As the Cleveland Browns compete for more than draft positioning in 2021 and beyond, the rest of the AFC becomes of interest to the team and fans. While the Browns hope to match up with the best from the NFC, their focus has to be on the teams from their side of the postseason bracket.
We start our “AFC Weakness Watch” with AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers have been a thorn in the Browns side for years and have been a yearly competitor for the AFC Championship game.
The 2020 Browns may have exercised some demons with a Week 17 victory over the Steelers to propel themselves into the playoffs and then a Wild Card weekend victory over the very seem team. Assuming those two victories changed the course of the rivalry is slightly presumptuous.
The Steelers have not had a losing record since 2003 which led to the selection of Ben Roethlisberger in the following draft. Since the Browns returned in 1999, the Steelers have only had two losing seasons.
Even with Duck Hodges and Mason Rudolph taking the snaps in 2019, the team figured out how to go 8 – 8.
The long-standing continuity in the front office and at head coach allows the team to have a consistent depth of players cycling through that know their system and can play, at least at an average level, when called upon. Since 1992, only Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin have coached the team. Prior to that, it was Chuck Noll from 1969 to 1991.
Assuming the Steelers demise is a fool’s decision even if it ends up being right. History says they will battle for a winning record throughout the season.
They are not without weakness, however.
The Steelers have a number of areas that could be noted as the most important weakness for the team. Roethlisberger is the biggest name while cornerback, with the loss of Mike Hilton in free agency and cutting of Steven Nelson, maybe the most under-discussed area of concern.
For now, the team’s biggest weakness is their offensive line.
Last year, Pro Football Focus has the Steelers line rated as the 17th best offensive line at the end of the season. Even worse, they were ranked 31st as a run-blocking unit with only Alejandro Villanueva grading over a 60, 60.9, in that area of the game.
Villanueva left for Baltimore in free agency.
Instead of addressing their paltry line, the Steelers allowed one of their only decent players to leave in free agency. Maurkice Pouncey also retired this offseason. The only additions came with two backup-level players in free agency as the team failed to draft a single offensive lineman in the 2021 NFL draft.
While the Steelers did draft Najee Harris to boost their running game, it is tough for a running back to do much when his offensive line is poor. With Roethlisberger’s age robbing him of much of his mobility, the offensive line is setting him up to be hit quite often.
The Steelers may figure out a way to scheme things up to run the ball and to protect Big Ben but, at this point, their most important weakness is the five guys tasked with doing both of those things.