The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 season ended not only prematurely, but also bitterly, suffering an early postseason exit after falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars at home in the Divisional Round by a score of 45-42. The wounds are still fresh, but it’s time to relive the 2017 season that was, starting from the beginning.
Chapter II – Regroup, Reload
The Steelers were handed an ugly defeat by the hands of the New England Patriots, the first game that they had lost in their previous 10, having ended the regular season on a seven-game winning streak and then advancing through the first two rounds of the postseason.
It was a tough pill to swallow and seemingly even had the team’s quarterback questioning his future. But eventually, the team regrouped, and then began the process of reloading for yet another run that would ultimately turn into a 13-3 season that earned them a bye week through the Wildcard Round this past season.
For the first time in a good while, the Steelers entered the free agency period with cap space to work with, and early reports had their sights set on targeting a top cornerback, their names being attached to such players as Stephon Gilmore, Logan Ryan, and Dre Kirkpatrick.
Instead, when the price got too rich for their blood, they turned to…Davon House. Who ended up re-signing with his old team while he was in the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex visiting with the Steelers. So they turned around and brought in Coty Sensabaugh.
Sensabaugh ended up as a starter at the end of his Titans career, and then signed to start for the Rams in 2016, but was released after a few games. He finished the year with the Giants after working his way into a contributing role.
He contributed for the Steelers this past season as well, but unfavorably. It got him benched in favor of a rookie. And Knile Davis, the running back? He was the very rare free agent signing who didn’t even make the team. They kept Terrell Watson instead.
Justin Hunter, at least, made the team’s 53-man roster, a spot that was largely earned against Panthers scrubs in the preseason finale courtesy of a long touchdown reception. Injuries to others during the preseason such as Demarcus Ayers made it easier. But he spent a lot of his time inactive and struggled to contribute when given a chance, though he did manage to bring in one touchdown, dropping another.
By far the biggest addition in free agency was defensive end Tyson Alualu, who immediately became important when Stephon Tuitt was injured on the second snap of the season. Alualu ended up starting a handful of games and registered a career-high four sacks. He also played the run arguably better than Tuitt or Cameron Heyward did.
It was not until just a short time before the season started that the Steelers finally managed to land their cornerback. With the Cleveland Browns inexplicably releasing Joe Haden at the end of August, the former Pro Bowler signed with Pittsburgh at the end of the same day.
He was an immediate starter and helped transform the secondary, which began to fall apart once he suffered a fractured fibula. He and Mike Hilton were the best players in the defensive backfield for the team this past year, and neither of them were there a year ago.