The Pittsburgh Steelers were dominant Sunday in a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. So dominant that some fans are wondering if the team is giving the fan base a taste of things to come in the future and next season. Is there reason to be hopeful, or are we just kidding ourselves and masking the denial with yet another subpar season?
In my opinion, the Steelers offense does have a reason to be hopeful. Even with the injuries, when all are healthy, this group could be very versatile and lethal. Not that this group is without issues, but logistically look at the offense from the offensive line and out to the skills players.
Next season the offensive line will most likely look like this: LT – Kelvin Beachum, LG – Ramon Foster, C – Maurkice Pouncey, RG – David DeCastro, RT – Marcus Gilbert. The continuity on the line will be a great sign for a team that struggles to run the ball, but has shown the ability to both pass and run block with efficiency the second half of the season. Even though I feel the Steelers should try and re-sign Fernando Velasco to add depth to the line and possibly versatility to other positions, he might be out of their price range.
Outside of the trenches you see skill players that will remain. Heath Miller remains one of the best overall tight ends in the NFL, Antonio Brown has turned into a legitimate Pro Bowler and No. 1 receiver, Ben Roethlisberger is having one of his best seasons of his career and then things get interesting. The Steelers could see Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders leave for greener pastures. Cotchery could be re-signed for a discount, but signs are pointing to Sanders departing at season’s end. Rookie Markus Wheaton will be called upon to take over if Sanders leaves, and Wheaton has yet to have an opportunity to prove himself at the NFL level.
On defense the story is completely different. The Steelers’ defense is either long in the tooth or greener than the Heinz Field grass. The defensive line will surely be shaken up as Brett Keisel‘s time with the Steelers has all but run out. Steve McLendon didn’t live up to the hype and Ziggy Hood‘s contract expires at the end of the year. Al Woods has been a bright spot on the line when given the chance and Cam Heyward very well could be considered the bright spot of the defense this season.
On the back end of the defense it gets even more dicey. Lawrence Timmons and rookie Vince Williams will certainly be back and William’s production will only get better as he gets more experience. However, from there, it is nothing but question marks. Jason Worilds has been a man possessed the last seven games, but enters free agency after this year. Lamarr Woodley is a walking injury and has been for the past three seasons and a shell of his former self. Some are calling for Woodley’s dismissal, but that would put the already cap strapped Steelers in further debt.
The secondary has aging veterans all around. Troy Polamalu should re-structure his contract to help the Steelers, and Ike Taylor might follow suit to remain with the team. Cortez Allen remains under contract along with William Gay, but Ryan Clark will most likely be dismissed at the end of this season, leaving rookie Shamarko Thomas or Will Allen to fill his role next year.
The Steelers’ victory Sunday was a delight for Steelers fans everywhere, but to assume that this will be the team next season is not realistic. Change is inevitable in the NFL and even Pittsburgh isn’t immune to that. Will the team be better next season after the changes? Only time will tell.