We wrapped up our NFL team previews for the AFC West yesterday. Today we’ll start to preview the AFC North. Let’s take a look at one of the most storied NFL franchises, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers started off 2020 with a bang by winning 11 straight ball games. However, the men in yellow and black ran out of gas down the stretch and finished with an overall record of 12-4. Though they won the AFC North division, the Steelers were upset by the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card round of last year’s playoffs (The Daily Blitz).
Head coach Mike Tomlin recently signed a contract extension and veteran QB Big Ben Roethlisberger took a giant pay cut to come back in 2021. You can bet that this year’s Pittsburgh team will be out for blood after the early playoff exit last season.
39-year old Ben Roethlisberger showed no signs of aging in 2020. The future Hall of Famer threw 33 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions to bounce back off of an injury-plagued 2019 season. After 17 grueling NFL seasons, Big Ben has lost a bit of arm strength but it hasn’t hurt his overall productivity as a QB.
Mike Tomlin and the Steelers front office want to get back to a more balanced attack on offense, which is why they selected former Alabama star RB Najee Harris in the first round of the draft. If Pittsburgh’s offensive line can run block a bit better, Harris could have a huge rookie season in 2021. Benny Snell will still get a few carries but Harris will be the new workhorse at running back.
The Steelers offense is blessed with a talented group of wide receivers. Chase Claypool is nearly impossible to defend on jump balls at 6-4 and 238 pounds. Juju Smith-Schuster is coming off another fine season that saw him catch a career-high nine touchdowns. Also, don’t forget about tight end Eric Ebron, who is a favorite target for Roethlisberger when the offense is near the goal line.
Pittsburgh will always be known for having a nasty defense because it’s just part of their team culture. The Steelers 2020 defense ranked third in both points per game allowed (19.5) and total yards (305.8). Superstar LB T.J. Watt will play like a man possessed in 2021 after narrowly missing the defensive MVP award last year.
Tackles Cameron Heyward and Isaiah Buggs do a great job of stopping the run and youngster Devin Bush has made great strides to help out Watt and the linebacking corps. The Steeler secondary is filled with a bunch of ball hawks. Joe Haden and Justin Layne are both good cover corners and free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is always a threat to pick off passes.
2021 Special Teams
Chris Boswell returns for his seventh season in Pittsburgh after making 19 out of 20 field-goal attempts in 2020. The 30-year old has proven to be reliable for the Steelers in clutch situations.
Speed demon wideouts like Diontae Johnson and Ray-Ray McCloud are great options for the Steelers in the kick and punt return game. Punter Jordan Berry will be back this year after averaging 45.8 yards per punt in 2020.