The Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves out the playoffs this past season for the second straight year after making four consecutive appearances.
The Steelers finished with a 8-8 record during the 2019 season, which was second in the AFC North behind the Baltimore Ravens.
With a healthy lineup, does this Steelers’ team have what it takes to win the AFC North?
A healthy Big Ben for 2020
2019 was one of the worst seasons for the Steelers dealing with injuries. A bright spot is the return of Ben Roethlisberger. He is making positive strides in the recovery process.
He is now back to throwing the football, but is taking it slow. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Roethlisberger said “I got to bypass the tennis ball throwing for a month and go right to the football. Still going to be about two and a half-three months until I get total clearance from the doctor but we are doing good!”
Head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear on First Take that he expects Roethlisberger to be the starting quarterback at the beginning of the season. “This guy is the ultimate competitor,” Tomlin said of Roethlisberger. “He’s dropped the gauntlet down. He made the statement that he’s coming back, and I look forward to watching him answer that challenge.”
Just two years ago, the quarterback had a record-setting 2018 season leading the league with 5,129 passing yards. With a healthy recovery, Big Ben can boost a Steelers’ offense who struggled last season.
Steelers’ offensive struggles in 2019
In 2019, the Steelers finished 27th in scoring, 31st in passing and 29th in rushing.
Second-string quarterback Mason Rudolph had big shoes to fill when Roethlisberger went down. It also didn’t help that running back James Conner and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster missed games due to injuries.
The defense kept the Steelers in multiple games this year. The defense finished fifth in the NFL in scoring, tied for first in sacks, and third in fewest passing yards allowed.
Even with the lack of production from the offense, the Steelers went 7-1 after starting 1-4. A playoff push was likely, but the Steelers dropped their last three games.
With a healthy offense complimented by a defense that can have a repeat of last season, this team can make a run to win the AFC North.
New QB coach joins team
The Steelers hired Matt Canada to be the new quarterback’s coach. Canada served as Maryland’s offensive coordinator/interim head coach in 2018.
This is Canada’s first gig in the NFL, spending the majority of his time in the NCAA .
With Roethlisberger coming back, Mason Rudolph will most likely be the backup quarterback and Delvin Hodges will be the No. 3 option. There also may be some competition brought in for that third-string option.
With a new quarterback’s coach, that can keep all the QBs on their toes this season.
Canada will look to improve the overall player development of the backup quarterbacks. And with Roethlisberger’s experience and knowledge of the game, the backups will be able to learn a lot.
Can the Steelers compete with the Ravens?
The Ravens were the favorite in the AFC North last season, led by NFL MVP Lamar Jackson.
The Steelers lost both matchups last season, with the first coming in an overtime defeat, 26-23.
A main concern would be if the defense will have an answer for Lamar Jackson. With his playmaking ability, Jackson can beat defenses with his arm and legs.
With playmakers like DE Cam Heyward, OLB T.J. Watt, cornerback Joe Haden, and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, next year’s defense should be even better and cause issues for Jackson.
It will be interesting to see how the offense will come together with a healthy Big Ben. With a healthy offense and defense the Steelers could be at the top of the AFC North.