After a season-ending divisional round 23-16 loss to the Denver Broncos this past weekend, the Pittsburgh Steelers shift their focus toward the offseason. However, before we do that, it’s always nice to imagine what could have been had the Steelers been able to stay healthy over the course of a long and grueling NFL season.
Injuries to running backs Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams forced the Steelers to rely on an unproven young back by the name of Fitz Toussaint in their divisional match up against the Broncos. Toussaint was responsible for a costly fumble with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on a promising drive that in turn resulted in a Broncos comeback.
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Martavis Bryant finished with nine catches for 154 yards and tacked on 40 yards rushing to help the Steelers stay competitive in the absence of Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown, who sat out Sunday’s matchup having suffered a concussion in the prior weeks’ wild-card match-up against the Cincinnati Bengals. Even Ben Roethlisberger played injured after having suffered a late hit to the shoulder when he was sacked on a late play against the Bengals. Ben required a pain killing shot to the shoulder the Friday before the game just to be able to play. He was said to be in a lot of pain after the Broncos game, a game in which he threw for 339 yards on 29 completions.
Pittsburgh overachieved this season given the untimely injuries suffered by key players on the offensive side of the ball. With the addition of both starting running backs, Pittsburgh had Antonio Brown and center Maurkice Pouncey sidelined, and their quarterback playing hurt. Had this team been able to stay healthy, it can be argued that they and not the Patriots or the Broncos, were the team to beat in the AFC. Unfortunately, that’s all mere speculation now and the Steelers are relegated to spectators as their 2015-16 season comes to a end.
Moving forward, the Steelers have to be optimistic about the direction of the team heading into next season. Ben announced Tuesday that his shoulder will not require surgery, and Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncey, Le’Veon Bell, and DeAngelo Williams are all expected to recover and be ready for training camp come July. When healthy, the Steelers possess one of the most prolific offenses in the league.
They also have to be happy about the improved play of their defense, which ranked ninth in the league this year against the run. However, issues concerning the Steelers' secondary must be addressed this offseason if they want to remain competitive in their chase for championship number seven. Make no mistake that the Steelers were not over-hyped but instead hampered by untimely injuries over the course of the season. Look for the Steelers to continue to improve on the defensive side of the ball as head coach Mike Tomlin and the gang have a lot to be excited about heading into next season.