While Steelers Nation is taking a break from football and enjoying the offseason, the actual Pittsburgh Steelers are hard at work, molding into the team they are bound to become in 2019.
The vibe is different this offseason. Some names are the same but some big ones are gone. Younger players are being relied on to fill key, leadership roles, while the main leaders of the team remain the same: Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, Cameron Heyward, and Mike Tomlin are all back.
And they all appear ready to put aside the constant drama-filled 2018 season and erase it this upcoming season. But what are the expectations of this year’s Steelers?
Here are a few things fans are definitely stuck on for 2019.
It’s been awhile
The New England Patriots just tied the Steelers six Super Bowl championship record by winning their own “one for the other thumb” last season.
That does not sit well with fans and I assure, it doesn’t sit well with anyone within the Steelers organization, especially after the team finally slayed the beast at Heinz Field in 2018.
It’s been a decade since the Steelers appeared in the big game despite having some promising-looking teams. Hoisting the Lombardi Trophy has always been the expectation and 2019 won’t be any different.
First, the Steelers need to Run The North again
With the Killer Bees now sadly a thing of past as Antonio Brown demanded a trade and Le’Veon Bell signed elsewhere, the Steelers odds of being a Super Bowl have been written off. Major bookmakers, such as the traders at Ladbrokes, are offering 22-1 odds. That suggests that Pittsburgh will be little more than also-rans.
That may be added motivation, as is losing the division to the Ravens in 2018 and seeing the Cleveland Browns being hyped as “new and improved” after making big moves this offseason. But some places actually see the Steelers as favored, such as the number of interesting options listed at online-betting-offers.co.uk.
These include 2-1 on Pittsburgh winning the AFC North.
That would be a huge step toward getting closer to their eventual goal of winning another Super Bowl.
The buck stops with Mike Tomlin
For better or worse, Mike Tomlin continues on as the head coach of the Steelers in 2019.
As you’re aware, I’m a Tomlin supporter and it’s because he has been able to mold a remnant of an underachieving Bill Cowher squad in the late 2000’s into appearing in two Super Bowls.
Then the floor fell out, with another promising team dropping to Tim Tebow in the 2011 playoffs (and first-ever postseason game played under the current overtime rules) before transitioning into a rebuild mode where the franchise somehow failed to post a losing season.
Other promising teams, including explosive offenses, haven’t gotten further than the AFC Championship, riddled by key injuries and untimely luck. The door slammed shut on the Killer B’s era for this season, and all eyes will be on Tomlin as he prepares a mix of veteran and young players into an “all-in” mode with Ben Roethlisberger entering his twilight years of his career.
Secondary and Replays
A lot of key changes occurred this offseason, including shoring up any holes at the receiver, linebacker and cornerback positions. Teryl Austin was added as an additional defensive backs coach who is also noted to help Tomlin on coaching challenges, a glaring weakness on the sidelines over the last few seasons.
Right now, it’s “all-in”, but that isn’t only for Big Ben: if the changes don’t click, it could signal further changes to the coaching staff. That may be drastic, but anything short of a playoff berth would be considered a failure in 2019.
With Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner all returning alongside the entire starting offensive line from 2018, the Steelers offense sports their franchise quarterback, and their top receiving and rushing options.
With all of the above considered Pro Bowl players, paired with three Pro Bowl offensive linemen as well as a fullback one year removed from the same honor and TE Vance McDonald looking more fearsome with each year in a Steelers uniform, the “standard” should still be the standard on this side of the ball for 2019.
That leaves the defense, who has led the league in sacks in each of the last two seasons, to hold up their end of the bargain.
The obvious problem areas were the opposite cornerback spot from Joe Haden, and the inside linebacker position (ever since Ryan Shazier’s injury). The Steelers pulled the trigger on moving up to get arguably the draft’s best linebacker, Michigan product Devin Bush, to fill one hole. They also drafted Justin Layne to develop behind free agent addition Steven Nelson at the cornerback spot.
Now it’s up to the defense to not only maintain the sack total, but move forward in their own progress by forcing teams off of the field on third downs or holding opponents from scoring six when the field position doesn’t favor them.
There have been flashes, but 2019 is the time
They will need big years to secure those deals.