The 2015-2016 Pittsburgh Steelers regular season has to come to an end. It has been a season of mettle for this team, having to push through adversity due to injuries to key players throughout the season, especially on the offensive side of the ball. They’ve managed that adversity admirably finishing the season with a 10-6 record, good enough to qualify as the AFC’s 6th seed in the NFL Playoffs. They finished two games behind the Cincinnati Bengals (12-4) in the division, and find themselves facing the AFC North Champions in the Wildcard Round upcoming this weekend.
I will start this column with my pre-season prediction of what I thought the Steelers would do, game by game (parentheses are actual results):
- @ Patriots: Loss (L 21-28)
- vs 49ers: Win (W 43-18)
- @ Rams: Win (W 12-6)
- vs Ravens: Win (L 20-23)
- @ Chargers: Win (W 24-20)
- vs Cardinals: Win (W 25-13)
- @ Chiefs: Win (L 13-23)
- vs Bengals: Win (L 10-16)
- vs Raiders: Win (W 38-35)
- vs Browns: Win (W 30-9)
- @ Seahawks: Loss (L 30-39)
- vs Colts: Win (W 45-10)
- @ Bengals: Loss (W 33-20)
- vs Broncos: Win (W 34-27)
- @ Ravens: Loss (L 17-20)
- @ Browns: Win (W 28-12)
I predicted they’d finish 12-4, and finished 12-4 on my game by game predictions, so I wasn’t too far off the mark. I predicted all of this barring no major injuries to key players, which did end up happening. I saw the offense being a huge threat with Le’Veon Bell continuing to progress as arguably the best running back in the league, Martavis Bryant taking a step forward, and Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown continuing their record-setting combination. I had little optimism for the defense, thinking they’d be bad against the pass again, but hoping the young guys in the front seven would progress.
Even with the defense being a liability, I still saw the offense still out scoring teams if games went into shootouts, and the team taking the AFC North crown again. An injury to Ben Roethlisberger that kept him out 4 weeks, and season ending injuries to Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey, and Kelvin Beachum definitely burdened the Steelers biggest strength. They struggled mightily while Ben was out, having poor games against Baltimore and Kansas City. Le’Veon Bell’s presence helped the Steelers win two of the four games Ben missed. Unfortunately, the game Ben made his return in marked the game in which Bell suffered a season-ending knee injury. Helping the run game not just survive, but thrive, was offseason free-agent signing DeAngelo Williams, who performed much better than almost anyone’s expectations while Bell missed games due to injury and suspension. He filled the role so well that when many thought any chances of a Super Bowl or even playoffs were in serious jeopardy when Bell went down for the year, he gave a new hope (Star Wars pun) to the Pittsburgh run game.
All in all, with everything the Steelers faced in terms of injuries, the season could still be considered a success, finishing 10-6 and clinching a wildcard spot. The Steelers have familiarity as the AFC’s 6th seed. Hopefully, it will be a fun and long playoff run.
Here are my grades for the Steelers offense, defense, and coaching staff, summing up finally with my overall thoughts on the season:
Points Per Game: 4th (26.4 PPG)
Total: 3rd (395.4 yds/game)
Passing: 3rd (287.7 yds/game)
Rushing: 16th (107.8 yds/game)
The Steelers offense, when healthy, was very dangerous with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running backs Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, and a receiving corps nearly unmatched by anyone else including Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Darius Heyward-Bey, and tight end Heath Miller. The offensive line also played extremely well, considering losing all-pro center Maurkice Pouncey for the season in preseason and left tackle Kelvin Beachum for three quarters of the year. When the offense was clicking on all cylinders, it was virtually unstoppable. Roethlisberger, while missing four and a half games this year, threw for 3,938 yards, averaging an astounding 328.2 yards per game. Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams combined for 1,463 yards on the ground, giving the Steelers a solid running game to go with an outstanding passing game. And when talking about that passing game, you can’t forget to mention Antonio Brown, who’s numbers just seem to go up every year. He had 136 receptions for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns. Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton put up solid numbers as a compliment to Brown, both having over 700 yards each and combining for 11 touchdowns between them. Heath Miller consistently remained Ben’s security blanket, catching 60 passes this year, which was second on the team. You couldn’t ask much more from the offense. They were amazing.
Points Per Game: 11th (19.9 PPG)
Total: 21st (363.1 yds/game)
Passing: 30th (271.9 yds/game)
Rushing: 5th (91.2 yds/game)
On the other side of the ball, the Steelers were no where near as dangerous. The team struggled mightily against the pass, finishing 30th in the league in passing yards allowed per game. Mike Mitchell, who received much criticism in the 2014-15 campaign, was one of the few bright spots in the secondary, showing much improvement and showing he might be worth the contract the Steelers signed him to. Jarvis Jones, now finishing his third season, can officially be called a bust. He was drafted in the first round in 2013, considered to be a great pick for where the Steelers were drafting, and has shown very little to live up to that expectation. He recorded only two sacks and one interception, very underwhelming for a first round outside linebacker in his third season. However, there were some bright spots on the defense. Cam Heyward continued his progression into a dominant defensive end recording 6.5 sacks, while on the other defensive end, Stephon Tuitt really took a leap forward in his second year, recording a team-leading seven sacks. At linebacker, Lawrence Timmons was Mr. Consistent again, recording 119 tackles. Ryan Shazier, last year’s first round pick, showed great signs that he can be a great inside linebacker when healthy. This year’s first round pick, Bud Dupree, had a solid rookie year, recording four sacks and showing some upside in his rookie year. The ageless wonder, James Harrison, showed that he can still be a threat, recording five sacks and one interception in a limited role. The secondary needs major improvement. Next year’s draft/free agency has to address that. Where the defense did excel however, was in sacking the quarterback and taking the ball away. The defense had 48 sacks and 30 takeaways, both ranked third in the NFL.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin: B
Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley: A-
Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler: B-
Overall, the coaching staff has to be given credit for a decent season, especially considering the injuries this team faced. Certain personnel choices and clock management by Tomlin can be criticized, but when you take a team that faced injuries to major players to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth, credit has to be given too. I love Todd Haley’s playbook. LOVE it. My only beef is his play calling. He can rely on the shotgun draw or the wide receiver screen a little too much. But his play calling has gotten much better over the years he’s been the offensive coordinator. Him and Ben Roethlisberger have developed a great chemistry with each other. Keith Butler, in his first year as defensive coordinator, has done some good work to revive a defense that was atrocious in 2014. There’s still work to be done, but it seems things are moving in the right direction.
MY THOUGHTS: Overall, I consider this year a success. There were missed opportunities here and there, but the Steelers go into the playoffs as a dark horse to make a run at the Super Bowl. If the offense gets it clicking, they will be tough to stop. Next year should be another great year for the offense, getting back Le’Veon Bell and Maurkice Pouncey. The defense needs to improve in the secondary, and maybe look to add another piece at outside linebacker and cut ties with Jarvis Jones.
Antonio Brown was named the team MVP by his teammates. I have to disagree. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Antonio Brown. I think he’s unrivaled in almost every facet of being a wide receiver in the NFL. I wouldn’t want any other receiver on my team ahead of him. However, my team MVP is Big Ben. His absence in those four games showed what he means to this team. They lost two games they had a great chance of winning with him. The offense was no where near as potent without him. AND, Antonio Brown had a hard time finding chemistry with Mike Vick and Landry Jones. When it comes to who’s more replaceable, Brown is more replaceable than Ben is. This team has a better chance of being successful without Brown than without Ben. However, debating who’s more valuable between the best receiver in the league and one of the best quarterbacks in the league is a good problem to have.
This year had it’s moments for sure. Landry Jones’s performance in the Arizona game, Le’Veon Bell’s walk-off touchdown in San Diego, the tale of two halves against the Broncos where the Steelers came back from down 17 points, and who could forget Antonio Brown’s goal post mount:
Let’s hope for a Steelers run to the Super Bowl on this stairway to seven! Here we go!
412 Sports is not affiliated with the Pittsburgh Steelers or the National Football League. The views and opinions expressed on this site are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of the Pittsburgh Steelers or the National Football League. This site may contain content copyrighted by another person or entity. This site’s author claims no copyright to said content