Hoo boy, the Pittsburgh Steelers did not see that one coming. Fresh off a 9-6-1 2018 campaign, the Pittsburgh Steelers primed themselves for a better 2019. Sure, Antonio Brown was a little screwy but he’d be ba—oh, okay, he’s gone. Lev Bell left, but good riddance! The Pittsburgh Steelers had James Con—Oh. He’s hurt again. That’s fine, as long as the Steelers have Big Ben everything will be fi—elbow surgery?! Still, the Steelers limped themselves to 8-8 with some truly astonishing quarterback play along the way. What, then should we take away from their 2019 campaign, if anything?
What to Remember from the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers Season
- It came up in the introduction, but the primary thing to remember from the 2019 Steelers is Ben Roethlisberger’s elbow injury. The 37-year-old QB played just two games before blowing out his elbow, undergoing surgery, and getting into a race to see if his beard or his waistline can expand faster. However, Ben wasn’t all that good before his elbow injury. He played against the Seahawks and Patriots and threw zero touchdowns and one interception. Granted, he mustered just 15 pass attempts in his second game before leaving, but the prime time game against New England showed a Roethlisberger that just didn’t have much left in the tank. Case in point: in those two games, he completed just 4/17 of passes more than ten yards downfield, and 1/9 passes that traveled at least 20 yards downfield (one of those was an interception, as well).
- On paper, James Conner played ten games last season. While that isn’t what you hoped you’d get from him, that’s still a lot of games. However, he just kept leaving games early due to injury. The best way to illustrate this is his touch totals. In 2018, he surpassed fifteen touches in ten-of-thirteen games in which he played, while averaging 20.7 touches per game. In 2019, Conner averaged exactly 15 touches per game but surpassed that threshold in just five-of-ten games. Hopefully, he can cut down on injuries this season and bounce back to his 2018 form.
- Gun to your head, who led the 2019 Steelers in targets? Because it wasn’t JuJu Smith-Schuster, it was Diontae Johnson. JuJu didn’t even lead the team in yards per game either, that honor went to James Washington. For the Steelers, this was a good problem to have. For JuJu fantasy owners, it was a nightmare. The fears of “JuJu can’t handle being a team’s WR1” seemingly came true. Let’s not send JuJu kicking and screaming down our 2020 draft boards just yet. He posted higher yards per touch and yards per reception in 2019 than he did in 2018. The problem? He went from being top-30 in terms of target accuracy to outside the top-70. To put it bluntly: JuJu sucked because his quarterbacks sucked.
- Going into last season, I pounded the table for James Conner, as only the Rams gave RBs more 20+ touch games than the Steelers in the Mike Tomlin Era. Some people weaponized this tendency to try to hype part-time backs like Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell into full-time roles. The problem? They stink out loud. Jaylen Samuels isn’t a running back; he’s a converted tight end, and he plays like it. Benny Snell changes direction like a cruise ship. Neither of them is suited for a full-time role, and luckily, the Steelers recognized that. Each received 20+ touches just once last season in the six games that Conner missed. Mike Tomlin has tendencies but has a tendency to not be stupid. This was one of those times.
- Vance McDonald didn’t work out. This had nothing to do with Vance McDonald and everything to do with the fact that the Steelers don’t utilize their tight ends. Ben Roethlisberger averages about 4.5 passes per game to tight ends over his career. That’s it. Don’t let a snake oil salesman try to sell you on Eric Ebron or whatever other tight ends the Steelers go out and get to replace McDonald this offseason.