The defense is going to be great. We get that. Pittsburgh’s question marks go to the offense. That said, it’s important to realize that these are question marks, not actual issues. It’s entirely possible that experience will result in Grade “A” results; but could it also yield Grade “C” ones?
This pair of articles will attempt to give the range of answers for each position group.
QUARTERBACK [outlook very optimistic but not rosy]
Is Ben Roethlisberger healthy, and will he return to form? If both of those questions get a “yes,” QB will be a major area of strength that takes the pressure off every other unit. All reports have been uniformly positive so far on both fronts.
Will Mason Rudolph make a major leap after his first year of real game experience? Let’s be fair here. Quarterbacks take a lot of time to develop, and fans always expect more, and faster, than reality allows. Yes, there are freak exceptions to prove the rule. We know that Mason won’t be one of those. Just as we know he won’t be a totally useless flop. Rudolph has shown enough to be a long term backup at worst. He is trying to improve from that floor into the realm of “top 32 in the world.” A QB at that level will make this a playoff team. A QB below that level would have a very tough time.
Is there a QB3? Sorry, but I just don’t care to waste the words on that kind of dark speculation.
OFFENSIVE LINE [outlook optimistic]
The Steelers offensive line is in good shape compared to the league average, with numerous smaller question marks. The biggest concern on this front go to age and contracts. Linemen tend to play good football into their mid-30’s, and the team’s best three linemen are all entering their early 30’s; and the team has several OL contracts coming to their end. But those clouds on the horizon can wait for the offseason. Let’s look at what’s on tap for 2020.
Will DeCastro, Pouncey, and/or Villanueva suddenly start to show signs of age? No. That is pure, fan-level speculation that the glass might not be full to overflowing. Give it a rest.
Will Matt Feiler struggle at Guard? No. Rinse and repeat. Plus there is depth with Wisniewski.
Will the Steelers have an acceptable Right Tackle? Yes. All fan panic aside, both Chuks and Banner are promising players who should be able to perform at no worse than an average level. The winner of that competition has a better than even chance to play at an average+ level. And if both of them somehow collapse (very unlikely), the team can move Feiler back out to RT.
In other words, the Pittsburgh Steelers should have five competent OL starters, two of whom are stars, a third who might grow into a star (Feiler), a fourth who is rock solid (Villanueva), and excellent competition for the fifth. That is much better than average across the NFL. But could the OL be more than that?
Will the OL run block as well as it pass blocks? This will depend more on the other units than the line itself. The Steelers have proven to my satisfaction that they lack the ability to dig out and move a defense that is set and ready for an obvious run. If you can put eight or nine men in the box and ignore the passing threat, you can prevent this team from running. OTOH, the Steelers have proven that the team can run the ball quite well against teams that do not stack the box. The unit is extremely mobile and tends to win against anything but pure, overwhelming force from too many bodies.
As Part Two of this series will discuss, the combination of a veteran Quarterback and an almost unique array of receiving weapons should force every defense into the league into nothing but Nickel and Dime formations. This line will block like a champ in both the passing and running game against that kind of defense.
The core of any offense lies in the line and the Quarterback. Pittsburgh’s core should be well above average if Roethlisberger stays healthy. Last year’s struggles happened because teams could afford to load the box against our 4th string rookie QB, especially when Conner got hurt and in the absence of a viable TE2. None of those weaknesses exist in the 2020 offense. Things look awfully good. But will they continue to look that way after accounting for the skill positions? That will be addressed in Part Two of this series.