(Photo Credit: Yahoo News)
As mentioned in the overall preview article, 2020 was a very tumultuous and inconsistent year for the Steelers. They wound up starting the year by winning their first eleven games but would go on to lose six of their last seven games to end it. A few things really stood out throughout the season:1) an inability to consistently complete the deep pass; 2) red zone inefficiency; 3) a lack of a running game to create offensive balance, and 4) a knack for dropped passes.
On the season, Ben Roethlisberger ranked 32nd throughout the NFL in average yards/pass attempt at only 6.2 yards, as well as finishing 34th in red zone completion percentage at 57 5 percent. One factor that helped the Steelers get off to their flawless record, was Roethlisberger’s relatively turnover-free play. Through the team’s first nine games, Big Ben had only four interceptions(three were in one game). Through the final seven games, Roethlisberger threw seven interceptions (not counting the four interceptions that he had in the playoff loss to the Browns).
For the season, Roethlisberger completed 399 passes out of 608 attempts (completion percentage of 65.6 percent) for 3803 yards and 33 touchdowns, with ten interceptions. Coming off an injury-shortened 2019, Big Ben had a credible season. Unfortunately, for him, the lasting image of the playoff loss will be all that people will remember.
In addition to the inconsistent quarterback play, the Steelers were hampered, at times, by ineffective play throughout all skill positions. As a team, the Steelers rushed for 1351 yards on 373 carries (3.62 yards per carry). The 1351 yards ranked dead last in the league, while the 373 carries were the fifth-fewest. James Conner was the leading rusher with 721 yards on 169 carries (a respectable 4.3 yards per carry).
Along with occasional poor play at quarterback and running back, the Steelers also had the second-most dropped passes in the NFL with 30. Diontae Johnson led both the team and the league with ten dropped passes. The Steelers did have four receivers with 91 targets or more. These included: 1) Johnson (88 catches/923 yards and 7 TD’s on 144 targets); 2) JuJu Smith-Schuster (97 catches/831 yards/9 TD’s on 128 targets); 3) Chase Claypool (62 catches/873 yards/ 9 TD’s on 109 targets); and 4) Eric Ebron (56 catches/538 yards/5 TD’s on 81 targets).
With so much inconsistency amongst the offense, the defense was forced to help carry the team. Over the 11 game winning streak, this defense was only giving up an average of 15.8 points/game, and the most points allowed was 27. Both LB Devin Bush (week 6) and LB Bud Dupree (week 12) suffered season-ending knee injuries. Over the last six games, the defense wound up giving up an average of 22.7 points/game and then allowed 51 points in the playoff loss to the Browns.
With the season-ending collapse, the next question that had to be answered was what moves could be made to shore up the holes. Dealing with salary cap issues, the off-season has simply not been kind to the Steelers and has left the team scrambling to fill holes as we enter the final weeks before the season starts. In an early June report, ESPN ranked the Steelers as having the third-worst off-season amongst all NFL teams.
In February, longtime starting center Maurice Pouncey announced his retirement. Since Pouncey’s announcement, TE Vance McDonald and LB Vince Williams have followed in his footsteps, while OG David Decastro was released. In free agency, the following losses occurred: 1) Dupree signed a five-year pact with the Titans; 2) CB Mike Hilton signed a four year deal with the Bengals; 3) Conner signed a one year contract with the Cardinals; 4) RT Matt Feiler signed a three year deal with the Chargers; 5) Alejandro Villanueva inked a two year deal with the Ravens; and 6) FS Sean Davis agreed to a one year deal with the Colts.
Although the team has tried to address the exodus of talent from the offensive line, it has been extremely hard to do. In an article by TheHuddle.Com, the Steelers’ line was ranked 27th across the league heading into the season. The Steelers have acquired the following players via free agency: 1) C Joe Haag (Bucs); 2) G Trai Turner (Chargers); 3) C B.J. Finney (Bengals); and 4) T Chaz Green (Colts). In addition, the Steelers also signed Melvin Ingram (OLB-Chargers), Miles Killebrew (SS-Lions), and Arthur Maulet (CB-Jets) for added depth on the defense.
Along with the free agency moves, Pittsburgh also added offensive depth and talent during the draft. Alabama RB Najee Harris was selected in the first round. Harris is an ultra-talented three-down back who had a combined 1891 yards and 30 touchdowns during the Tide’s 2020 run to the National Championship. TE Pat Freiermuth (Penn State) was selected in the second round. Freiermuth is an athletic pass-catching tight end, but his blocking skills have been deemed as a weakness. Two offensive linemen, Kendrick Green (Illinois) and Dan Moore (Clemson) were added for additional depth across the line.
In terms of fantasy production for 2021, there are several Steeler players that have an opportunity to provide production for their fantasy teams. Some writers have suggested that Big Ben’s inclination for short passing routes in 2020 was more due to recovery from his 2019 elbow injury, as compared to his age. If that turns out to be the case, all three wide receivers(Johnson/Smith-Schuster/Claypool) are in play to be top 30 wide receivers. My personal favorite is Johnson, who I have projected to be the 20th ranked PPR receiver. Harris has an excellent chance to finish in the top 12 PPR running backs, while Ebron and Freiermuth will likely cannibalize each other’s maximum potential. Last, but not least, Roethlisberger is best viewed as a mid-range QB2, who has the talent around him to replace your injured or unproductive starter when necessary. Please check out our other articles and projections at https://www.thecutffb.com/
According to VegasInsider.Com, Pittsburgh’s current over/under win total is set at 8.5. As has been discussed, the offensive line is in a state of flux with an aging quarterback behind them. With the collapse which occurred at the end of last season, the win total seems fair. Pittsburgh typically rallies the wagon better than most teams, but this will be a tall order this year. Third place in the division seems to be the most realistic outcome.
(Cover Photo Credit: USA Today)