Welcome to our 2019 Steelers season preview and predictions. Here you’ll find our picks for the Steelers record in 2019 plus a little explainer on why we think they’ll finish with the record they will.
As much as most of the offseason conversation and focus has often been about how the Steelers can possibly rebound after losing Antonio Brown, and even another year without Le’Veon Bell, I don’t see the offense taking that much of a step back. While AB is obviously a great player on the field, Pittsburgh still has weapons. Ben Roethlisberger might even have a better season without having to worry about getting AB his numbers. I fully expect Ben to be more efficient, which while that may mean less yards (he threw for the most yards of his career in 2018), it also could mean less interceptions. I discussed this in further detail on a recent edition of my Pittsburgh Sports Live show. The most important thing for the Steelers offense will be either James Washington or Donte Moncrief emerging as the second receiver option. It’s critical to have a solid second option with defenses now sending most of the coverage AB used to receive to JuJu. James Conner also appears to be in the best shape of his life, which should help him stay healthier and be even better in another year as the featured back.
While the Steelers will certainly have their hiccups, and we know are always vulnerable to play down to lesser opponents, Pittsburgh is my pick to win the AFC North. Yes, Cleveland will be good. But the Browns aren’t guaranteed anything. In addition to the offense being fine, and even more importantly, the defense should be better too. Signing Steven Nelson will help the secondary, one that desperately needs to create some turnovers, not just get more stops. My bold prediction might not even be that bold at all: Devin Bush will be the Defensive Rookie of the Year, which will only start his tenure as the next face of the franchise.
Losing Antonio Brown is tough but the defense is improved and both the Ravens and Browns probably aren’t as good as people expect. It’s going to be a jumble at the top of the division, but the Steelers will win the AFC North behind season MVP Ben Roethlisberger and a defense that finishes in the top 10. The one caveat is the schedule, which features some brutal games. Fortunately for the Steelers is that aside from opening night in New England and a road matchup in Los Angeles against the Chargers, most of the good teams have to come to Pittsburgh. Plus they get the AFC East which means very winnable games against the Dolphins, Jets and Bills.
The Steelers improved their defense greatly with the additions of Mark Barron, Devin Bush and Steven Nelson over the offseason. The offense will obviously be without Antonio Brown, but a second year in the system for Jaylen Samuels and James Washington should provided dividends and free agent addition Donte Moncrief has the ability to make teams pay for double-teaming JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Maybe the biggest factor in the Steelers’ favor is that the division doesn’t seem to be rising around them. Cleveland is the preseason favorite with a young quarterback, a first-year head coach and plenty of questions on defense.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/24/20
While it’s odd to see referees standing out in a clip of highlights, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s plan to incorporate actual refs into practice this week happened on Thursday.
Tomlin explained he is adding refs to practice to ensure his team is more disciplined, which hopefully leads to less penalties in their game this week compared to last week.
Wide receivers James Washington, Diontae Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron run routes and catch passes in this clip.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger Says Form, Mechanics Can Be Better Despite Hot Start
To hear Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tell it, he can better than what he’s shown on the field in his first two weeks since returning from elbow surgery.
He’s not happy with his footwork, he thinks he’s dropping his arm a bit and needs a more consistent release point.
The statistics, however tell another story. They say Roethlisberger has been operating at a higher level of precision than ever before. So which is it? Maybe both.
“I do feel I got a little lazy with my feet, which then, in turn, translated to a lazy arm,” Roethlisberger said. “There were some throws that I kind of dropped my elbow, if you will. I don’t want to get too technical, but it became more of a three-quarter release instead of an over the top when I didn’t need to. There are obviously times you have to change your release point. There were too many throws, I felt looking back, that I just have to get my feet working better, and that will then translate, hopefully, to the rest of the body. Then, I won’t be guiding some of the throws.”
Here’s an example from the game Roethlisberger’s form getting a little sloppy. He throws this ball flat-footed and almost all with his right side, getting less power behind it than usual and resulting in a pass that ends up behind JuJu Smith-Shuster instead of allowing him to build a head of steam toward the defenders at the line of scrimmage.
Is this a big deal here? Not really. Smith-Schuster probably couldn’t have done much better than he did at bulling over the defender, anyway. But this is also a route into the flat on the near side of the field. Over longer distances, that can make a big difference.
“I’ve gotten away with it in the past being able to not necessarily be perfect from the ground up and just letting my arm kind of make up for a lot of things, a lot of imperfections if you talk to quarterback people,” Roethlisberger said. “I feel great. I just need to get it in my mind that I can still make the throws when I’m not in the perfect position to make them.”
All of that can be true, and yet, it’s hard to argue with the results. Through two games, Roethlisberger has a 68.5 completion percentage. His career season high was 68% in 2015. In a game and a half last year, it was 56.5%.
His passer rating, even with an interception against the Broncos, is 107.1. His career season-long high came in 2o07, when he finished with a 104.1 mark. Last season before his injury, it was 66.
Some of that can be explained by a passing scheme that has take fewer deep shots down the field than it has in years past. His yards per pass attempt sits at 7.4, lower than all but four of his other 16 seasons.
Mechanical inconsistency can certainly have a greater impact on longer throws, so the Steelers’ somewhat more methodical offensive approach could be helping Roethlisberger get into the swing of things.
“Maybe some of that just comes from not playing a lot of football,” he posited. “I played two games this year. I played a game and a half last year, so really, it’s about three and a half games in two years if you think about it. It’ll come. Like I said, if I’m having these issues and we are still winning football games, that’s a plus.”
If a 2-0 record with career highs in passer rating and completion percentage is what he looks like with mechanical issues, the NFL should be very worried about what might happen if he gets into a groove.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/23/20
David DeCastro practices with the Steelers after missing the first two games of the season. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin explained to the media, including Mike Asti and Alan Saunders of Steelers Now, that he is evaluating DeCastro and he could start their week 3 game against Houston.
Joe Haden can also seen working on one-on-one coverage drills with the rest of the secondary.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers