The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot to be proud of, even though their season is over. The team, which faced probably the most adversity out of any NFL team this season, had their playoff run ended in a 23-16 loss against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
That’s no reason for the Steelers to hang their heads. The fact that they made it to the playoffs was in itself quite incredible. The team had it’s ups and downs this season, with most of their downs being injuries. The team lost Kelvin Beachum, Shaun Suisham, and Maurkice Pouncey early in the season.
More injuries piled on towards the end of the season. Le’Veon Bell suffered injury and then in the last regular season game, DeAngelo Williams suffered a right ankle injury, which forced him to sit out in the Steelers two playoff games. Also sitting out, but only for the final playoff game, was wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was forced to sit out after not passing the NFL’s concussion protocol procedures during the week.
The Steelers barely made it into the playoffs, but come next year, they should be the team to beat. The Steelers, once healthy, will have a strong offense if all of the offensive players stay. The only major free agency issues on the offense is Beachum, Ramon Foster, and Will Johnson. The team’s other offensive free agents are Darrius Heyward-Bey, Doug Legursky, David Nelson, Jordan Todman, Michael Vick, and Bruce Gradkowski.
That means that the core of the Steelers offense, their point scorers, will be back. Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller, Markus Wheaton, Bell, Williams, and Brown will all be back with the Steelers. The receiving corps, including the tight ends, had 26 touchdowns in the regular season. Out of the 26, Brown scored the most by scoring 10 of them. As for the running game, Bell scored three touchdowns while Williams took the load and scored 11.
As for the defense, there are plenty of free agency woes to figure out. The Steelers have William Gay, Steve McLendon, Brandon Boykin, Antwon Blake, Sean Spence, Cam Thomas, Will Allen, Robert Golden, and Ross Cockrell to work with. Out of the nine names listed, six of them are either cornerbacks or safeties. The Steelers, who certainly stepped up their defensive game towards the end of the season, will have to work with players to resign them while saving salary cap space.
Another reason to look forward to the Steelers on defense is the presence of Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree. Shazier has developed into one of the top tacklers on the team. He’s gotten in the face of quarterbacks and has recorded 3.5 sacks this past season as well as forced two fumbles. Shazier has recorded 87 tackles, which is the second most by a defensive player, as he is behind Lawrence Timmons who has 119.
As for Dupree, a year under his belt has certainly helped the former rookie. Dupree recorded four sacks this season and had 27 tackles. His rookie year under the leadership of James Harrison and Timmons has certainly helped the young player polish his game from college football to the NFL.
On special teams, the Steelers certainly picked up a winner in Chris Boswell. Boswell converted 29/32 field goals with his longest being a 52-yard field goal. His field goal percentage is a strong 90.6 percent and at the end of the regular season, he was tied 10th in the league with Seattle Seahawks’ kicker Steven Hauschka. The question now remains for the Steelers staff: What happens now that Shaun Suisham, who suffered an ACL injury in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game, is healthy? Time, or training camp, will tell on that one.
No matter what, the Steelers were certainly considered underdogs in the 2015 season. Many people didn’t even think they would make it to the playoffs, let alone beat Cincinnati in a third meeting between the teams. However, the Steelers proved many fans of the game wrong. As long as they have their weapons back for 2016, they will certainly be the team to beat, not just in the AFC, but in the NFL.
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