2014 Record – 11-5
CB Brandon Boykin, K Garret Hartley, RB DeAngelo Williams, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
CB Brice McCain, WR Lance Moore, CB Ike Taylor, S Troy Polamalu, DE Brett Keisel, LB Jason Worilds
ESPN believes that the Pittsburgh Steelers have lost the fifth most this off-season based on “snap analysis” because they lost so much and added so little.1 Counting players is a crude way of seeing who lost what. Counting the number of stats is marginally better. However, the Steelers lost four major players to retirement but only Worilds is a major positive impact on the field – not surprising as he was 27. The rest were neutral at best (Polamalu) and bad at worst (Taylor).
The loss of those players hurts in the snap department, but might actually help in 2015. Replacing Worilds will be difficult for the defense, but the other three were likely on the verge of replacement as it was. The Steelers were a terrible defense last season, mostly coming from the pass defense, ranking 30th in the league in Pass Defense DVOA. Part of that will be bolstered by the addition of Brandon Boykin from the Philadelphia Eagles. He may be undersized at just 5’9″ and goes against the grain of the push toward large corners, but he was a great defender in 2014 and with the slot corner a nominal starter in the modern NFL he will help upgrade the defense.
The offense should hum right along just like in 2014 where they were the second best offense in the league and the single best passing offense according to DVOA. Triplets are popular in NFL analysis covering the big three skill positions: QB, HB, WR. Pittsburgh has one of the best as far as 2014 is concerned. ProFootballFocus rates Roethlisberger as the third best QB behind Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers whil Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown were the best at their positions in the league. The defense is the key, this offense will fly.
X-Factor – Cameron Heyward
This won’t come as much of a surprise because he’s been a quality player in this league the last three years, but last season he really took a step forward. Heyward came in as the sixth best DE according to ProFootballFocus but a lot of that came in pass coverage surprisingly. He did have four pass defenses but if he can keep up the good work then there will be less pressure on some of the new defensive starters.
2015 Breakout Player – Brandon Boykin
It’s a new system and so ratings won’t be one-to-one but Boykin can help the Steelers defense take a step forward and become one of the best slot corners in the league, assuming that’s where he plays the majority of his snaps. One more time now, slot corners are nominal starters in the NFL with teams running three-wide sets more than 50% of the time. Boykin can become a true shutdown guy in the slot, a future necessary piece.
The offense keeps pushing the ball downfield via the triplets and the defense becomes top-half decent, that’s all they’ll need and they can really take commanding lead in the AFC. 13-3
If the defense can’t take a step forward they’ll struggle to take full advantage of their top-notch offense. 9-7
Week 15 against the Denver Broncos could be a game between two teams fighting for a bye in the first week of the playoffs.