This week in Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, we find the Pittsburgh Steelers being mentioned alongside other teams with troubles in an article about those facing an offensive identity crisis in 2019. NFL.com writer David Carr put them in the same category as the Jaguars, Dolphins, Titans, and Washington as those who have to work to figure out what they want to be this season.
He began by basically giving a rundown of all the drama that unfolded during the 2018 season, beginning just before the start of the regular season when Le’Veon Bell chose not to report to the team and multiple players voiced their frustrations about the decision rather publicly, even going so far as to talk about money, which is considered taboo in locker room culture.
“Most of Pittsburgh’s issues are internal because it seems like no one is on the same page”, Carr wrote. “But some concerns lie on the field. Bell, one of the best running backs in the league, will likely hit free agency in March, and it’s possible that Brown could be elsewhere before the start of the season, too. The Killer B’s that were once so dominant could all be wearing different uniforms before long”.
Carr is largely right, though I would argue that Bell does not present an issue with respect to any kind of identity crisis because they already began defining themselves without him at the running back position in 2018 with James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, and they will likely add another piece there this offseason.
However, an offense without Antonio Brown would unequivocally be a seismic shift, no matter how good JuJu Smith-Schuster can be as the number one. Brown has been getting the lion’s share of targets for more than half a decade and has been churning how on average better than 10 touchdowns per season lately, which is something you don’t easily replace. Only Jerricho Cotchery in one very random season has caught 10 or more touchdowns between Brown and Mike Wallace, the last one to do it in 2010.
Still, the core of the offense is and will remain quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and what he would like to run, a reality set in stone with the promotion of Randy Fichtner to offensive coordinator, who seems more than willing to cater the system to his quarterback and to give him more leeway to run or check into his own plays.
The biggest question will simply be who the number two wide receiver is if Brown goes. Could it be James Washington, who was very sluggish for most of his rookie year but had a couple of flashes late? Could they bring in a free agent to bridge the gap, like Golden Tate?