Pittsburgh Steelers fans generally seem to prefer going into a season with the outside world doubting their team, questioning their talent and ability to have success that year. Whether true or not, there is the assumption that they perform at a higher level when they’re not viewed as a favorite to win.
Even though they won the division last year, they’re certainly not favorites in 2021. It seems as though few are even expecting them to make it out of the AFC North this year, with the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns both seen as in front of them. But Tiki Barber, one half of the Tiki and Tierney show, picked the Steelers as his team that is under the radar heading into the year, whom he believes will do better than most predict.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers, they won 12 games last year. We’re forgetting. They were bad down the stretch, and the offensive line was beat up”, he said. “The Steelers are a team that, if they get healthy defensively, which I think they will be, because they were pretty damn good last year defensively, and they had a couple of issues as well”.
— TikiAndTierney (@TikiAndTierney) July 7, 2021
The biggest injury was Devin Bush, suffering a torn ACL in the fifth game of the year. Bud Dupree also tore his ACL toward the end of the season. But outside of that, the defense was largely healthy, with only a start or two missed here and there by others. The biggest question is still Ben Roethlisberger.
“If Big Ben gets right on track, that’s a big if, but he’s coming off Tommy John surgery”, Barber said. “He didn’t throw in the offseason because of COVID. All this stuff. New wide receiver that he had to work with. I think Big Ben still has a couple of gas seasons left in him. I think Big Ben carries this team to 12 wins again. I think they’re 12-5, in that division”.
Not everything that he said was quite true, of course. He didn’t exactly have that particular surgery. He actually did throw more than normal, to guys like Ryan Switzer and others, while recovering from the surgery, even without OTAs. The newness of the receivers was somewhat true, though.
JuJu Smith-Schuster was a mainstay, of course, but Diontae Johnson was a rookie in 2019 when Roethlisberger missed most of the season. Chase Claypool was a rookie last year, and Eric Ebron was just signed. Most of his primary targets were relatively new to him in 2020.
Even with the change at offensive coordinator, the offense should have more cohesiveness at the skill positions this year, though the exact opposite is true of the offensive line, which is really in a jumbled state following the departures of four starters.
I tend to think the Steelers will also do better than most feel, particularly fans. This should easily be a team that wins 10-plus games, and will very much be in contention for a playoff spot, potentially even another division title. The problem is getting over the hump and winning in the postseason.