Pittsburgh Steelers fans are entitled. Each season they believe their team should be Super Bowl contenders, if not wind up World Champions after all is said and done. However, the 2018 NFL season had its share of disappointments for Steelers fans. After starting slow, the Steelers ripped off six-straight wins before ultimately falling in the latter half of the season and narrowly missing the playoffs.
Among the disappointments of losing four out of their last six games were losses to the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders: both teams which should have been inferior to Pittsburgh but had always been difficult places for the team to play at on the road.
On a positive note there are some things that Steelers fans can look forward to already in 2019. First of all, they are drafting from a higher position than accustomed to in recent years, per missing the postseason.
Steelers fans looking to wager on their team to win the Super Bowl in 2019 may see a better return as well. There are tempting prices available and those looking to use their Points Bet Bonus Code and wager on their team, could take advantage of the way the 2018 season collapsed, giving them better odds.
But before we even go that far, is it viable to feel the same sense of entitlement with the Steelers and a shot at competing in Super Bowl LIV? Despite the apparent loses of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh still has their all-time leader in nearly every passing category, Ben Roethlisberger, dedicated to playing for the foreseeable future.
Beyond those names, for the Steelers to be considered major players in 2019, these are some of the things which they must overcome from last season.
Win close games
Losing six games and having another tie is bad, but seeing as though five of those losses came by six points or less is heartbreaking. Many of those close defeats came in the closing moments of games, where either the Steelers couldn’t close the door on their opponent or they allowed their opponent to slam the door shut on them instead.
For example, they gave up fourteen points in the fourth quarter against the Raiders. Then a game-tying field goal attempt at the end of regulation went nowhere, as did their attempt to right the ship early in the season.
There were a number of turnovers against Denver and of course, the shootout in New Orleans.
Simply put, for the Steelers to be considered a threat again in the AFC, they have to win the close ones.
Get the defense firing
The Steelers had all sorts of intermittent issues throughout the course of the season. The defense was a scapegoat in many cases though they always weren’t the key reason the team lost close games.
For a second-straight season under Keith Butler the Steelers led the league in sacks (this time in a tie with Kansas City). But that doesn’t mean there weren’t collapses or head-scratching mistakes throughout their sixteen-game schedule.
That’s why the Steelers need to get the defensive communication locked down right out of the gate in 2019. They cannot afford the kind of errors such as the first quarter of their home opener against the Chiefs or being unable to adjust to WR Keenan Allen against the Chargers.
While it will be hard to be perfect, and there are other factors involved (cough, Joe Haden’s pass interference call against New Orleans) I anticipate the entire group is maturing and gaining invaluable experience: from T.J. Watt to Terrell Edmunds, Pittsburgh’s defense is only a component or two away from being legitimate…
Add another linebacker... or two?
Linebacker could be a priority for the Steelers in this year’s draft, but the question is, what position?
Bud Dupree enters a fifth-year option on his rookie contract valued at over $9 million. This will be a decision-making year for the organization on how to proceed with what has been a pedestrian career thus far for the former first rounder.
Aside from Dupree, only Watt, Keion Adams and Ola Adeniyi remain. Anthony Chickillo could be re-signed, but even then, the depth is lackluster for what used to be the heart and soul of the 3-4 defense.
On the inside it doesn’t appear that Ryan Shazier will be back for 2019. Many critics look to replacing him as a priority, and a black mark on the team having not done so in 2018. However, Shazier is a generational player that cannot easily be replaced and last year’s draft, nor this year’s, may yield a comparable player.
And free agency won’t either.
Regardless, the way the Steelers play defense these days, with as many as seven defensive backs on the field, may signal that linebacker isn’t the top priority. They’ll draft one, as they typically do, but there are other areas of concern which may take precedence…
Get another shutdown cornerback
This is something everyone is clamouring for, but like finding a franchise cornerback, lockdown corners are a rarity in the NFL… let alone having two!
However, the Steelers have to find a suitable starter opposite Joe Haden. That could come at a premium via free agency or the draft, but it’s definitely a high priority on the team’s list again this offseason after Artie Burns failed to impress. Coty Sensabaugh played well, but is inconsistent overall and cannot be counted on: should the Steelers do that and he regresses, they could be in real trouble.
Look for the Steelers to potentially address this with both, an offseason signing and a draft pick.
Cutdown on turnovers
Protect the football.
There’s nothing more vital than this and is the main reason I won’t pin all of the team’s shortcomings on the defense. Ben Roethlisberger led the league in interceptions and there were other costly fumbles, such as one by James Conner in Week 1 or another by JuJu Smith-Schuster in the Saints game, that clearly pointed to the reason the team missed the postseason.
Improve on special teams
One last area the Steelers must get better is the special teams unit: the entire special teams unit!
Chris Boswell obviously had a bad season and sticks out as a sore spot on special teams, but the Steelers also struggled with their punt and kick return game, as well as punt coverage teams.
Every single special teams spot could be up for grabs: from kicker to punter to long snapper to returners, look for plenty of competition in this year's training camp.
Going into the 2019 season, the mood of Steelers fans will be a lot less optimistic than it was ahead of 2018. However, that could be a good thing.
No one saw the distractions that were Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell manifesting, and derailing, their Super Bowl hopes last season. If the Steelers can move on from these situations, plus build a better team environment while also shoring up some of the aforementioned weaknesses, they could see their fortunes improve with a return to the playoffs and perhaps another shot at a championship.