Pittsburgh Steelers Season Preview Vol. 2

A look at the Pittsburgh Steelers!

Head Coach: Mike Tomlin (11th Season with Steelers)

Overall Regular Season Record: 103-57 (.644)

Playoff Record: 8-6 (Qualified for playoffs 7 times)

2017 Pittsburgh Steelers Roster

2017 Pittsburgh Steelers Depth Chart

 

History

Six-Time Super Bowl Champions!

Super Bowl IX

Steelers 16, Minnesota Vikings 6
Tulane Stadium, New Orleans, Louisiana
January 12, 1975; Attendance: 80,997

Super Bowl X

Steelers 21, Dallas Cowboys 17
Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida
January 18, 1976; Attendance: 80,187

Super Bowl XIII

Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31
Orange Bowl, Miami, Florida
January 21, 1979; Attendance: 79,484

Super Bowl XIV

Steelers 31, Los Angeles Rams 19
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California
January 20, 1980; Attendance: 103,985

Super Bowl XL

Steelers 21, Seattle Seahawks 10
Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
February 5, 2006; Attendance: 68,206

Super Bowl XLIII

Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
February 1, 2009; Attendance: 70,774

Pittsburgh Steelers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Preview

If you’re a defensive coordinator in the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers are next on your team’s schedule, prepare for a sleepless week trying to find a way to contain what could be one of the league’s most explosive offenses.

With two Super Bowl rings on his hand, and looking to add a third, Ben Roethlisberger is pumped to helm a Steelers offense that many believe can average over 30 points a game.

The Steelers have reloaded and are primed to reach their goal of winning Super Bowl Championship #7. They know that eventually that road will more than likely lead through their nemesis’s in New England, whom they lost to in the AFC Championship a season ago.

Big Ben understands that a championship mentality all started with Training Camp and weeks of everyone getting into football shape, but now it’s time for the first game of the season against the Cleveland Browns on September 10th.

“No offense to the champs, but I’m thinking about Cleveland. That’s our first game. You can’t think about last year, you can’t think about Week 12, 13, 14, 15, playoffs. You’ve got to think about Week 1, and Week 1 is at Cleveland. That’s a division rivalry.”

When Pittsburgh takes the field that day in Cleveland, the entire offense will be healthy and ready to go. It will be a sight to behold for a team that never once had its top offensive players together for any game in 2016.

Before last season started, WR Martavis Bryant was suspended for the entire year. RB Le’Veon Bell was suspended for the first three games. During the year, Ben Roethlisberger suffered a knee injury vs the Dolphins and never seemed quite the same upon his return.

Want to guess the last time Antonio Brown , Bell, Bryant, and Roethlisberger played a full game together?

You’d have to go all the way back to Dec. 21, 2014 when the Steelers beat the Chiefs, 20-12, at Heinz Field. The week after, in their AFC North-clinching victory against the Bengals, Bell was lost for the season with a knee injury.

When that foursome was healthy, the Steeler offense was lethal. Once Martavis Bryant was inserted into the lineup in Week 6 of 2014, the Steelers were virtually unstoppable.

In the next 10 games, the Steelers went 8-2, averaging 31.2 points per game. They scored 30 points or more five times in that stretch, including a season-high 51 in a lopsided win over the Colts.

The Steelers and their fans have been waiting to open this Christmas present for nearly three whole years. The wait is nearly over.

Roethlisberger will lead an offense that has the league’s most versatile back in Bell, who can kill you on the ground or by catching passes out of the backfield. Brown is considered one of the top three receivers in the game, if not thee best. Bryant is highly motivated (pun not intended) to make amends for letting the team down in 2016. With his size and speed, he could put up numbers like his counterpart in Brown.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Steeler receiving corps. Behind Brown and Bryant lurk second-round pick Juju Smith-Schuster, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Justin Hunter.

“I don’t know if I’ve had this much depth,” said Steelers receiving coach Richard Mann. “The depth is there. I was in Cleveland for a long time. I had three guys [Webster Slaughter, Reggie Langhorne and Brian Brennan] for six years. That was a good group of guys. They all had their own little things they did well. This group is a little deeper. But again, we haven’t seen some of the guys under the gun yet when it comes to real football. We’ll see some of that up in training camp.”

Smith-Schuster flashed his potential during OTA’s in June.“He’s a quick study, very coachable,” Mann said. “He has very good hands. I think he has functional, competitive speed. I don’t think he’s a burner, but he has competitive speed. I’ve seen him get the ball down the field. I’ve been very pleased so far, but again we have to wait until we put the pads on, which I don’t think he’ll miss a lick because I think he has toughness. He has that toughness about him. When we get up in Latrobe it will tell us a lot.”

TE Ladarius Green was released after an injury plagued 2016 season. That left Jesse James and Xavier Grimble as Big Ben’s main targets at tight end until the Steelers traded for Vance McDonald from the 49ers. McDonald has had his issues with drops in the past, but the Steelers love his potential for making big plays when called upon, especially in this offense.

Backing up Bell in the running game will be 3rd round pick James Conner from Pitt. Terrell Watson made a name for himself in Camp and in the exhibition games, and his hard work paid off with a roster spot. Roosevelt Nix is the lone fullback.

The offensive line is as good as ever. The group is strongest up the middle, where two Pro Bowlers, center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro lurk. Alejandro Villanueva continues to ascend at the left tackle position, while left guard Ramon Foster and right tackle Marcus Gilbert round out a unit that helps protect the team’s dynamic playmakers. Key reserves include Jerald Hawkins and Chris Hubbard at tackle, with BJ Finney and Matt Feiler at guard, and Mike Matthews at center.

Landry Jones is the backup quarterback to Big Ben, with Josh Dobbs right behind him after showing promise in camp and the exhibition games.

“The rich tradition and history that’s here, I don’t take that lightly,” Roethlisberger said. “That means a lot to me. I want to be a leader, both on and off the field. That’s in the locker room, just any way that I can be, so I have to try and step up when it comes to that.”

Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Preview

Like those anxious to see the Steeler offense at full strength, many people are excited to see what a maturing Steeler defense brings to the table in 2017.

If everyone plays to their potential, this could be the best defense in Pittsburgh since 2011 when they led the league allowing just 15.1 points per game. That was the team shocked by Tim Tebow and the Broncos in the playoffs.

Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, Sean Davis, and Artie Burns are all be healthy and ready for Week 1.

Davis, Burns and Javon Hargrave  are looking to build off of solid rookie years.

“It’s reasonable to expect a significant jump,” head coach Mike Tomlin said, “for the same reasons we were talking about issues that rookies face: There are no unknowns for those guys. They’ve been in Latrobe before. They know where these roads lead so it should be reflected in their readiness and in their play.”

The defensive line will be anchored by Heyward, Hargrove, and Stephon Tuitt, with Tyson Alualu, L.T. Walton, and Daniel McCullers also seeing time.

The linebackers should be solid across the board, even with the departure of Lawrence Timmons . Bud Dupree and James Harrison will man the outside linebacker positions, as will 1st round selection T.J. Watt, who will start ahead of Harrison.

Dupree ended the season with 4 12 sacks, finishing second to Harrison’s five. He also recorded a half-sack in the playoffs while playing all but three defensive snaps. He is looking to become a force in 2017.

Vince Williams will be Timmons’ replacement, as he and Ryan Shazier look to lock down opposing offenses as the team’s middle linebackers. Shazier, when healthy, exhibits elite play. Arthur Moats, Steven Johnson, Anthony Chickillo, and L.J. Fort complete the group.

The longtime weakness in the team’s defense may become its best in the secondary.

Artie Burns , as mentioned by Tomlin, will be expected to elevate his game at corner in his 2ndyear. He played well last season despite being injured. Joe Haden was signed after being released by the Browns. He should shine in not having to cove the opposing team’s #1 WR all day. That job belongs to Burns. William Gay and Mike Hilton are also in the mix at slot corners. Coty Sensabaugh was signed in the offseason and provides nice depth. The team drafted Cameron Sutton (3rd rd), but he is IR and could return after seven games. Brian Allen (5th rd) made the final roster.

Protecting the secondary in the middle is Mike Mitchell and 2nd year pro Sean Davis. Robert Golden will backup Davis, and J.J. Wilcox, acquired via trade, will spell Mitchell.

The team will look to pressure opposing quarterbacks on every snap and transition to playing more man on man coverage in the secondary.

Secondary Coach Carnell Lake is impressed with what he sees out of Burns.

“He’s really progressing well in that area,” Lake said. “He’s being physical. He’s challenging Antonio Brown, arguably one of the best receivers in the league, in practice every day. And that’s just going to make him better. The more confident he is covering someone like A.B., the more he should be able to transfer that to our competitors to get ready to start the season.”

Mike Tomlin knows his defense is improved over last season, however, he offered these words…

“I’m not worried about last year’s bar,” Tomlin said. “We’re trying to be world champs every year. We’re all in on 2017. The things that happened in 2016 are irrelevant. The pieces, the roles played are irrelevant. I feel good about this group. We have to walk our journey. We’re writing our story. So let’s write it and try not to analyze it too much.”

Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Player Spotlight

Everyone knows how good the Pittsburgh Steelers are with the trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell.

But when you add Martavis Bryant to that equation, it becomes a fearsome foursome.

When all four were healthy and on the field from week 6 through week 16 in 2014, the Steelers went 8-2, averaging 31.2 points per game. They scored 30 points or more five times in that stretch, including a season-high 51 in a lopsided win over the Colts. Bell was injured in the final game of the 2014 season and they haven’t all been on the field healthy or active since.

Defenses have enough to worry about when it comes to stopping the dynamic Bell. Then there’s Brown torching opposing secondaries week in and week out. Inserting a very motivated Bryant to the line-up is downright unfair.

The Steeler offense is going to put up some insane numbers this year. With his rare blend of size and speed, Bryant will once again become Roethlisberger’s favorite deep target, while defenses do their best to try and contain Bell and Brown from killing them.

Fantasy Football guru’s will be salivating over who gets to draft Brown, Odell Beckham, and Julio Jones to their teams, but if you fail to get your hands on Bryant if he is available in the 3rd round or later, you are going to be sorry you didn’t.

In 2015, he had 50 catches for 765 yards and 6 touchdowns in 11 games.  That’s a 73/1108/9 slash line in a 16 game season.

“I’ve been thinking about it the whole year,” Bryant said Wednesday when asked about the anticipation of starting a regular-season game for the first time since the 2015 season. “It hasn’t just started. I’m almost here, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do. I’m just going to work and have fun doing it. When Sunday comes, I’m going to be ready.”

Expect a much higher output in 2017.

Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive Player Spotlight

When it comes to whether the Pittsburgh Steelers will have a great season defensively, a lot will factor on the health of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier.

When healthy, Shazier is capable of playing at an elite level. His speed to track down opposing running backs is uncanny. While covering the middle of the field in pass coverage, his hands are good enough to make any quarterback pay for an underthrown or errant throw in his direction.

Shazier had 87 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, 7 QB hits, 3 interceptions and 9 passes defended last season.

With Lawrence Timmons gone, and with much respect to James Harrison, this is Shazier’s group now, and he will be looked upon to provide leadership and lead by example with his play.

The Steeler defense is poised to be at its best since the 2011 season when they allowed a league low 15.1 points per game.

I have to make sure I have everything healthy and am ready to go for camp,” Shazier said. “Just make sure I’m on top of all my play study the best I can and have everything ready for the start of camp.”

Unfortunately, Shazier has missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury, but he finally returned to practice near the end of it and took some reps for the first time in weeks.

He is hopeful that he will be at 100% by the start of the regular season on September 9th in Cleveland vs the Browns.

“I definitely want to get out there so I can get warmed up into the season,” said Shazier, who made his first Pro Bowl last season. “You don’t want to go out there without any action against anyone else and be rusty. If I get the chance I’ll go out there, but that’s all coach Tomlin’s decision.”

 Shazier is looking forward to some contact as soon as possible.

“I haven’t tackled anyone in camp,” Shazier said. “You always have to get used to tackling people and getting the feel of getting banged up. They put the whole playbook in. Communicating with your teammates is really big so I think I’m a little behind. I try to stay involved in the walkthroughs and the conversations the guys have.”

Shazier’s teammates still soak up his guidance while he awaits to return to action.

“I talk to him every day and focus on the stuff he does out there,” said second-year inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who has filled Shazier’s starting spot while injured. “It’s truly amazing. That’s the stuff I appreciate, being able to watch him and see him do something.

“If I have a question, I ask Shay, ‘How would you do this play? What are you seeing, what are your reads? Stuff like that.’ He’s so helpful. Being able to understand, learn, take a step back and listen to what he — and Vince (Williams) — are saying has helped me tremendously.”

Pittsburgh Steelers Breakout Candidate

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a wealth of young talent defensively.

Sean Davis, Artie Burns and Javon Hargrave were solid rookies last season. Bud Dupree and Stephon Tuitt are entering their third year and both are expected to be major factors this season.

Those players aside, everyone is excited about the potential of 1st round draft pick T.J. Watt from Wisconsin.

Yes, that’s the younger brother of All-Everything defensive end J.J. Watt.

The Watt brothers will see the field together on Christmas Day as the Steelers and Texans play at 4:30 that day.

With Harrison sitting out OTA’s in June, the team got an upfront look at what Watt brings to the table.

“What he’s shown me so far is he’s acclimated,” Steelers linebacker coach Joey Porter said. “I feel comfortable with him out there. His learning curve is real good. With the reps he’s getting, it’s helping him prepare and get more and more comfortable with the defense. With as many practices as we’ve had, I can count how many mistakes he’s had on one hand. And that’s rare. I’m good with where he’s at. Anything going forward, we’ll just see how it goes.”

Harrison will backup Watt, who is the official starter, so Watt will see significant playing time even with Harrison rotating in now and then.

“He’s an established veteran,” Watt said of Harrison. “I’m not trying to take anything away from him. I’m just going to come out here every day and let the chips fall where they may.”

For the defense to be as successful as it wants to be, it’s linebackers have to get to the quarterback.

Bud Dupree is looking like he will be a force in getting to the QB in 2017, so the more the merrier when it comes to others making contributions. Harrison had five sacks last year.

Porter thinks Watt can make a difference.

“You’re always looking to improve,” Porter said. “That’s why we took another backer in the first round. We’re always trying to get better. We’re always trying to get those two guys, those premier pass rushers. That’s the reason you spend a first-round pick in Bud. You think he can get double-digit sacks. That’s why you take a T.J. in the first round, because you’re hopeful he’ll give you double digits in sacks. We’re trying to get to the point to where the outside linebackers lead us in sacks. That’s the goal. We addressed the problem. Now it’s time for us to get better and go out there and execute.”

Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 Schedule

PRESEASON (3-1)

Friday, Aug. 11 @ New York Giants W, 20-12 (KDKA)

Sunday, Aug. 20 ATLANTA W, 17-13 (KDKA)

Saturday, Aug. 26 INDIANAPOLIS L, 19-15 (KDKA)

Thursday, Aug. 31 @ Carolina W, 17-14 (KDKA)

REGULAR SEASON (0-0)

Sunday, Sept. 10 @ Cleveland 1 p.m. (CBS)

Sunday, Sept. 17 MINNESOTA 1 p.m. (FOX)

Sunday, Sept. 24 @ Chicago 1 p.m. (CBS)

Sunday, Oct. 1 @ Baltimore 1 p.m. (CBS)

Sunday, Oct. 8 JACKSONVILLE* 1 p.m. (CBS)

Sunday, Oct. 15 @ Kansas City* 4:25 p.m. (CBS)

Sunday, Oct. 22 CINCINNATI* 1 p.m. (CBS)

Sunday, Oct. 29 @ Detroit* 8:30 p.m. (NBC)

Sunday, Nov. 5 BYE WEEK

Sunday, Nov. 12 @ Indianapolis* 1 p.m. (CBS)

Thursday, Nov. 16 TENNESSEE 8:25 p.m. (NBC/ NFL Network/Amazon)

Sunday, Nov. 26 GREEN BAY* 8:30 p.m. (NBC)

Monday, Dec. 4 @ Cincinnati 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Sunday, Dec. 10 BALTIMORE* 8:30 p.m. (NBC)

Sunday, Dec. 17 NEW ENGLAND* 4:25 p.m. (CBS)

Monday, Dec. 25 @ Houston 4:30 p.m. (NBC/ NFL Network/Amazon)

Sunday, Dec. 31 CLEVELAND* 1 p.m. (CBS)

* – Times may change due to flexible scheduling

POSTSEASON

Sat.-Sun., Jan. 6-7 Wild Card Weekend

Sat.-Sun., Jan. 13-14 Divisional Playoff Games

Sunday, Jan. 21 Conference Championships

Sunday, Jan. 28 Pro Bowl (Orlando, Fla.) Sunday,

Feb. 4 Super Bowl LII (Minneapolis, Minn.)

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Published by

Mike Drakulich

From Midland, "The Basketball Capital of Pennsylvania", located 35 miles NW of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. This former steel town was home to storied athletes such as Dave Alston, Norm Van Lier, Simmie Hill, and the legendary 1965 Midland High School Basketball Team. There's nowhere on earth that is more dedicated to its sports teams like Western Pennsylvania and the city of Pittsburgh. The passion and pride of Pittsburgh's fan base is second to no one. From the NFL, NHL, MLB, NCAA football and basketball, to W.P.I.A.L. high school sports, "The City of Champions" has it all! As Editor of Pittsburgh SportsNation, Mike Drakulich provides the best opinions and coverage of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pitt Panthers football & basketball, Robert Morris Colonials basketball, and Duquesne Dukes basketball, as well as all sports teams that represent Western Pennsylvania. For a refreshing view of sports, mixed with humor and uncensored opinions, check out Pittsburgh SportsNation today on Facebook, Twitter and videos with over 1,000,000 views on YouTube!

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