and that included a late forced fumble that prevented the Browns from a go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.
In that game, it was Landry Jones throwing passes to Darrius Heyward-Bey, Eli Rogers, and Demarcus Ayers, and handing the ball off to DeAngelo Williams, while Jarvis Jones, in his last hurrah, actually recorded a sack against Joe Thomas and forced that aforementioned fumble. B.J. Finney started and struggled at center. They didn’t have to rest Cameron Heyward, since he was out.
This time, it will figure to be Jones again, though Joshua Dobbs could be active and potentially play as well. But he won’t be throwing to DHB and Ayers. Instead he will be targeting Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Though he will be handing the ball off to Stevan Ridley.
The essence of the question, I suppose, boils down to this: is the Steelers’ depth better this year than it was a year ago? More accurately, is their combined depth and health better? They won’t have Ryan Shazier this time. Will Joe Haden play in the game? Will Mike Mitchell?