Since wide receiver Martavis Bryant‘s 1-year suspension went public, people have questioned how effective the Steelers offense can be without the wonderful complement to star Antonio Brown.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have had one of the most explosive offenses in the league for the last few years.
The combination of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running backs Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, wide receivers Antonio Brown, Bryant, Markus Wheaton, plus the ever reliable Heath Miller was simply too much for any opposing defense, even the best in the league.
Pittsburgh’s offense was debatably the only one to ever figure out the defense of the Super Bowl champion Broncos. They were the only team to put over 30 points on them all season long, and Antonio Brown scored twice against a cornerback who hadn’t allowed a touchdown in two years.
In that game, the Steelers proved that their offense was truly capable of beating anyone, and not everyone was on the field.
With last season riddled with injuries, the Steelers fought through one of the toughest schedules and continuously relied on the next man up mentality that Tomlin has stressed so much throughout his tenure. Despite the many setbacks, Pittsburgh still managed to finish with a 10-6 record and a playoff berth.
With the acquisition of Tight End Ladarius Green to replace the now retired Heath Miller, Pittsburgh looked to put a record breaking offense on the field, and absolutely dominate every defense that stood in their way, and there was not a single person who could say they wouldn’t.
Everything seemed perfect. The offense had the look of a Super Bowl contender; then tragedy struck. Martavis Bryant was suspended for the entire season after breaking the league’s substance abuse policy.
Analysts immediately jumped to the stat book, showing the world that Pittsburgh’s offense wouldn’t be nearly as dynamic as it would be if Bryant could play, highlighting that the Steelers averaged 22 points a game without Bryant, and 29 with Bryant. In this league, a touchdown difference is definitely noticeable.
Some have even said that Pittsburgh may not have the look of a Super Bowl team anymore, because if the defense can’t step up their game, and the offense is now stoppable, they simply can’t win the shootout contests they would’ve been expected to with their full offense.
The problem with that theory is, this isn’t the Steelers team that was on the field last year. While Ladarius Green is no star, and may have flown under the radar with all the big name signings, he might just be one of the best signings of the offseason, kind of like how DeAngelo Williams was to Pittsburgh last year.
Green has rare speed for a Tight End, and has the size to be a dominant force. Overshadowed by future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates for much of his career, Green has shown flashes of great potential in his time in San Diego, just no one has really taken notice to it.
On top of that, Pittsburgh will see the return of young star running back Le’Veon Bell, joining DeAngelo Williams as one of the best one-two punches in the NFL.
It’s been proven that this offense is a whole new monster with Bell on the field. His ability to be great in the passing game as well as the running game has been a unique skill set that Pittsburgh fans have become gladly accustomed to.
Despite the addition of Green and the return of Bell, there still is no clear wide receiver to complement Antonio Brown. The great thing about Bryant was that if it was difficult to handle both of them, having to choose between double covering Brown and leaving Bryant open to make a play, or risk Brown being the one man wrecking crew we’ve seen him become so many times.
The hope is that Markus Wheaton can step into the role and step up his game like we saw him do last season. Toward the end of the season, Wheaton was phenomenal at times and showed big play capability. He’s fast, and while he doesn’t quite have the size that Bryant has, he can create the separation needed to excel.
On top of that, Wheaton has received great praise on multiple occasions by Ben Roethlisberger, and having a quarterback that has belief in you is huge. I’m sure Roethlisberger has no doubt that Wheaton can fill in for Bryant, but fans might be a bit more skeptical.
Other than that, the re-signing of Darrius Heyward-Bey could have been partially because the Steelers may have anticipated a Bryant suspension. Heyward-Bey is another speedster that can be very effective, and has been an unexpected hero at times.
Sammie Coates, coming off his rookie season, saw very little playing time in 2015, but is almost a carbon copy of Martavis Bryant with the size and speed. While it’s no sure thing that he is just as athletic and capable as Bryant, it’ll be intriguing to see what factor he plays in the passing game next year.
He showed some good signs in the playoff game against the Broncos, but we haven’t seen enough of him to make a judgement yet.
It’s also very possible that the Steelers will explore some of the free agent wide receivers or delve into the draft with a pick.
No matter what happens, it’s safe to say that the Steelers have the depth, and the ability to survive without Bryant, and still make a deep playoff run, if not contend for the Super Bowl.
The offense is still one of the best in the league, and defensive improvements will hopefully be made as we transition into next year.
Pittsburgh is lucky to have had this suspension announced so early on so they have ample time to take care of the issue. Deep breaths, Steeler Nation. Deep breaths. The Steelers are still contenders, and are one of the scariest teams heading into this season.