Currently sitting outside of the AFC playoff picture, the 8-5 Steelers are looking like a serious threat that could actually miss the playoffs. With the Kansas City Chiefs and the New York Jets both above Pittsburgh in the standings, it’s looking like the Steelers will have to win out to make the playoffs – and that’s scary if you’re a Steelers’ fan.
Equally concerned about the Steelers playoff hopes is the rest of the AFC playoff contenders. Pittsburgh is a team that the Bengals, Broncos, and Colts do not want to face in the Wildcard round. Here’s a look at what makes the team so terrifying.
1. Ben Roethlisberger is in Top Form
The man is on fire. Ben is completing 67.2% of his passes this season, and he’s throwing more than ever – averaging 38.2 tosses per game. What’s even more scary is how he’s using Martavis Bryant to stretch the field. Over 6% of Roethlisberger’s completions this year have been for over 40 yards, making him one of the most elite deep ball throwers in the game. For perspective, that 6% rate is 2x higher than Tom Brady’s.
2. DeAngelo Williams Has Answered the Bell
When Le’Veon Bell was sidelined with a season-ending knee injury, Hines Field fell completely silent. Most thought that this would be a final blow to the then 4-4 Steelers team. What’s happened since has been remarkable. DeAngelo Williams has filled the role, and looks to be on pace for his first 1,000 yard rushing season since 2009.
At age 32, Williams has shown no signs of wearing down, which can largely be attributed to sharing carries with Jonathan Stewart over the past 9 years. Almost everyone in his draft class has since retired, with big names like Maurice Jones-Drew among them. Even with Jones-Drew being out of the league since 2014, Williams still has 250 less total carries over his career. The man looks fresh as ever.
3. The Backups Don’t Look Like Backups
-Heath Miller goes down, Jesse James and Matt Spaeth step up.
-Kelvim Beachum injures his ACL, Alejandro Villanueva (the former Army Ranger and 6 foot 9 inch behemoth) seizes the opportunity to shine.
-Ryan Shazier hurts his shoulder, a plethora of linebackers including the up-and-coming Sean Spence are there to step in.
-All Pro Center Maurkice Pouncey breaks his ankle, veteran Cody Wallace fills in admirably.
When the team has had its ups and downs this season, even at the Quarterback position, again and again the backups have shown that the Steelers are not a one-man-team.
4. Their Receiving Core May Be the Deepest in the League
First, you have Antonio Brown, possibly the best receiver at the end of his routes in the entire league. He and Roethlisberger have an undeniable chemistry, and his productivity on third down is of vital importance to the team’s success. When you follow this up with the touchdown-machine that is Martavis Bryant, seasoned veterans Heath Miller and Darrius Heyward-Bey, and young stars in the making with the likes of Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates; the Steelers have a receiving-corp that is second to none.
5. They’ve Been Through This Before
Mike Tomlin and the coaching staff of the Pittsburgh Steelers have the experience to guide this team to a Championship – they’ve done it before. One of the quieter stories of the season revolves around new Defensive Coordinator, Keith Butler. Butler served as the Linebackers Coach for over a decade, helping mold Pro Bowl Linebackers including Joey Porter (now the Steelers Outside Linebackers Coach), James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, and James Harrison. Under the tutelage of this experienced coaching staff which also includes former Head Coaches Todd Haley and Mike Munchak, the Steelers have both the players and the coaching staff to make a deep playoff run.