After a Week 9 bye, the Rams travel east to the steel city, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. 2018 wasn’t the best year for the Steelers, as they missed out on the playoffs to the AFC North Champions, the Baltimore Ravens. It was a dramatic end to the season, though, with the Steelers needing the Browns to beat Baltimore to reach the playoffs. Pittsburgh did what they had to and scraped past the Bengals and had it not been for a CJ Mosley interception, the Browns may have sent the Steelers to the post season.
There are no notable changes in the coaching department from last year. Mike Tomlin is one of the longest-serving head coaches currently in the NFL, with only Bill Belichick and Sean Payton having been in their jobs longer. Randy Fichtner returns as offensive coordinator, with Keith Butler going into his fifth season as defensive coordinator.
The Steelers offseason was not great. Losing two potential Hall of Famers (Brown and Bell) in one offseason is massive. Both players have been known to be a distraction, especially Le’Veon Bell who didn’t play a snap last year due to him holding out. Bell didn’t get the contract extension he wanted from the Steelers and decided to leave to sign with the New York Jets. Antonio Brown has always been known to be a distraction in the locker room, but the Steelers could overlook it due to how effective he was on the field. He is a top five wide receiver in my eyes, some people would say he’s number one. However, if you line up the top receivers in the league, Antonio is always in the conversation. Kevin Colbert, Pittsburgh’s general manager, announced only three teams had made an approach to trade for AB, not a lot for an elite wide receiver. In the end, he was traded to the Oakland Raiders, making this season’s Hard Knocks that bit more interesting. The Steelers also lost Jesse James in free agency, as the tight end left to join the Detroit Lions. Now onto the incomings, and familiar face Mark Barron signed a two-year deal, former Chiefs CB Steven Nelson signed a three-year deal and WR Donte Moncrief signed a two-year deal. The Steelers also locked up two of their offensive linemen for two and three years respectively, guard Ramon Foster signed a two-year extension and all-pro center Maurkice Pouncey signed a new three-year deal. In the draft, they traded up 10 spots to draft Michigan’s Devin Bush, he’s an undersized linebacker, who will fit into the will linebacker role with the Steelers. His athleticism secured his name being called in the top 10 and only time will tell if his size is a problem at the next level.
Plenty of questions surround their offense heading into the season. Who will replace AB? Who will start at right tackle? Who will back up Big Ben? I’d say Moncrief will start alongside Juju and Rogers, that’s unless second-year wide out James Washington or this years third-round selection Diontae Johnson can stake a claim to start. It will be interesting to see how this plays out throughout the offseason. Right tackle will be another interesting battle, Marcus Gilbert left this offseason, so his spots up for grabs. Matt Feiler is the leader in the clubhouse after starting 10 games last season. Chuks Okorafor and Jerald Hawkins will both back themselves, but will have to have a great camp to lock down that spot. The last intriguing battle is between Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph for backup QB. Which guy will be suiting up every week and which guy will be stood holding a clipboard? I think Dobbs’ experience will give him the edge but both guys have a shot this preseason, especially with former number two Landry Jones having been cut.
Now onto the defense. There aren’t any real superstars but a lot of very good players. It all starts up front, where the Steelers have lead the league in sacks the last two seasons. Defensive end Cameron Heyward is a big part of that, chalking up 20 sacks over 2017 and 2018. OLB TJ Watt, brother of Texans defensive end JJ, led the team in sacks last year, with 13. His pressure around the edge and Heyward’s ability to generate pressure from the inside is a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Tomlin will be hoping Bush can fill the massive void left after Ryan Shazier had to retire due to injury. Steven Nelson and Joe Haden will start at cornerback next year and if they both play to the level they have done in the past, that’s a good duo.
For a long time, the Steelers seemed like an offensive power house that carried their defence, but with the loss of the likes of AB and Bell, the tide could be turning. The defence is looking more and more like a top unit in the NFL. A lot has been said about the Browns getting stronger and plenty people have predicted them to win the AFC North but I’m sure the most successful team within the division will have something to say about that.