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(Pittsburgh,Pa) When the Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 season ended, it left a bitter taste in their mouths for two reasons: 1. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013, which includes losing their first AFC North Division Title since 2015. 2. Distractions from their biggest stars (Running Back Le’Veon Bell, Wide Receiver Antonio Brown) which eventually led to their offseason departures.
Entering the 2018 season with the lable of Super Bowl contenders, the Steelers struggles would make one think that this team finished with 3 wins against 13 losses, but in reality Pittsburgh finished 9-6-1, and only a half-game behind the Baltimore Ravens (10-6) in the AFC North. The Steelers were that close to winning the division but had to rely on the Cleveland Browns to beat the Ravens in the final week of the regular season, which didn’t work out for them.
The men of the Black and Gold had other problems that derailed their 2018 season: A porous defense that cost them several games in the 4th quarter, and a kicker who made the Pro Bowl in 2017 but couldn’t make more than 65% of his kicks in 2018. All of this, despite a 7-2-1 start making their 9-6-1 finish look like a failure.
Despite their struggles, the Steelers had their first-ever 5,000-yard passer in Ben Roethlisberger (5,129) who won the passing yards title, a Pro Bowl RB in James Conner and a Pro-Bowl WR in JuJu Smith-Shuster. They also sent 3 of their offensive line to the Pro Bowl (Maurkise Pouncey, David DeCastro & Alejandro Villanueva), as well as Linebacker TJ Watt. If one takes this into consideration the Steelers season was not as bad as one would think.
No matter how you feel about the 2018 Steelers; the 2019 Steelers are getting ready to head to Latrobe for Training Camp and here are 5 burning questions that will follow the Steelers as well:
1. Have they Truly fixed their defense?
On paper, they’ve certainly given the ‘Old College Try. It seemed like the light clicked on in their heads that they needed to rely on more than the NFL Draft to fix a unit that used to be the heart and soul of this organization. The last 2 seasons proved that they fell way below those standards, especially after losing Pro-Bowl LB Ryan Shazier to a spinal injury. While he has inspired many by walking again and rehabbing with hopes of returning to the NFL, Shazier’s absence on the field left a gaping hole at inside LB, which wasn’t filled by veteran Jon Bostic despite a 73 tackle-2.5 sack season. The problem was, Bostic just didn’t have Shazier’s speed, which led to his contract being terminated this offseason.
Outside LB Bud Dupree had another subpar season and inside LB Vince Williams didn’t live up to his 8-sack 2017. On the defense line, DE Stepheon Tuitt still hasn’t lived up to the contract extension that he received in 2017, and in the secondary, former 1st round pick Artie Burns was benched, veteran S Morgan Burnett didn’t work and former 2nd round pick Sean
Davis also struggled. Overall, this defensive unit finished 6th in the NFL overall, but was 6thoverall against the run and 10th overall against the pass. They were also ranked 9th in the NFL in tackling. It wasn’t exactly a good season for them.
In free agency, the Steelers knew they needed more speed, so they added S/LB Mark Barron from the LA Rams, a quality in CB Steven Nelson from the KC Chiefs. Each signing was clearly an upgrade. But at this point, it’s still on paper.
2. Is Devin Bush the real deal?
The Steelers certainly hope so. The made a true power move by trading with the Denver Broncos for the 10th overall spot in this year’s draft get the All-American Michigan standout and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Such a move shows the Steelers are serious about filling the hole left by Shazier and fixing their defense. Bush is known for his tackling, cover skills and most of all-speed. Something the Steelers inside LBs lacked in 2018.
3. Will the offense recover after losing Brown and Bell?
The Steelers think they will. After all, they still had their 5 Pro Bowl players and Conner (973 yards, 12 TDs, 55 rec, 455 yards) proved to be an effective replacement for Bell, who held out the entire season due to a contract dispute. Conner would’ve gone over 1,000 rushing yards, if he hadn’t suffered an injury that caused him to miss 4 games late in the season. In addition to 2018 rookie Jaylen Samuels who had 142 yards against the New England Patriots. They also drafted RB Benny Snell Jr. from Kentucky. 2018 team MVP JuJu Smith-Shuster proved he was a legitimate threat after 111 receptions and 1,429 yards in 2018. Time will tell if he can if he can keep it going in the #1 spot that was vacated by Brown whose absence from the Steelers final game and turbulent offseason led to his trade to the Oakland Raiders. The Steelers also lost TE Jesse James to the Detroit Lions.
The Steelers added veteran WR Donte Moncrief from the Jacksonville Jaguars, drafted WR Dionte Johnson from Toledo and expects 2018 pick James Washington to improve. They also drafted 6-8, 265 TE Zach Gentry from Michigan.
4. Was K Chris Boswell’s 2018 season a fluke?
The Steelers definitely hope so. After all, when he was found in 2015, he has been nothing short of spectacular, with several game winning FGs and setting the postseason record of 6 FGs in a game, and of course his Pro-Bowl 2017 which led to a contract extension in the offseason. Unfortunately, he struggled in 2018 converting only 13 of 20 field goal attempts and 43 of 48 extra point attempts. His 65% field goal percentage was ranked last among kickers with at least 20 field goal attempts. He was placed on injured reserve on December 28, 2018. It was revealed that he suffered a grade-2 tear in his groin.
Injury aside, was it mental with Boswell? Did he put too much pressure on himself after signing that contract? Whatever the reason, if he wants to earn that $2 million roster bonus, Boswell needs to show he’s ‘back’ early in the season.
5. Coach Mike Tomlins’ contract extension?
Coach Tomlin has never had a losing season and led the Steelers to 2 Super Bowls in 3 years, winning in 2008. He’s also led the team to 6 division titles, and 8 total playoff appearances and has missed the playoffs only 3 times. Despite missing the playoffs in 2018, Tomlin did whatever it took to keep his team focused amidst the distractions to nearly win another division title. But then again I ask you to name one coach who hasn’t experienced adversity. Tomlin deserves to continue to coach the Steelers.
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