The Pittsburgh Steelers came into this season with a ton of holes and a talent gap with some young players and some really old players, but that did not stop a ton of experts from predicting the playoffs and winning the AFC North this year. Half way into the season and with a 2-5, the problems are painfully obvious and the writing was on the wall before the season. Looking at the rest of their schedule, finding the wins is pretty difficult and the Steelers are realistically looking at a double digit loss season and potentially far more. The Steelers have some real problems and they are not going to be fixed overnight and if not careful, the Steelers could find themselves in a real problem for the next several years.
Ben Roethlisberger is the man who keeps that team afloat and seems to be able to keep them from totally bottoming out this year. The question with him is just how long he plans to play. As long as he stays healthy and keeps playing, they can be a contender if they can give him enough help around them, but if he goes down or retires, the Steelers are in trouble and may be back to the days of rolling out journeyman quarterbacks until they find another franchise option.
The offensive line has some pieces but has some huge issues that are not going away and will need significant help going forward. Maurkice Pouncey has gotten a ton of credit he did not deserve due to going to the Steelers and following in the footsteps of Mike Webster, Dermontii Dawson and Jeff Hartings. He has been a solid but unspectacular pivot in Pittsburgh. Now, injured and out for the season, the Steelers are using Fernando Velasco to stay afloat. David DeCastro missed last year due to an injury and started this season off slowly, but has really come on strong over the last month. Along with Marcus Gilbert who has been a good right tackle, the Steelers have a nice right side of the line, especially if Pouncey can be more effective.
The left side of the line is an absolute disaster. Mike Adams cannot play dead to this point in his career. It does not mean he cannot get better but they needed him to come in and stabilize the offensive line and that has not happened. The Steelers were forced to try to bring in Levi Brown, who has been the standard of mediocre left tackle play through his career, who promptly went down for the year before playing a snap. Currently, the Steelers are rolling Kelvin Beachum out there at left tackle. Beachum is a guard. Ramon Foster is an average left guard.
If they have the chance, the Steelers may not walk but run to the podium to take Jeff Matthews out of Texas A&M in May. If not Matthews, they have got to find a legitimate left tackle to address the offensive line. Getting one could make a big difference for what that team can do next year and in the future.
The running back position was in an extremely precarious situation coming into the season. They needed Le’Veon Bell to be a bell cow and a big time player for them immediately and his injury that took him out for the first few games of the year was a huge loss. He has not set the world on fire when he has been in there but he is someone that can take carries and make the occasional play. No one behind him is worth anything.
The Steelers are solid and still have a pretty bright future when it comes to wide receiver. Injuries have hurt them, but Antonio Brown and Marcus Wheaton give them a pair of talented options going forward while they search for additional help as Emmanuel Sanders seems likely to leave after the season.
The tight end position is a huge question mark. Heath Miller has been great, but injuries as well as wear and tear have left him as a shell of the great player he had been. With or without him, they need help there.
Defensively, the questions are in their secondary. Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, and Ike Taylor are 32, 34, and 33 respectively. They drafted Shamarko Thomas to develop to play one of those spots, likely strong safety given his style. Beyond that, the Steelers have nothing but question marks.
At the linebacker level, the Steelers have always done a good job of reloading and keeping a talented group. The pick of Vince Williams was a smart one. Jarvis Jones is 8 games into his career and in that defense. He has as many career sacks to this point as the fans in the stands. Oops. There is also a question if the Steelers will keep Lamar Woodley or cut him loose after the season. He makes a ton of money and his impact has dropped off dramatically. They also have young players behind him.
The defensive line is still counting on contributions from 35 year old Brett Keisel. They have some young guys behind him, but when he retires, they could be in some trouble. They also have to decide if Steve McClendon is enough as their nose tackle.
The Steelers need to make getting a legitimate left tackle as their top priority. If they can just do that and nothing else, they can keep Roethlisberger upright and playing well. He can keep them in games and relevant. If they can also get a good tight and more help at running back, their offense can get back to prominence in short order.
Defensively, the Steelers are looking at rebuilding their secondary and potentially overhauling the defensive line. Doing all of that in one season when the Steelers are not a team that is extremely active in free agency is difficult. Their dedication on the draft has been extremely important in their success, but back to back drafts that have shown to be dismal failures have created this talent gap. The early returns on this latest draft class are promising with the exception of their first round picks. They cannot afford to miss on their top picks. If they do it again, they could be in a mediocre run similar to that in the 80’s.