Don’t count Pro Football Focus as big believers in the Pittsburgh Steelers this season. They don’t particularly think that the defending AFC North champions are going to do very far this year. Their projected win totals on both the top and bottom end of the scales are not very comforting.
First and foremost, in a recent article, they posit that the Steelers’ 90th percentile outcome achieves only a 10-7 record, assuming that just about everything that could go right for them this year, in fact, does to right, to win two fewer games, with one additional game to play, than they did last year. Ben Linsey explains the reasoning:
The Steelers embrace change offensively under first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Players such as Kevin Dotson (92.3 run-blocking grade at Louisiana Lafayette in 2019) and Kendrick Green (88.6 run-blocking grade at Illinois last season) add a more physical element to their offensive line. Roethlisberger looks more comfortable one year removed from major elbow surgery, and Pittsburgh leans into the variance that a downfield passing attack brings after Roethlisberger posted a career-low 7.4-yard average depth of target in 2020.
The Steelers defensive front continues to make life difficult on opposing offenses, as well. Their 45.1% pressure rate last season led the NFL.
So that’s how they get to virtually their best-case scenario of 10-7, which likely wouldn’t even be enough to win the AFC North, and possibly wouldn’t even get them into the postseason. For PFF, it’s equally likely that they finish 5-12, however, as Linsey details the manner that takes them there:
The Steelers limping across the finish line in 2020 turns out not to be an aberration. Rather, it’s a sign of things to come. A shaky offensive line hinders Pittsburgh’s efforts to commit to the run game, and Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have the mobility to maneuver collapsing pockets. That forces the Steelers to rely once again on a heavy dose of short, quick passes.
Pittsburgh isn’t quite as dominant defensively, either. The offseason losses of Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton leave them thin up front and in the secondary.
Looking at the two scenario laid out above, I suppose I could concede that both are somewhat close to equally likely. I do believe they have a very realistic chance of being better than a 10-win team, however, and I do put a lot of stock in the change at offensive coordinator being a major driver of better fortunes and greater efficiency.