By and large, the Pittsburgh Steelers team that went 13-3 is not dramatically different than the one that just went 9-6-1. There are a couple of notable pieces missing, but new ones have been added, and internal growth, at least hypothetically, should have done a lot of balancing out.
While not having players like Ryan Shazier and Le’Veon Bell can be difficult to understate, the performances of players like James Conner, T.J. Watt, and JuJu Smith-Schuster this season made this what should have been a very competitive group, which did not live up to its potential in 2018.
But there is a 2019, and it’s just around the corner, about which 36-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is optimistic. It will be his 16th season, and he believes that the window is still very much open for a championship, even though it’s been over a decade now since they will have won the one for the other thumb.
“I think we’ve got a really good group. As long as the linemen come back, they’re the core”, Roethlisberger said yesterday during his post-game press conference. “They’re the strength of this team. And if they come back, I’ll be back, and I feel good”. The offensive line protected Roethlisberger very well this season, to be sure.
“We’ve got guys that just got better”, he added, and that especially applies to his young skill position players, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, who combined for 20 touchdowns and not far from 3000 yards. “We’ve gotten young guys that just keep getting better and guys like JuJu and James Conner, guys that are just gonna keep getting better. So I don’t think our window’s closed”.
On paper, the Steelers shouldn’t be much different in 2019. The only players on offense they may fail to retain who ended 2018 as starters might be Ramon Foster at left guard, and perhaps Bud Dupree if they choose to release him rather than carry him on his fifth-year option.
“Any time that you can kind of keep that core group, keep people together—the less turnover, the better, usually, so from the top down, I think that’s important”, Roethlisberger added. On the championship window, he said, “well, I’m 36 years old. I’m pretty sure I’ll be 37 by the season next year, and I’m not getting any younger. But, you know, I still feel good. And like I said, we keep that line together, that’ll give us a good, fighting chance”.