Pittsburgh Steelers: Offensive Preview – Is this Big Ben’s Last Year?
If you are a defensive coordinator in the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers are next up 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 Pittsburgh Steelers offense that many believe can average over 30 points a game.
Big Ben knows that it all starts with Training Camp and that first game of the season against the Cleveland Browns on September 10th.
“No offense to the champs, but I’m thinking about Cleveland. That is our first game. You cannot think about last year, you cannot think about Week 12, 13, 14, 15, playoffs. You have to think about Week 1, and Week 1 is in Cleveland. That is a division rivalry. Moreover, even before that, we have to worry about ourselves in training camp, get ourselves ready to go. We need to be the best we can be, and that’ll translate into good things on the field.”
When Pittsburgh takes the field that day in Cleveland, they are hoping the entire offense is healthy and ready to go. It will be a remarkable sight for a team that never once had its top offensive players together for any game in 2016.
Before the season started, the league suspended WR Martavis Bryant for the entire year. They also suspended RB Le’Veon Bell for the first three. 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 would have to go all the way back to Dec. 21, 2014 when the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 20-12, at Heinz Field. The week after, in their AFC North-clinching victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, Bell was lost for the season with a knee injury.
When that foursome was healthy, the Steeler offense was lethal. Once Tomlin inserted Martavis Bryant 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 Pittsburgh 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. Most consider Brown one of the top three receivers in the game, if not the 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 is 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, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, Demarcus Ayers and Cobi Hamilton.
“I don’t know if I’ve had this much depth,” said Pittsburgh 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 OTAs 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.”
The team released TE Ladarius Green after an injury plagued 2016 season. That leaves Jesse James and Xavier Grimble as Big Ben’s main targets at tight end. Blocking specialist/H-back David Johnson is also back to aid the position when needed, and the team signed former Pitt Panther Scott Orndoff after the 2017 draft.
Backing up Bell in the running game will be free agent pickup Knile Davis and third round pick James Conner from Pitt. DeAngelo Williams is a remote possibility to rejoin the team.
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.