The Steelers had to shed payroll this season, but they are not hurting as much as you might think and could still give the Cleveland Browns some problems
When we last saw the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cleveland Browns had ambushed them twice in a row. The first time, Ben Roethlisberger was getting his beauty rest and perhaps it did not matter that much (although backup Mason Rudolph actually looked very good, and a minority of Steeler fans were actually voicing support for a takeover by the younger generation).
The second time, however, it was for keeps, and the Browns blasted the Steelers and a tearful Roethlisberger looked like a man ready to retire. Center Maurkice Pouncey actually did retire after a terrible game in which he botched the first snap of the game and did not block well the entire game. He did not complain, but he must have been hurting the entire game.
The Steelers also let go free agent edge rusher Bud Dupree, cornerback Mike Hilton, and offensive tackles Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler. The total average yearly salary of the four players totals over $30 million dollars. That had to happen because the Steelers loaded up on salaries in 2020 on an all-out Super Bowl run, and were caught in a bind when the salary cap allowance actually shrank in 2021 due to the drop in revenue caused by Covid-19.
Can any team survive that kind of carnage?
The answer is yes, if any team can, it would be the Steelers.
Let’s start with the offensive line. On paper, the Steelers’ offensive line looked fabulous last season, giving up only 14 sacks the entire season. Wowee! What an awesome offensive line, right? Especially because Roethlisberger is slow and can’t scramble, huh? All those Pro Bowls for both Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva who are both gone now, plus another starter in Matt Feiler. Irreplaceable, right?
What you need to understand, however, is that Big Ben has one of the fastest releases in the NFL. He led the NFL with only 2.30 seconds in Time to Throw (TT) according to NextGen Stats. What that means is that the Steelers offensive linemen only had to sustain their blocks for 2.3 seconds, and Ben could fling a wobbly but accurate shot put to a highly skilled wide receiver from among Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson or Eric Ebron. No problem, man.
The O-Line was up to the task. But Roethlisberger made the offensive line look better than they were.
Big Ben hit a rough spot starting with the loss to Washington in which he threw too often week after week and seemed to lose the deep ball. At the end of the contest, his Hail Mary passes were short and wobbled like Daffy Duck.
However, he looked a lot better in the playoff game against Cleveland (i.e., after a week’s rest in the last game of the season), which suggests that if his load is managed well, he can still throw the ball well enough to win.
He still has Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins, and Joshua Dobbs backing up. That is an incredibly deep quarterback room. In particular, Haskins may be the most talented among them. Roethlisberger doesn’t make any bones about it.
“I was just telling Coach Sully [Mike Sullivan] the other day that his release and throwing motion mechanics are some of the prettiest I have ever seen. I told him I wish I had that. I joked that he could throw it through a car wash, and it wouldn’t get wet.” — Ben Roethlisberger, as quoted by Alan Saunders, Steelers Now, June 7, 2021
Haskins needs to grow up. Maybe working under a former ultra-bad-boy quarterback who almost got thrown off the team himself, along with a disciplinarian coach in Mike Tomlin might bring him around. Speaking of bad boys, now that Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph have retired from mixed martial arts, Rudolph can probably play football also.
The Steelers are going to sling it. They have plenty of talent under center, one way or the other.