Last season, Steelers fans were shocked at the birth of a dynamic offense led by three-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley. When Haley arrived in Pittsburgh it wasn’t clear what direction the team was headed. Talks of Mike Tomlin on the ever-present hot seat surfaced when the Steelers finished with an 8-8 record in back to back years after losing to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV. But in 2014, things finally fell into place and the offense clicked on every cylinder. Haley’s offense is finally working and the happiest guy in Pittsburgh might just be Mike Tomlin.
Le’Veon Bell is one key piece in this highly explosive offense. In his 2nd year campaign Bell rushed for 1,361 yards on 290 attempts getting in the end zone eight times. In addition to those remarkable ground numbers, he added a whopping 854 yards in the air on 83 receptions, three of which crossed the holy plane. Bell will miss the first three games due to his marijuana-influenced adventure to Philadelphia with former teammate LeGarrette Blount. Sadly for the Steelers, the Eagles weren’t the only ones flying high during that preseason game.
Antonio Brown is the other key piece in the Steelers offense. The Central Michigan product had a monster year in 2014. He notched 1,698 yards and proved to everyone that he is fully capable to be the number one receiver for years to come in Pittsburgh. Brown’s 13 touchdowns tied for second (with Jordy Nelson) among the league trailing only Dez Bryant’s 16 end zone scores. Brown has been nothing short of an absolute steal as the 195th pick in the 2010 draft.
But now the AFC North Champions head into 2015 with the most difficult schedule in the entire league. The Steelers will face New England, San Diego, and Seattle on the road and will play host to the likes of San Francisco, Arizona, Indianapolis and Denver at home. As if that weren’t difficult enough, Pittsburgh will also have six games against arguably the best division in the NFL. No games are easy in the NFL, but games against St Louis, Oakland, and Kansas City now become must wins for a team that finished 11-5 last season.
There has been a major shift in the defense both during last season and the current offseason. Dick LeBeau will go down in history as one of the best defensive coordinators of all time and the Steelers organization will be wishing him the best of luck as he finishes out his NFL career in Tennessee. But how much he will be missed lies in the hands of new Steelers Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler.
Butler was Pittsburgh’s linebacker coach since 2003. Butler knows the defense inside and out and was the perfect candidate for Pittsburgh, but he’s faced with the challenge of a rebuilding defense. With future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu retiring along with cornerback Ike Taylor, the Steel Curtain will take on a new look. It will be exciting to see what Butler can do with the young linebacking core which now includes first round pick Bud Dupree out of the University of Kentucky.
The Steelers have a lot on their plate next season. But with a finely tuned offense and a young defense willing to prove itself it will be exciting to see how far they can go. If the Steelers can get back in the playoffs with the toughest schedule, it will be pretty evident that the rebuilding process has finally come to an end in Pittsburgh.