The Steelers are one of the hardest teams to project entering the 2020 season.
A season ago, their defense carried them to an 8-5 record before the offense fell off a cliff in the season’s final three weeks, as the Steelers barely missed out of the playoffs. Now, they’ve got quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back, wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster healthy and a loaded defense once again.
But is it enough to contend with the Ravens?
In a division with so much uncertainty surrounding the Bengals and Joe Burrow, as well as the Browns and Baker Mayfield, where the Steelers slide in is up for debate.
Their defense, loaded with speed, is perhaps as well-equipped as anyone in the NFL to slow down the Ravens’ offense.
They’ve got edge rushers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree as well as defensive linemen Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt to wreak havoc up front. In the middle, they’ve got inside linebacker Devin Bush to play sideline-to-sideline. On the back-end, the acquisition of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick propelled the Steelers to one of the league’s best defenses in 2019.
The Ravens had some trouble with the Steelers in Week 5 a season ago, but that overtime win was the first of 12-straight victories. Now, the Steelers not only have that defense ready to roll once again, they’ve got the offense behind it — assuming they stay healthy.
Assuming health in Pittsburgh isn’t a given, though.
Roethlisburger, 38, missed nearly all of the 2019 season with an elbow injury. Running back James Conner has played in just 23 of 32 games the last two seasons and has been hobbled by injuries. Smith-Schuster was seemingly injured all season long, whether he was in the lineup or not.
The Steelers added Chase Claypool in the draft and are expecting Diontae Johnson to take another step forward, but in a lot of ways, the 2020 season for Pittsburgh is going to come down to its offensive, and quarterback, play and health this season.
And even if the offense isn’t as strong as one might think, that defense is going to pose a host of challenges from Week 1 through 17.