The Pittsburgh Steelers have taken a step back for several seasons now. Since reaching the AFC Championship Game in 2016, they were knocked out of their first postseason contest a year later—despite having had a bye week after going 13-3 during the regular season. In 2018, they finished 9-6-1, missing the postseason in Week 17 despite winning their final game. A year ago, a 0-3 slide at the end of the year again knocked them out of the playoffs, finishing 8-8.
Yes in spite of this negative trend, a number of outlets are bullish about the Steelers and their chances in 2020, even if so much of it rides upon the projections of health for their star quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who suffered an elbow injury in September that required surgery that remains somewhat clouded in mystery, the precise nature having not been revealed.
Mike Clay still sees the team as one of the five most on the upward trend this offseason, writing for ESPN. He concluded that they are “loaded”, citing an elite defense that will almost entirely be returning in 2020, the notable exception being Javon Hargrave.
“Roethlisberger”, he writes, “who led the NFL in passing in 2018, is back along with an above-average line and intriguing, young wide receiver trio led by JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and James Washington. Expect this team to push Baltimore for the AFC North crown”.
The Baltimore Ravens won the AFC North by a stunning six games by the time all was said and done, finishing 14-2 in the regular season, even though they have precisely as many wins over the past three years as the Steelers do, which is zero.
The additions of tight end Eric Ebron and defensive end Chris Wormley were singled out, noting the upside of the former that we saw during the 2018 season when he had Andrew Luck throwing him the ball and a healthy ankle to stand on.
Running back, however, was noted as the team’s biggest weakness, though he argued that “if running back is your weak link, you’ve probably done a nice job building a roster”. There is some truth to that, in that the running back position is the most fungible in the NFL, and it can be as easily upgraded by improving the offensive line.
As far as the position goes, opinion has really been divided as to how the outside world thinks the Steelers view their own group. Some believe it will be a primary target with their top draft pick. Others think they won’t address the position at all.
As it stands, they return five running backs from the 2019 season who finished on the 53-man roster, including 2018 Pro Bowler James Conner, who is entering the final season of his rookie contract.