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Know Your Enemy: Pittsburgh Steelers

Know Your Enemy continues as training camps rev up across the league. Let’s move to the AFC North with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Steelers were hot to start 11-0 and looked unstoppable. They fell apart losing 4 of their last five but still made the playoffs at 11-5. They got curb stomped by the Browns in Pittsburgh in the wild card round. HC Mike Tomlin returns with a new OC (Matt Canada, hey Nichels wife). DC Keith Butler returns after the Steelers dominated on defense in 2020.

Strengths

Front 7 Defense

The Steelers defense is a force in the front 7 despite losing Bud Dupree (Titans) and Vince Williams (retirement). Cameron Hayward (6 of 126 interior Dline) and Stephen Tuitt (11 sacks) may be the best 3-4 DEs in football.  Veteran NT Tyson Alualu (9 of 126 IDL) is a veteran and played above his normal style in 2020 while undersized.

TJ Watt may be as dominate as his brother was in his prime. TJ Watt is a sack (15) and pressure master for the Steelers. Devin Bush is a stud first round pick returning from injury at ILB. Melvin Ingram replaces Bud Dupree (Titans) and 2018 3rd round pick Alex Highsmith (24 of 108 OLBs) will see time at OLB. One ILB is weaker with Robert Spillane taking over for the recently retired Vince Williams. Former safety Marcus Allen or 4th round pick Buddy Johnson could step up as well.

Steelers defense will dominate due to their OLBS, Defensive Ends and Devin Bush.

Safety

The Steelers have a good safety combo in Minkah Fitzpatrick (11 of 94 safeties) and Terrell Edmunds (22nd of 94). They both lay the hammer and can cover. Fitzpatrick can play in the slot too if needed. The Steelers invested multiple 1sts for Minkah and 1st rounder in 2018 in Edmunds. It is paying big dividends in the Steel City.

Weapons

The Steelers are still loaded with offensive weapons for Ben Roethlisberger. Ju Ju Smith Schuster is a number 1 WR returning on a one-year deal but had a down year (831 yard and 9 TDs) in 2020. 2nd year man Chase Claypool (873 yards and 9 TDs) and slot man Diontae Johnson (923 yards and 7 TDs) emerged in 2020. James Washington is a former 2nd rounder as the 4th WR (392 yards and 5 TDs).

Tight End is set with former Lion Eric Ebron (558 yards and 5 TDs) returning and second round pick Pat Freiermuth from Penn State.

Solid but Questions

QB

Big Ben hasn’t looked himself (25th of 38 QBs) lately but is still a solid QB. He notched a 94 rating in 2020 but with efficient 33 TDs and 10 interceptions. In 15 games YPA was down with only 3,803 yards at 65.6% completion in 15 games. Big Ben can’t win it alone but he can do enough for them to get double digit wins with those weapons and defense. This might be his last season after being drafted in 2004. Mason Rudolph (fighter of Myles Garrett) and Dwayne Haskins (former WFT bust) are experienced backups but leave much to be desired at backup.

Run Game

The Steelers run game was poor with James Connor’s injury. Connor went to Arizona and Pittsburgh drafted Najee Harris from Alabama in Round 1. They hope he will hit the ground running and be a monster to improve the run game. Benn Snell (3.3 YPC) and Anthony McFarland (3.4 YPC) are both mid round picks from 2019 and 2020 with some experience now but really failed in 2020. They can complement Harris if they improve with offensive line.

Offensive Line

The Steelers completely changed their offensive line except for their right tackle returning from injury (Zach Banner). Chukwua Okafor must step up at LT (70 of 79 in 2020). David DeCastro was cut for cap reasons while the Steelers signed Trai Turner at RG. Turner was awful in 2020 though (79 of 80 guards). Kendrick Green was drafted in Round 3 to be the new center replacing a retired Pouncey twin. Kevin Dotson is a 4th round pick from 2020 is solid at LG (28 of 80 guards). The Steelers are going with youth on the offensive line and will hope it pays dividends to protect Big Ben and establish the Steelers run game of old.

Cornerback

Joe Haden is still a good number 1 CB. Cam Sutton was 30 of 121 as the number 2 CB. Slot and depth are the questions with Antoine Brooks (slot), Justin Layne and James Pierre.

Schedule

Pittsburgh travels to Green Bay Week 4 and to Minnesota Week 14 (Thursday). The Steelers host the Bears Week 9 and the Lions in Week 10. They will be a very tough game for all four North teams due to that defense (3rd in PPG allowed). The Steelers should be a playoff team in 2021 again and could advance if they find more protection and run game despite a tough division.