The coronavirus pandemic wiped out all the on-the-field activities that usual take place in the NFL during the offseason. Because of that, NFL teams that enter the 2020 regular season with a lot of continuity in players and coaches figure to have a sizable advantage over teams that lack and especially in the first half of the regular season. According to a recent study and report by ESPN.com, the Pittsburgh Steelers rank high league-wide when it comes to continuity from 2019.
According to the study, the Steelers have 82.4% of snaps returning in 2020 and 23 total starters. That’s fifth best in the NFL, according to their numbers. Below is a breakdown of the Steelers returning snap numbers by units along with a look at their coaching staff continuity:
Offensive snaps returning: 80.1% (12th)
Defensive snaps returning: 84.4% (4th)
Starters returning: 23 (10 offense, 10 defense, 3 special teams)
Non-coordinator assistants returning: 11 of 13
Coordinators returning: 3 of 3 (Randy Fichtner, OC; Keith Butler, DC; Danny Smith, ST)
Starting QB: Ben Roethlisberger, 17th year
Head coach: Mike Tomlin, 14th year (133-74-1)
Here is what Brooke Pryor of espn.com summarizes these numbers mean for the Steelers in 2020.
“Not much is changing for the Steelers entering 2020 — and that’s mostly a good thing. Returning the bulk of the defense is key for the Steelers to end their brief playoff drought, and Roethlisberger’s return should bolster an offense that was stagnant at times in his absence. The Steelers have new faces on the coaching staff in quarterbacks coach Matt Canada and wide receiver coach Ike Hilliard, but they’ll be working with mostly veteran position groups.”
The most interesting things about these snap numbers is that they don’t likely account for a few Steelers players from the 2019 team that missed considerable amounts of playing time due to injuries. Offensively for the Steelers last season, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner all missed a lot of playing time due to injuries. In Roethlisberger’s case, he only played six quarters of football before suffering his season-ending elbow injury. While Smith-Schuster and Conner didn’t miss nearly as much playing time last season as Roethlisberger did, the former only managed to play 57.4% of all offensive snaps in 2019 while the latter played just 32.9% of all snaps.
Defensively for the Steelers, defensive end Stephon Tuitt will be back in 2020 after missing most of the 2019 season due to a pectoral tear. Tuitt, who was arguably one of the top two or three players on defense last season when he went down for good in Week 6, only played 25.7% of all defensive snaps. Getting a player back of his caliber will be huge for the Steelers defense and especially with the team losing defensive tackle Javon Hargrave this offseason via free agency.
According to my count, the Steelers have 25 players on their current 90-man roster that played more than 25% of all snaps for their respective side of the football in 2019. That’s a hefty amount and potentiality nice insulation at a few positions when it comes to possible injuries in 2020. You can see that list of 25 players below.
Personally, I don’t think enough is being made about team continuity this offseason considering the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on offseason practices. The
Cleveland Browns, for example, rank 28th overall on the espn.com list and that’s even lower than the Cincinnati Bengals, who are ranked 25th overall. Keep in mind that the Browns have a new head coach as well in addition to most of the rest of their coaching staff being new. Most of their players have probably yet to talk to most of the coaches face-to-face and likely won’t until training camp gets underway.
This study by espn.com is yet another reason why the Steelers should be expected to not only make the playoffs in 2020 but make a deep run at a seventh Lombardi Trophy as well. The same went for the 2011 Steelers. That team returned quite a few players from the 2010 team and proceeded to compile a 12-4 record after a lockout wiped out the entire offseason program. If not for an inexcusable overtime slip up against the Denver Broncos in the AFC Wildcard game that season, the Steelers may have been able to win it all that season. The expectations for the Steelers 2020 team should be just as high, if not higher, than those of the 2011 team.
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