More often than not, the Pittsburgh Steelers are an organization that consistently fields a competitive team, if not a Super Bowl contender. More often than not, of course, they’ve had their franchise quarterback at their disposal. That wasn’t the case for most of last season, and the performances that they got out of their backups proved for the time to be inadequate.
Despite the fact that the defense suddenly vaulted itself into a top-five unit, continuing its success in getting after the passer and then adding playmaking ability on top of it, they were not able to carry the team on their own, without more help from their offensive counterparts.
And for the second straight season, they entered Week 17 with a chance to make the playoffs, but missed out. The year before, it was because they didn’t get the help they needed after winning their game. Last year, they didn’t even manage to win.
But the Steelers come into 2020 hungry. Last season, they had a point to prove. Team trumps the individual. They were forced to trade Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell officially parted company, taking shots out the door, even though he had already no-showed for the 2018 season.
The media was having a field day with the disfunction they were seeing in Pittsburgh, real or imagined, sensing an implosion coming until they saw how the Steelers handled themselves. Then it marinated into the narrative of their season being an experiment. Can a united team trump a superstar-driven unit that was divided?
Ben Roethlisberger’s absence for the season threw the experiment out the window, unfortunately, contaminating the results. It would have been great to have gotten the chance to see what last year’s team would have done if they had their health.
But perhaps they get an encore in 2020. The only real departures from last season are Javon Hargrave, Ramon Foster, and Mark Barron, all of whom arguably have replacement parts, if you consider Stephon Tuitt part of that replacement equation after missing 10-plus games last year.
That’s why Marc Sessler sees Pittsburgh—in fact, everybody in the AFC North—as being among the teams who enter 2020 with a chip on their shoulder. “The Steelers missed the playoffs due to a Biblical plague of injuries”, he writes. It wasn’t just Roethlisberger and Tuitt, but also James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, even Vance McDonald, Xavier Grimble. Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels both had in-season cleanup procedures on their knees. Sean Davis had to be replaced within two games, though that did turn into Minkah Fitzpatrick.
I do think the Steelers are coming into this season with a chip on their shoulder. But I think they always have a chip on their shoulder, even when they win the Super Bowl. It’s just how things work in Pittsburgh, I suppose.