The Pittsburgh Steelers looked well on their way to having a promising campaign in the 2020 NFL season after breaking through with an 11-0 start. However, teams eventually decoded their playing style which led to a late-season collapse as they ended the regular season with a 12-4 record.
Their struggles didn’t find an end soon enough as they eventually succumbed to division rival Cleveland Browns who pulled off an upset in the AFC Wild Card Round by way of a 48-37 victory. After seeing how their season ended, the team’s decision-makers knew that they had to make major changes within their current lineup in order to get back on their feet next season.
Here are the two major fixes that the Steelers must address heading to next season:
Find a capable replacement for Ben Roethlisberger
Speculations have emerged in recent weeks that Roethlisberger is still eyeing to play for the Steelers in his 18th campaign next season. Though nothing is certain at this point, the Steelers are already seeing major red flags as of late which could make them think twice about bringing him back for another run in 2021.
Firstly, Roethlisberger currently owns a contract that is set to incur a $41 million cap hit next season. The Steelers will have to make a major adjustment on the terms of Roethlisberger’s deal in order for them to sign their other impending free agents in wide receiver JuJu Smith Schuster and running back James Conner, among others.
Secondly, the 38-year-old gunslinger is certainly not the same quarterback that he once was several years ago. His conditioning isn’t at its best anymore while his mobility didn’t really serve as an asset for him to begin with. His failure to bring down the ball and evade opposing defenders on his feet was a primary reason behind their late-season collapse.
In a bid to heed the situation, the Steelers eventually took a risk as they signed free agent quarterback Dwayne Haskins to a one-year, veteran minimum deal. After seeing how his stint ended in Washington, Haskins won’t probably be good enough to serve as their new QB1 moving forward.
Given these circumstances, the Steelers must acquire a backup QB who can take over the starting position from Roethlisberger sooner than later. They can opt to select a young quarterback with the 24th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, given how the incoming rookie class is loaded with capable playmakers.
They could draft Alabama gunslinger Mac Jones, BYU quarterback Zach Wilson, or North Dakota State gunslinger Trey Lance, just to name a few. On the other hand, the Steelers can also give the opportunity to a veteran backup like Marcus Mariota who is expected to be better than the other quarterbacks that they currently have on their roster.
Improve the ground game
In the past season, the Steelers never posed a threat in the running game, starting off with Roethlisberger’s poor mobility. Aside from him, the team didn’t have prolific rushers who can serve as constant threats on the field on any given night.
Given the team’s shallow depth in the rotation, opposing defenses tend to put their focus on containing the aerial attack instead. Having a limited production from the receiving unit along with a non-existent running game eventually accounted for a dismal showing from the entire Steelers offense, particularly in the second half of the season.
To add to their woes, RB1 James Conner failed to be consistent in the past season as he only generated a total of 721 yards on 169 attempts to go with six rushing touchdowns through 13 appearances. Another rusher in Benny Snell was also underused as he only tallied 368 yards on 111 attempts along with four touchdowns.
Other than Conner, the Steelers didn’t really have a reliable contributor to lead the ground game which they will certainly have to address if they want to reach the Super Bowl stage next season. In the upcoming draft, the Steelers can opt to select Clemson running back Travis Etienne or Alabama rusher Najee Harris in the first round. They can also wait a bit longer in the next rounds to draft either North Carolina ball-carrier Javonte Williams, Mississippi State standout Kylin Hill, or Ohio State product Trey Sermon.
Having an efficient ground game on top of having a more agile quarterback will certainly be helpful for the Steelers in a bid to give a new dynamic to their offense. They will definitely be tough to beat if only they can successfully fill these holes and add capable players heading to next season, given their limited cap space in 2021.