As we get set to witness the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 debut after what has probably felt like the longest offseason of our lives, I thought I might provide you with a bit of fodder for the old us-against-them well, as, on the eve of the regular season, Pro Football Focus published an article naming the Steelers one of the most overrated teams in the league.
That is, at least, the opinion of Anthony Treash, whose argument rests on two simple premises—that the defense will not be able to sustain its takeaway success from a year ago (which is very plausible), and that Ben Roethlisberger will not necessarily significantly improve the offense.
“I’m not doubting that the defense won’t be good (though the number of turnovers the unit forced in 2019 is bound to regress in 2020), but I am doubting their offense — specifically, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger”, Treash writes.
He argues that Roethlisberger’s 2018 season wasn’t nearly as good as the 5000 passing yards and 34 touchdowns looks, arguing that accuracy was a concern, and he had a high rate of negatively-graded throws, while also posting his lowest average depth of target of his career.
What’s more, he noted that even that was done with Antonio Brown, who is of course now more than one year gone. The truth is that we still don’t know what the post-Brown offense is supposed to look like at full strength, thanks to all of the injuries that ran rampant throughout the unit a year ago.
Of course, the Steelers ranked sixth in the NFL in 2018 in offensive scoring, averaging 26.8 points per game, despite having the worst average starting field position in the league, only to drop down to 27th in the league, averaging 18.1 points per game, more than a touchdown’s swing. The Steelers also had four non-offensive touchdowns last season versus three the previous year, if you include Alejandro Villanueva’s touchdown reception from Chris Boswell.
Granted, there is still a lot that we don’t know about how Roethlisberger will perform, not just at any point in the season but over the length of the season. Will his arm hold up all year? But I think we should also consider that the backup position should be an improvement upon last year as well. Barring catastrophe, I can’t come up with a reasonable scenario in my head in which the offense is not significantly better.
As far as divisional hopes go, it does have to be noted that the Baltimore Ravens looked like they picked up where they left off last season—at least in the regular season—but that’s just one game against a newly-rebuilt Cleveland Browns team. I still expect that the Steelers will be competitive with the Ravens in the AFC North for the divisional title. If Pittsburgh is due for a defensive regression, Baltimore is due for an offensive one.