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32 Teams/32 Days: Day 25: The Pittsburgh Steelers


32 Teams/32 Days: Day 25: The Pittsburgh Steelers

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Division: AFC North

Record: 13-3 | Division Record: 6-0 | Division Finish: 1st | Playoff Record: 0-1


Overview

After starting 4-5 in 2016, the Steelers would ride a winning streak all the way to the AFCCG and lose to the Patriots, the latter being an unfortunately common occurrence over the previous decade. Going into 2017, the expectations were… largely the same. The roster had surprisingly little turnover, with every starter from the previous year except Lawrence Timmons and Ladarius Green (if you count him) returning, few moves in free agency, and Martavis Bryant getting unsuspended. The general idea was that if they could just find a way to get past the Patriots, they could make the Super Bowl… easier said than done.

In a vacuum, the Steelers had a largely successful season. 13-3 was tied for the best record in the NFL, and the best regular season record by the team since 2004. On the way there, they swept the division and defeated 3 playoff teams. Things weren't perfect however as the team often made things closer than they probably should have been and there was seemingly a lot of drama with the team, not to mention going one and done in the playoffs. Whether or not this constitutes success for the organization is up for debate.


Statistics

Offense

Statistic Value Ranking
Total Yards 6047 3rd
Passing Yards 4380 3rd
Rushing Yards 1667 20th
Points Per Game 25.4 8th
Passer Rating 94.1 10th
Sacks 24 T-27th
Turnovers 20 t-21st

Defense

Statistic Value Ranking
Total Yards 4910 5th
Passing Yards 3217 5th
Rushing Yards 1693 10th
Points Per Game 19.3 7th
Passer Rating 81.8 12th
Sacks 56 1st
Turnovers 22 t-13th

2018 Draft Picks

Round Pick From
1st 28th
2nd 60th
3rd 92nd
5th 148th San Francisco
5th 165th
7th 220th N.Y. Giants
7th 246th

Game Review

In the comments:

Weeks 1-4

Weeks 5-8

Weeks 9-13

Weeks 14-17

Playoffs


Draft Review

Name Position Round
T.J. Watt OLB 1st
JuJu Smith-Schuster WR 2nd
Cameron Sutton CB 3rd
James Conner RB 3rd
Joshua Dobbs QB 4th
Brian Allen CB 5th
Colin Holba LS 6th
Keion Adams LB 7th

T.J. Watt – Watt is the third OLB the Steelers have spent a 1st round pick on in the last five years, but of the three, Watt has likely gotten off to the best start. He didn't maintain his production from his first preseason game (2 sacks in the first quarter) or his first regular season game (7 tackles, 2 sacks, and his only interception), but he was still a generally solid player otherwise, ending the year with 7 sacks and 54 total tackles. While he wasn't the most destructive of the rookie edge rushers, he started all 15 games he played and was likely the most consistent of the bunch. The only other rookie edge rushers that consistently started for their teams were Myles Garrett (who missed 5 games) and Solomon Thomas, and only Carl Lawson (a pass rushing specialist) ended with more sacks.

JuJu Smith-Schuster – He got a lot of attention for social media shenanigans and touchdown celebrations, but that aside, Smith-Schuster was, by most metrics, the best rookie WR in the NFL, ranking 1st in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns and 2nd in receptions of the group. He did this despite missing two games, and while it's true that most rookie WRs missed varying amounts of time this season, Smith-Schuster is the only one that would have gotten over 1000 receiving yards with the pace he was on. Not turning 21 until after Week 11, he is the youngest player in the NFL at the time of this writing, and the future is overall very bright for him.

Cameron Sutton – He spent most of the season injured and ultimately was only activated in the last five games of the regular season and the postseason loss. After Joe Haden got hurt and he got healthy, he split time with Coty Sensabaugh as the CB opposite to Artie Burns, though against the Patriots, Sensabaugh got demoted and Sutton ended up playing in almost every snap. The very next week, Joe Haden came back and relegated both players to the bench. Maybe things will go better if he plays against not-Tom Brady?

James Conner – Le'Veon Bell gets the ball more than any other RB in the league, so even though Conner was the backup, he still almost never saw the field. He averaged 4.5 YPC, which is solid, but he only had 32 carries and was only targeted once (it fell incomplete). He probably would have seen more exensive time over the last two games of the season, but he injured his MCL against the Patriots.

Joshua Dobbs – Dobbs was the 3rd string quarterback. Like most 3rd string quarterbacks, he was usually inactive and ultimately didn't take a snap.

Brian Allen – Allen was pushed so far down the depth chart that he never ended up taking a snap on defense. However, he did see occasional work on special teams and was generally at least active.

Colin Holba, LS – If you're confused why the Steelers bothered drafting Long Snapper, it was because Greg Warren, who held the position for 11 years, had retired. He ended up losing a camp battle to Kameron Canaday and was eventually signed by the Jaguars at roughly the midway point of the season and remains on their roster today.

Keion Adams, LB – Spent the entire season on IR.


FA Review

Signings

Name Position Former Team
Joe Haden CB Browns
Tyson Alualu DE Jaguars
Coty Sensabaugh CB Giants
Justin Hunter WR Bills

Joe Haden (3 years, $27M) – The longtime Brown was released late in the offseason, and was signed by the Steelers on August 31st – the day of the final preseason game- as a replacement to a reportedly struggling and subsequently traded Ross Cockrell (Cockrell did have a solid year on the Giants, however). The contract, while just 18th among CBs in salary, was still somewhat of a risk given his terrible play over the previous two seasons, but he ended up being roughly worth what the team paid for him. No one will confuse him with peak Joe Haden, but the secondary was generally solid when he was on the field (he missed most of the late season stretch when the defense was struggling). The structure of Haden's contract is also a fairly manageable one. In 2017, his cap was only $3.16M, and while it increases to $11.92M the final two years of his contract, it carries a relatively low dead cap. That would have been necessary if Haden struggled, but for now it's likely he'll remain a Steeler for at least another year.

Tyson Alualu (2 years, $6M) – For a while, this was the biggest signing of the offseason for the team, which says a lot about how the Steelers approach free agency. Anyhow, Alualu, despite not being brought in to be a starter, did a relatively solid job, playing roughly at a league average level when on the field. He's clearly worse than Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, and both of them are making a lot of money, but someone like Alualu still holds value overall.

Coty Sesnabaugh (2 years, $2.6M) – Infamous for being cut by the Rams three games after signing a three year deal, Sensabaugh was probably lucky to get more than a one year deal. He occasionally contributed, making four starts after Joe Haden was injured, but inconsistent play made him quickly fall out of favor, eventually losing the starting job and then not taking a single snap in the final three games of the season. The Steelers will likely opt to cut him, which will save $1.4M against the cap.

Justin Hunter (1 year, $855K) – He played around how you'd expect a 6th string WR on a tiny contract to play, with 4 catches for 23 yards and a TD. This is probably his last stop as an NFL player.

Trades

Name Position Former Team
Vance McDonald TE 49ers
J.J. Wilcox S Buccaneers

Vance McDonald – This was a pretty unusual trade. Vance McDonald was signed to an extension with the 49ers roughly midway through the 2016 season. But then he got injured, and the 49ers fired the GM that signed him to said extension, which made him expendable; the 49ers got a 4th round pick in exchange for their 5th, which only ended up moving them up less than half a round. McDonald can be cut at any point during his contract with absolutely no dead cap, and on paper, it looks like there is no reason for the Steelers to keep him and what will be around a $4M cap hit. However, in the playoff loss against the Jaguars, he had 10 catches for 112 yards. He also had a pair of 4 catch, 52 yard games late in the year. Perhaps this is a sign that next year will be the one that he'll be able to get the TE1 job over Jesse James? The team lacking a good alternative may be enough to save him.

J.J. Wilcox – Another unusual trade that happened right before the start of the regular season, the Buccaneers traded J.J. Wilcox for a 6th round pick. Given that they signed a 2 year deal with him during the offseason and he had not taken a snap, this was very odd, but this happened at around the time that the Bucs signed T.J. Ward and when Jordan Dangerfield – one of the backup safeties – landed on IR. Wilcox struggled initially as a backup safety, but after Week 5, he didn't record a single tackle and was sometimes a healthy scratch. It'd be a surprise if the team didn't cut him, which would save $3.0M against he cap.


Impending Free Agents

Name Position
Le'Veon Bell RB
Arthur Moats LB
Sean Spence LB
Chris Hubbard RT
Daniel McCullers NT
Justin Hunter WR
Stevan Ridley RB
Fitzgerald Toussaint RB
Daimion Stafford S

With FA quickly approaching, the chances of locking up any of these players other than Le'Veon Bell is getting increasingly lower. Bell is still technically not tagged, but he will be soon.

Chris Hubbard is a backup as long as Marcus Gilbert is around, but he could probably start for some teams in the league; some team is going to value him more than the Steelers will. Arthur Moats is very well liked, but he wasn't particularly relevant or effective this year at either linebacker spot. Sean Spence started games in stead of Shazier, but was terrible. It's tough to see him getting another chance. Daniel McCullers is one of only two NTs on the team, and yet he still couldn't make the active roster sometimes.

Justin Hunter was mostly irrelevant this year due to being so far down the depth chart, which wasn't a surprise. Stevan Ridley didn't get signed until mid-December, and even though he did a solid job against the Browns, he will probably go back to being a spot-signing for various teams around the league. Fitzgerald Toussaint's continued presence on the roster is somewhat of a mystery; he got demoted to the practice squad after a few years but was back on the active roster come November. Finally, Damion Stafford's current status is a complete mystery; he's technically still on the roster, but he never showed up to training camp and supposedly retired…?


Coaching Staff Changes

Old New Position
Todd Haley Randy Fichtner OC
Carnell Lake Tom Bradley DB Coach
Richard Mann Darryl Drake WR Coach

Todd Haley has long been the at the ire of Steelers fans and possibly also Ben Roethlisberger, often getting blamed for the offense not reaching its full potential. The team was the healthiest its been in a while but some of the problems still persisted. One should not automatically assume that the offense is in for an improvement however – it's not quite that simple. The personnel suggests that the offense should be better than it usually is, though of course it is usually quite good.

It should be acknowledged that the secondary has essentially been built from the ground up for the last few seasons, so it's not exactly the best in terms of personnel. However, the players in the secondary have often looked lost, especially late in the year when Joe Haden and Ryan Shazier were gone. Whether it's play or just instincts, hopefully Tom Bradley will help improve that.

Richard Mann retired after having been the WR coach since 2013. As you may be aware, the WRs have been quite good since then; Darryl Drake has big shoes to fill.


Roster Review


Quarterbacks


Ben Roethlisberger – Big Ben didn't finish 2016 on a good note and briefly contemplated retirement, so when he was mediocre out of the gate in 2017, serious questions began to arise about how much more he had left in him. The infamous 5 interception game against the Jaguars particularly stood out, where Ben (jokingly (?)) commented that maybe he just didn't have it anymore. That game stuck out more than it should in part because for the first half of the season, he had a string of just okay games. He threw for over 200 yards in every game and had at least one touchdown in every game but the Jacksonville one, but it was generally a one touchdown effort with an occasional interception. After the bye week though, he threw for multiple touchdowns in all 7 games, including a pair of 4 touchdown games and 5 in the playoff loss, having a decent argument for being the best QB in the league during that span. True, the slate of defenses did get a little easier, but he also performed better against teams that they had played earlier in the season. It seemed in doubt for a while, but Big Ben definitely has at least a few years left in him.


Runningbacks


Le'Veon Bell – From an efficiency standpoint, this was actually Bell's worst season since his rookie year. While he ended up with around the same volume stats as last year and played with the same patient style as before, it took him three more games and a lot of extra touches to do so. That said, that says more about how high the bar has been for Bell; even in a down year, he still managed to be named 1st team All-Pro in the flex spot. No RB – including Todd Gurley, David Johnson, and Ezekiel Elliott – is relied on more than Bell when he's available; the 2nd leading rusher for the team only had 144 rushing yards and Roosevelt Nix, a fullback, was the only other RB on the team to catch a pass. He also finished 2nd in the league in yards from scrimmage and fell 36 yards short of being the league's leading rusher. His contributions everywhere are hard to ignore, and on a year-to-year basis no one has been more consistently good than Bell, but the question remains if he's worth as much as he wants, which is far more than any RB.


Wide Receivers


Antonio Brown – The best receiver in the NFL once again showed why he is the best receiver in the NFL, accumulating over 1500 yards and 9 touchdowns in 13 games before going down early against the Patriots and getting named 1st team All-Pro for the 4th year in a row. His catch rate of 62% was his lowest since 2011, but he balanced that out with 15.2 yards per reception, his highest since… 2011. At times Big Ben forced the ball to him, especially early in the season, but it was somewhat justified since he (usually) was producing. But once Roethlisberger started to get his groove on, AB's statline bordered upon unrealistic; in his last five full games (including the playoff game), he had 50 catches for 759 yards and 8 touchdowns with a catch rate of 66%. It's hard to imagine all of the Steelers' close wins stay that way without AB's contributions in particular.

Martavis Bryant – While he was able to clear the low bar set by replacements such as Sammie Coates and Cobi Hamilton, Bryant's first season off of suspension was a disappointment. 600 yards and 3 touchdowns is around what you'd expect from an okay WR2, but Bryant was supposed to be more than that, given what he showed throughout 2015. In particular, he seemed less explosive than before, with his per play stats dropping off pretty hard despite having roughly the same catch rate. He also occasionally was a nuisance on social media, which resulted in the team giving him a one game suspension. Things got better near the end of the year, both in terms of his behavior and his play, but Bryant will have to improve his play as he enters the final season of his rookie contract.

JuJu Smith-Schuster – I've already talked about Smith-Schuster when compared to other rookies, but even compared to other WRs he stood out. As impressive as his statline looks, it looks even better when you consider he was only targeted 79 times, which was less than Brown, Bell, Bryant, and 66 other players. Per PFF, Ben Roethlisberger had a passer rating of 134.8 while targeting him, which was the highest of any QB-receiver combination. With 15.8 yards per reception while catching 73.4% of his passes, he also led the NFL in yards per target by a decent amount.

Eli Rogers – Rogers did a fine job filling in in 2016, accumulating nearly 600 receiving yards and 3 TDs in 13 games while playing out of the slot. That's a fairly modest total, but he was also one of only two WRs on that team that were adequate. But with Bryant getting unsuspended and Smith-Schuster existing, Rogers was no longer needed as much. But even after accounting for the loss in involvement, he was also just generally worse than last year, only catching half his targets and averaging less than 10 yards per reception.


Tight Ends


Jesse James – James has been a solid value for a 5th round pick, but he by no means is a starter-worthy player. And yet, for the 2nd season in a row, he found himself as the best available tight end while the more athletic option struggled with injuries. While not a terrible player, there also really isn't anything that James excels at, and even though he'd be a solid TE2, he is probably one of the league's worst starters at the position. He's not a particularly good blocker, and for a full-time starter, a statline 43/372/3 isn't that impressive. Granted, with the other targets on the team it's not like James needs to be producing at a high level.

Vance McDonald – McDonald started in 7 of the 10 games he played in, but only played in 24% of snaps while clearly being behind James on the depth chart. 24 also happens to be the total number of targets he received all season, though he got 16 in the playoff loss alone. In general, if he was on the field, he was blocking, and was overall never able to form a consistent role with the team. Still, he is a better blocker than James and, despite having questionable hands, is probably also a better receiver than James due to his athleticism. If he can stay healthy – which is something he's had issues doing for most of his career – he can be an intriguing option, but even at his best he may have a hard time being worth his salary.


Offensive Line


Alejandro Villanueva – He was a starter in the Pro Bowl, but in the grand scheme of things, Villanueva once again was mostly just a pretty good, but not great, LT. Mind you, there's still value in that, and for someone who is only the 20th highest paid LT in the league despite being signed to an extension only last season, it's kind of a steal. Villanueva was steady as a pass blocker, rarely allowing any sacks, but had his ups and downs as a run blocker. You may want to get used to that description, as that describes a lot of the Steelers' linemen this year.

Ramon Foster – A year ago Foster was one of the best guards in the league, but was fairly mediocre this year. He went from an excellent pass blocker and good run blocker to being a decent pass blocker and subpar run blocker. Some speculate it was because of injury (he missed two games), though it should be noted that Foster also missed two games in 2016 and didn't seem to feel any lingering effects from it. Hopefully he'll bounce back next season to at least some extent, but at 32 years old he might not be around for much longer.

Maurkice Pouncey – There was a time when Pouncey was the best center in the league, but several injuries later, he nowadays is more of a league average guy, but is still making Pro Bowls because everyone recognizes who he is. He's still fantastic as a pass blocker, but he sometimes has issues as a run blocker. The regression in this area from him and Ramon Foster is part of the reason why Bell's efficiency was down from a year ago.

David DeCastro – One of the best linemen in the entire league, DeCastro had another fantastic season as he made his second 1st team All-Pro roster in the last three seasons (in the one exception he was 2nd team All-Pro). DeCastro is great as a pass blocker and even better as a run blocker. He was especially good at pulling during runs. Even though most of the line was not as good at run blocking as they were a year ago, but you can't blame DeCastro for that. In pass blocking, the "weaker" part of his game, he only allowed 15 pressures all season.

Marcus Gilbert – One of the better RTs in the league, Gilbert was limited to only seven games due to a combination of injuries and a six game suspension. When he's healthy and not suspsended, he's probably currently the 2nd best lineman on the team after DeCastro; he's better at pass blocking than run blocking like several other players on the line, but he also had a generally solid year as a run blocker. Hopefully next year he'll be available more often; they survived without him but part of that was because they had a solid backup who is likely to leave for FA.

Chris Hubbard – The solid backup about to hit FA mentioned in Marcus Gilbert's section. While a downgrade, he was, surprisingly, still a decent player overall. However, he was still worse than Gilbert, who isn't going anywhere. His play will probably be enough for some team to take a chance on him as a starter, and it's doubtful that the team will decide to compete with someone that wants him in that role.

B.J. Finney – Much like Hubbard, Finney is a solid backup, though he's an interior lineman as opposed to a tackle (he played in stead of both Pouncey and Foster). Some believe he could start for some teams, though that'll have to wait another year due to a one year contract extension he signed.


Defensive Line


Cameron Heyward – Bouncing back from a pectoral injury that ended his 2016 season, Cameron Heyward was named 1st team All-Pro for the first time in his career. With 12 sacks, he was the only interior lineman with more sacks than Aaron Donald, and also led the team with 42 pressures. He's always been a solid player, and has probably been the best player on the defense over the last few years, but few could have seen this coming. I wouldn't expect him to pull this off a second season in a row – his normal production is somewhere between 6 to 8 sacks – but that doesn't mean he won't continue to be very good moving forwards.

Stephon Tuitt – Fresh off a big contract that gives him $12M a year, Tuitt had an overall solid season. His stats may look pretty modest – 25 tackles and 3 sacks isn't a lot, even for a player that missed 4 games and all but 2 snaps of a 5th – but what those stats won't tell you is that Tuitt, in spite of all of the missed time, garnered 38 total pressures, only 4 fewer than Cameron Heyward and good for 2nd on the team overall. It may seem unusual that the two best pass rushers on the team aren't edge rushers, but it should be noted that this has been the case for a while now: a big reason why the Steelers typically have a lot of sacks despite seemingly always being in need of an OLB is because of how good Heyward and Tuitt are. Durability hasn't been a huge concern for him in other seasons so it can be assumed he'll be able to keep up his play.

Tyson Alualu – The former Jaguar was the backup to both Heyward and Tuitt, and ended up starting five games in releif of either. Alualu was generally solid in rotation, with his best performance coming against the Browns (8 tackles, 2 sacks); even though the team struggled immensely at defending the pass during this game, Isaiah Crowell only had 15 carries for 21 yards in this game and Deshone Kizer took 6 sacks. Even though he's a little expensive for a rotational player, he was still worth around what the team paid for.

Javon Hargrave – Though he doesn't have the traditional build of a nose tackle, and plays only about as often as most other NTs (ie around half of the team's snaps), Hargrave has been solid over the last two years, though like most other NTs he's only on the field roughly half of the time. He's a pretty good run defender and pass rusher at the position, though he's not exactly dominant in one area like someone like, say, Damon Harrison. He's still a major part of the D-Line being successful though.


Edge Rushers


T.J. Watt – While far from dominant. Watt was still a steady performer, finishing 3rd on the team in pressures and sacks. He also was surprisingly good in coverage in the scenario that he was used there. At the moment, he's a solid player, not just one that shows flashes. Even if he currently lacks outstanding traits (other than maybe effort; he is J.J. Watt's brother after all), there also aren't any glaring weaknesses in his game. Hopefully he'll take a step forward going into next year.

Bud Dupree – Out of all the starters on the front 7, Dupree is the worst of the bunch, though he's more mediocre than terrible. He's much better than Jarvis Jones, the man he (sort of) replaced, but he still isn't really living up to his status as a 1st round pick. Once again, he mixed in flashes of brilliance with stretches of disappointing play. While an excellent athlete that started every game, his general awareness still isn't great and he sometimes has problems winning one-on-one battles at the line of scrimmage. Six sacks is decent, but given his increase in snaps it was a disappointing progression from the last two years. The Steelers must make a decision whether they should pick up his 5th year option or not, and it'll be one of the harder decisions of the 2015 first round picks. He's the type of low-end starter who can hold onto a starting job, but you wouldn't exactly be thrilled to have him in that position.

Anthony Chickillo – Generally a special teamer, he was also the first man to come off the bench at OLB. He started two games (one for each of the games Watt and Dupree missed) and played in about a fourth of the team's snaps. After three games, he had 13 tackles, 3 sacks, and a touchdown off of a blocked punt. He didn't do much after that; Dupree and Watt stayed healthy from that point onwards. There are worse backups out here, but he's a kind of a limited player. Still, his most notable trait might have been that he was the preferred rotational player over…

James Harrison – Up to this point I've mostly covered players that made notable on-field contributions, but I'm going to make an exception here for Harrison, who only played 40 snaps (most of which came against the Chiefs, where he did alright). After Marcus Gilbert got unsuspended, the Steelers decided to release Harrison to make space for Gilbert, and then he promptly signed with the Patriots. To say the entire event was a distraction would be a disservice to distractions; Harrison frequently talked about how he wanted more playing time, and also posted on his Instagram after signing with the Patriots more or less saying that he was promised more playing time and never got it. Various players were also publicly upset with him. I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't frustrating seeing Harrison perform adequately on the Patriots though; it was clear that he could have still contributed to at least some extent, which would have avoided the whole mess in the first place.


Inside Linebackers


Ryan Shazier – Before a spine injury prematurely ended his season (and at least the next season), Shazier was on pace for the best year of his career; there was some debate if he would be named All-Pro earlier in the season. Those debates were somewhat gone by the time he got injured, but he was still good enough to make the Pro Bowl. He's always had the potential to be a great player due to his insane athleticism, and slowly but surely he's become a more consistent player, becoming better in coverage and missing fewer tackles overall. And, of course, traits such as his ungodly speed are very useful for helping him cover sideline-to-sideline, helping mask some of his deficiencies. He'll be difficult to replace next season.

Vince Williams – Longtime veteran Lawrence Timmons was allowed to walk in part because of Williams, and the results were fairly solid, with Williams looking good as a complementary linebacker and starting all 16 games. He showed late in the season he can't be a direct replacement for Shazier, largely due to lacking his athleticism, but he still showed he's a well balanced player. He was also instrumental in the Steelers leading the NFL in sacks, collecting 8 of them (2nd on the team) on what were mostly blitzes. He will, at the very least, remain a contributor going into next season.

Sean Spence – Part of the reason why Ryan Shazier's injury ended up being so impactful was because there weren't any potential replacements on the roster, with players such as L.J. Fort and Tyler Matakevich being viewed as little more than special teams players. As a result, the team signed Spence, a player who they had drafted in 2012 but didn't re-sign after his rookie contract, and by the next week he was a starter. Spece played very poorly, which probably wasn't a surprise given that this was a guy who got cut from the Colts earlier in the year. Among other issues, the main problem was the sheer drop-off in speed from Shazier to Spence. The Steelers need to improve their depth at the position to ensure that they don't have to resort to something like this again.


Cornerbacks


Joe Haden – After a few down years with the Browns, Joe Haden had a good, but not great, first season for the Steelers. Though it's tough to tell since it was nearby when Ryan Shazier got injured, the defense generally seemed more organized with him around, as well as Haden holding up on his side of the field moderately well. He is a bit of a limited player at this point in his career though due to his limited speed, though he still fares decently when asked to do zone coverage. For now he's definitely the team's best CB.

Artie Burns – Burns was quite inconsistent throughout the year, looking better near the start of the year rather than the end. Before the bye week, Burns was doing quite well, but towards the end he started to get, well, burnt. This was the opposite of what happened during his rookie year, where he was terrible for about half the year before settling in later. For someone who came into the league rather raw, it's not all that surprising that Burns still has some work to do, though it would have been nice if his level of play could have been maintained. He's still decent overall though.

Mike Hilton – His improbable 3 sack performance against he Texans was his highlight of the season, but in general he was effective in the slot and was a consistent performer. Much like Vince Williams, he went about his normal duties while also being used on a variety of blitzes to help against the run and the pass. He doesn't really stand out in any particular area, but his versatility on a snap-to-snap basis still makes him a solid contributor.

William Gay – In 2016, Gay was the starting slot CB, but with Mike Hilton taking over that role, Gay was more or less the backup to every DB, playing outside, inside, and even occasionally lining up at safety. But he never started a game and was generally underwhelming in every area. At 33 years old and entering his 12th season in the league, Gay probably doesn't have much left in him, though it should be noted that he was pretty solid as recently as a year ago.

Coty Sensabaugh – Sensabaugh had a great game against the Titans, but was otherwise pretty bad, which probably doesn't surprise anyone who has ever had Sensabaugh on their roster. It should be acknowledged that he only had to play because of injuries to Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton, though no one would complain if this was the last time we saw him in a Steelers uniform.


Safeties


Mike Mitchell – Mitchell not as bad as he's given credit for (that would be impossible) but he isn't good enough to make up for his recklessness and he's not coming off of a good year. Bleacher Report's NFL1000 described him as being 'just there,' which makes sense considering he, as a free safety, only managed 2 pass deflections and had no interceptions. He was at least better than his replacements (J.J. Wilcox and Robert Golden) were worse, but for someone who can be an annoyance at times, you'd like to see him get attention for something other than some sort of questionable tackle. A lack of alternatives may save him from being a cap casualty this offseason, but don't rule it out.

Sean Davis – Davis did not have a good 2nd year. People have mixed feelings about the guy, though sources such as PFF and NFL1000 both ranked him as one of the worst safeties in the league. Though the nadir of his season came against the Patriots when Rob Gronkowski destroyed him, coverage was not his biggest issue. While Davis led the team in tackles, the problem is that he also arguably misses more tackles than any safety in the league. I'll give him credit for his willingness to tackle, and he is a solid athlete, but as it stands he's clearly an upgradeable player. That said, as a 2nd year player and with no Safety depth to speak of he might end up in this position again.


Special Teams


Chris Boswell – Boswell/Bozgod/Wizard of Boz/etc. had another great year, making 35/38 field goal attempts (92.1%) and 37/39 extra point attempts (94.9%), with one of each of the misses being blocked kicks. He earned a Pro Bowl bid in the process, and while it's tough to sell that he really was the best kicker in the AFC, it probably helped that a lot of his kicks were of the game-winning variety, with many of them being over 50 yards at Heinz Field, which has traditionally been a difficult place to kick. It's worth nothing that Boswell is five kicks away from qualifying for the all-time leaderboards, and as long as he makes at least four of those five attempts, he will rank as the 2nd most accurate kicker of all time behind only Justin Tucker.

Jordan Berry – Berry is a decent punter, though he didn't perform well in traditional punting stats, ranking only ahead of Ryan Quigley in average punting yards and finishing 23rd in net punting yards. Some of that had to do with the offense, however, as Berry still ranked 9th in percentage of kicks inside the 20, and the Steelers were around where you'd expect in terms of return yards allowed. FootballOutsiders' punting stats also have him as an above average punter. He's by no means perfect, but for now he's fine.

Kameron Canaday – You probably heard absolutely nothing about him this season, and he'll be back next season, which is fine.


FA/Draft Needs

S – The Steelers could draft a safety to play in either spot and it would be justified. Mike Mitchell doesn't make enough plays and Sean Davis screws up on too many plays. Mitchell is entering the final year of his contract and probably won't be retained, and while Davis only just finished his 2nd year. The other safeties have also struggled when they have to play. Better safety play would also probably help reduce the number of big plays the defense gives up. As is there's just a lot wrong with the current group.

ILB – Once again the Steelers find themselves in needs of some sort of linebacker. Ryan Shazier has already been confirmed not to play in 2018, and now questions arise if he will ever be in playing shape again. Vince Williams can start but isn't the type of player that can be a team's top linebacker, and everyone else on the roster is terrible. Shazier is difficult to replace not just because he's very good but because the team needs his speed to help cover the edges, but as it stands the biggest hole for the foreseeable future is still in the middle of the defense. I don't think this is as big of a need as safety though since in theory the Steelers could already have their 2019 starters on the roster.

TE – Last year I stated that the Steelers likely wouldn't select a TE early because of Ladarius Green. The Steelers proceeded to indeed not draft a TE… but then Green failed a physical one week later and was relaesed. So I guess I was sort of right? As I've alluded to a few times, this depends on if Vance McDonald sticks around. If they cut him? Well, considering James' 2016 season was almost identical to his 2017 season, and the former wasn't enough to stop them from trading for McDonald right before the start of the season, it's hard to imagine they let him be the undisputed starter.

OLB – The presence of an OLB on the list doesn't mean the Steelers need to invest another 1st round pick on the position, unless they are absolutely certain that Bud Dupree cannot contribute moving forwards. Getting some depth at the position would be nice, however. It may look fine because the team led the league in sacks and was able to leave James Harrison on the bench, but the former was more due to design and great interior line play rather than consistent pressure off of the edge. I don't have a good reason for the latter.


Conclusion

It was definitely a good year for the team, but it didn't seem like they had a 13-3 record. Maybe it was the noise. Maybe it was being the only team with a first round bye to go one-and-done. Perhaps the sheer number of games decided by a Chris Boswell field goal got old after a while. Either way, it didn't feel like the team ended up having the same record as the likes of the Patriots and Eagles.

There were still positive takeaways from this season. 13-3 is the best record they've had since Mike Tomlin was hired, and it was the first time they've gotten a bye week since 2010. The pieces are still there on both sides of the ball and Ben Roethlisberger, based off of his play, still has a few years left before he'll have to call it quits, and once again the team is projected to undergo minimal turnover. Of course, the defense will have to find its footing from earlier in the season, possibly without Ryan Shazier, but the team showed late in the year that it is capable of winning even when that side of the ball struggles.

Maybe things turn out differently if that red zone sequence against the Patriots works. If they had won, the Steelers have been the #1 seed, and would have instead had to face a Titans team they beat 40-17 rather than a Jags team they lost to 30-9 in the first round of the playoffs. Maybe then the Steelers would have gotten the rematch they clearly desired, but you play who's on your schedule; the team will have to learn how to get past not just the Patriots but now also the Jaguars if they hope to have a chance to win ring #7 in 2018. But that most people expect them to have a realistic chance at said ring says a lot about the good state that the team is in.


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