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Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 preview

With the franchise's top tier quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hinting that he may be in his final years, it's Super Bowl or bust for the Steelers in 2017.


The Steelers boasted one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL a year ago, and coming into the new season, the expectations are even higher for an offense that will now have Martavis Bryant back in the fold. 

Bryant served a full season suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy in 2016. Without Bryant, their second best wide receiver behind Antonio Brown, the Steelers struggled to make the plays down the stretch that they needed in order to get to the Super Bowl. He will bring a real pass-catching threat opposite of Brown this year which should help improve an offense that quite possibly may have the best running back, Le’Veon Bell, and best wide receiver, Antonio Brown, in the NFL already.

The Steelers fell short in the 2016 AFC Conference Championship game a season ago losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots 36-17. The dynamic talent that Martavis Bryant brings to the offense, along with the addition of 1st round pick T.J. Watt (the younger brother of J. J. Watt) on defense, the Steelers have the pieces they need to take the next step. A team that was one game away from playing in the Super Bowl last year, the 2017 Steelers will be disappointed with anything less than a Lombardi Trophy.

Offseason Transactions:

InOut
Knile Davis, RBJustin Gilbert, CB
Coty Sensabaugh, CBLawrence Timmons, LB
Tyson Alualu, DEMarkus Wheaton, WR
Justin Hunter, WRJarvis Jones, LB

The Steelers decided to move on from former 1st round pick Jarvis Jones in the offseason as he never really developed into the player that the Steelers expected him to be at the LB position for them. Markus Wheaton was also a player who shown flashes of playmaking potential while with the team, however dropped balls and the emergence of Eli Rodgers made Wheaton easily replaceable. 

Far and away the biggest loss the Steelers suffered over the offseason was that of 9 year veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Timmons played his entire career thus far with the Steelers where he accumulated over 1,000 total tackles as well as 35.5 sacks and 13 forced fumbles. Timmons was a reliable, sure tackling, run-stopping linebacker who provided solid play for the Pittsburgh defense during his tenure. The biggest weakness in Timmons’ game was that he was underwhelming in pass coverage, a trait that was exposed over and over again in the AFC Championship loss to New England. Although Timmons is not the best choice to have on the field in passing situations, he will still be hard to replace for a Steelers team that lacks depth at the position.  

Vince Williams will likely see much more playing time and a increased role in the 2017 season due to the Timmons departure. Tyson Alualu is a player whom is quite similar to Timmons in nature. Alualu was a first round pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars at one time and, even though he has not quite been the dynamic player that the Jags projected him to be with the top ten selection, he has been a reliable, sure-tackling run stopper for the past seven seasons. The addition of Alualu can only help a defense which was a bit thin up front in 2016, and he should see snaps as a rotational guy throughout the season. 

Coty Sensabaugh is a journeyman corner who has came in and competed for playing time at what may be the Steelers weakest position on the roster. It is unknown who will be the starting corners other than Artie Burns, who has taken a clear hold on the team’s number one spot, but don’t be surprised if it’s Coty Sensabaugh. The Steelers chose to address most of their personnel losses through the 2017 NFL Draft.

2017 Steelers Draft Class:

RoundPickNamePositionCollege
1st30T.J. WattOLBWisconsin
2nd62JuJu Smith-SchusterWRUSC
3rd94Cameron SuttonCBTennessee
3rd105James ConnerRBPittsburgh
4th135Joshua DobbsQBTennessee
5th173Brian AllenCBUtah
5th213Colin HolbaLSLouisville
7th248Keion AdamsLBWestern Michigan

T.J. Watt is expected to develop into a pass rushing threat for the Steelers defense, but it may take some time to see any real results in that aspect. Although Watt has already been named the starting OLB for the Steelers defense, I would expect that James Harrison is still going to be the team’s best pass rushing weapon in 2017. Watt is going need time to adjust to the speed and power of the pro game, but if he can develop into even half of the player that his older brother J. J.  has become for the Texans, I think the Steelers will be happy with that. 

JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner should provide better quality offensive depth at the wide receiver and running back positions in their rookie seasons, but neither are expected to be starters. The hopes are that Cameron Sutton and Brian Allen can develop into upgrades at the cornerback position for the Steelers defense, a position group that desperately needs to get better, especially if they want to beat Tom Brady in the playoffs.

2017 Steelers Schedule:

WeekOpponent
Week 1@ Cleveland Browns 1:00PM EST
Week 2vs Minnesota Vikings 1:00PM EST
Week 3@ Chicago Bears 1:00 PM EST
Week 4@ Baltimore Ravens 1:00PM EST
Week 5vs Jacksonville Jaguars 1:00 PM EST
Week 6@ Kansas City Chiefs 4:25 PM EST
Week 7vs Cincinnati Bengals 1:00PM EST
Week 8@ Detroit Lions 8:25 PM EST
Week 9BYE WEEK
Week 10@ Indianapolis Colts 1:00 PM EST
Week 11vs Tennessee Titans 8:25 PM EST
Week 12vs Green Bay Packers 8:30 PM EST
Week 13@ Cincinnati Bengals 8:30 PM EST
Week 14vs Baltimore Ravens 8:30 PM EST
Week 15vs New England Patriots 4:25 PM EST
Week 16@ Houston Texans 4:25 PM EST
Week 17vs Cleveland Browns 1:00 PM EST

The Steelers have a four game stretch between Weeks 11 through 14 where they will be playing all primetime nationally televised games. The Steelers have five primetime games scheduled in total.

Three players to watch:

The Steelers have big names all over their roster. So many, in fact, every position group has one player to keep an eye on. Here are the three that cannot be ignored and will be key to the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers. 

#1 – Martavis Bryant, wide receiver

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Bryant missed all of last season due to suspension and he was missed by his team in the most crucial moments of the Steelers’ season. Bryant can be a second great playmaker alongside Antonio Brown on this offense. Bryant is a big bodied wide receiver who can win the 50-50 balls yet still has the speed and explosiveness to be a deep threat as well. He should have a big role in the overall success of an offense that did quite well without him even in 2016. 

Bryant’s skill set can be a difference-maker come playoff time, and if he remains available through the season, then he should have himself quite a comeback season statistically as well.

#2 – Artie Burns, cornerback

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Even as a rookie in the back end of his first NFL season, Artie Burns was the team’s best cover corner. In 2017, Burns will be asked to play as the number one corner on the defense and with that role will come the responsibility of covering the opposing team’s best wide receiver. Burns is really the only promising cornerback the Steelers have on the roster right now, and it is crucial that he continues his progression as a pro in 2017. 

If Burns can grow into a guy that defensive coordinator Keith Butler trusts to do his job every play, it will open up the defensive options in crucial moments of the season. I really believe the Steelers want to get a bit more aggressive on defense, but in order to do that, you must be able to handle a team’s number one wide receiver in the secondary. If Burns becomes a stud, everybody on the Pittsburgh defense will benefit from it.. However, if Burns is exposed throughout the season as a liability against the best wide receivers in the game. it’s going to be very difficult for the team to reach the Super Bowl.

#3 –  Le’Veon Bell, running back

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To say Le’Veon Bell is important to the Steelers in 2017 is a bit obvious, but the totality of Bell’s entire circumstance in 2017 is a bit less obvious. Bell is going to be playing the 2017 on the NFL’s franchise tender “tag,” which means that he is going to be playing on a one year deal with no promises of anything after this year. Throughout the course of his career, he has proven himself to be a top tier talent in the league, but he has also proven to be unavailable quite often as well. Bell has missed a lot of games due to injury and he has already been held in violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy on multiple occasions. 

He turned down a deal from Pittsburgh in the offseason that would of made him the highest paid running back in the NFL, sighting the lack of guaranteed money as the reason why. Essentially, Bell is playing in 2017 for his first real “big-money” contract of his career and to prove that he deserves it. The injuries and suspensions are a real concern, and if Bell were to miss a large portion of the 2017 season due to either of these circumstances, it would most likely mean that the Steelers’ contract isn’t going to happen. 

The totality of Bell’s circumstance in 2017 may also be the perfect storm for an NFL MVP caliber season; a complete season where Bell goes out and proves exactly why he is deserving of a big pay day. The Steelers’ season outlook sure would get a lot brighter if that circumstance proves to be the case, and having a fully healthy, MVP caliber Le’Veon Bell in the postseason just might be exactly what the team needs to get back to a Super Bowl in 2017.

Prediction:

The Steelers are just one year removed from an AFC championship game appearance and the expectations are only higher coming into 2017. Ben is back for another season and it could very well be his last. We don’t know how many more seasons he has left, as he has already given retirement a long look after the conclusion of last year. Generally speaking, what else does he really have to prove? That question makes cashing in on the 2017 season only more important. The Steelers have a hall of fame caliber quarterback throwing the ball to the best wide receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown while boasting the NFL’s best running back in Le’Veon Bell; their time is now. 

It’s Super Bowl or bust this year for this Pittsburgh team. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the team’s offense will do it’s part and, barring any crucial injuries to their star players, the Steelers, offensively, will be a team capable of winning it all. When analyzing the 2017 season for this team, it is the defensive side of the ball that worries me. It is really hard to make it as far as they did with the caliber of pass coverage that the team had but they did it. 

If the Steelers can make it into the postseason with a healthy Bell, Ben, and Brown, they certainly have a better chance than last year’s team to knock off the Patriots and represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. It wouldn’t shock me if this team somehow got back to the Super Bowl this year and even won it all. As far as predictions go, this team just has too many glaring issues on defense for me to think that they can actually beat Tom Brady in January. The lack of strong coverage players in their linebacking core and secondary is going to be too much to overcome in the 2017 playoffs.

The 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers will go 11-5, which will be good enough for the AFC North divisional championship. However, I expect their inability to be able to stop the better passing attacks that they will face in the postseason will cause them only more disappointment in the steel city at the conclusion of the 2017 NFL season.

How do you think the Steelers will do this year? Let us know in the comments below!

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  • John Parks

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Pittsburgh Steelers: 2017 preview

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