The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping to erase the demons of their disappointing 2018 campaign in which they went 9-6-1 and missed the playoffs for the first time in five years, and they’ll get to begin their quest for redemption on Friday night when they play their preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Steelers have certainly undergone a lot of changes this offseason, as the team traded Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders and saw running back Le’Veon Bell officially walk via free agency.
Still, in spite of its losses, Pittsburgh remains a solid team and should absolutely have a shot of reclaiming its spot atop the AFC North division, division the Steelers have ruled the better part of the last two decades.
So, here are three areas of focus for Pittsburgh in its first preseason game.
3. Dominating the Line of Scrimmage
One area in which the Steelers really excelled this past year was winning the battle in the trenches, as Pittsburgh had one of the best offensive lines in the league and also was tied for first in the league in sacks.
Now, due to various other issues (mainly in the locker room), the Steelers weren’t able to translate that dominance into elite success, but they still won nine games, and now, with what should be a looser locker room, perhaps Pittsburgh can ride its offensive line and defensive front to a playoff appearance.
So long as the Steelers continue to dominate the line of scrimmage, they will be in almost every game, which means they should, at the very least, be in postseason contention all year long.
2. Finding a No. 2 Receiver
With Brown gone, JuJu Smith-Schuster is the only truly reliable receiver on the Steelers roster. Pittsburgh brought in veteran Donte Moncrief this offseason, but he is really more of a No. 3 than a No. 2. There is also second-year wide out James Washington, but he is very unproven. As for Ryan Switzer? He is a slot guy whose success will heavily depend on receivers on the outside.
The good news is that Smith-Schuster is a stud and should certainly draw some double teams, which will, in turn, open up guys like Moncrief and Washington to rack up some catches.
If the Steelers’ offense wants to have any chance of being scary in 2019, another receiver not named Smith-Schuster needs to step up. Chances are, it will be one of Moncrief or Washington, and who Pittsburgh goes to in preseason will likely dictate who the No. 2 will be come Week 1.
1. Having Fun
As cliche as it sounds, it’s the truth.
This Steelers team just needs to have a good time out there, which is something it clearly did not do this past year when it was miserable, particularly during the second half of the season when they went just 2-4 and saw their playoff hopes erode.
Ben Roethlisberger has made more of an effort to become a better teammate this offseason, so hopefully for Pittsburgh, it rubs off on the rest of the team and carries over into the regular season.
Brown and Bell may have been distractions, but there is also no doubt they weren’t the only problems in the Steelers’ locker room, so Roethlisberger needs to take the bull by the horns and change the complexion of the team’s makeup.
Of course, Big Ben won’t be playing in the preseason opener, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the team shouldn’t follow this message.