The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping the old adage about defense and championships proves to be true in the coming weeks.
The Steelers will enter the NFL playoffs as the AFC’s third seed, following a regular season, in which they went 12-4 and finished first in the AFC North Division. While Pittsburgh’s defense was among the best in the NFL, their offense sputtered as the season progressed, prompting questions over their prospects for a triumphant end to the season.
With that in mind, let’s look at some reasons why the Steelers can — and can’t — win Super Bowl LV next month.
Can win the Super Bowl
Defense wins championships, right?
The Steelers’ defense was dominant for much of the regular season, holding opponents to 21 or fewer points in eight of their first 11 games. Although their D relented toward the end — opponents scored at least 23 points in their last five games — the Steelers finished the season having conceded the third-fewest points and caused the second-most turnovers in the NFL.
Pittsburgh’s mediocre offense ranked 12th in the NFL in points scored and 24th in total yards. However, the Steelers are less reliant on individual stars than in previous campaigns, as their team-first approach produced a record five receivers who caught at least five touchdown passes in a single season. Opposing coordinators might have difficulty planning against Pittsburgh’s varied passing offense.
If the Steelers’ experienced head coach Mike Tomlin can fortify the defense with a masterful game plan, and Ben Roethlisberger, who rested in Week 17, turns back the clock for just a few weeks, the Steelers might rediscover enough momentum to take them all the way to the winners’ podium next month in Tampa Bay.
Can’t win the Super Bowl
It’s easy to understand why the Steelers faltered toward the end of the season. They’ve been going more-or-less nonstop since their Week 4 bye, including a stretch in which they played six games in just 37 days between Dec. 2 and Jan. 3. They’ll enter Sunday’s Wild Card matchup against the Cleveland Browns on a 1-4 skid, and physical and mental fatigue undoubtedly will be factors the Steelers must overcome if they are to succeed in the postseason.
The Steelers’ weak running game ranked last in yardage, as the offensive line provided little space for James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. and poorly protected Roethlisberger, who has transitioned to a quick passer this season.
If the Steelers can’t mix a deep ball into their passing attack, perhaps due to inclement weather or the unwillingness or inability of Roethlisberger, 38, their offense could sputter to a halt at the most-inopportune time.
Should that be the case, their defense, lacking the injured Devin Bush and Bud Dupree, probably will play like the unit that was more forgiving in Weeks 12 through 17, instead of the one that preceded it.