Yesterday, we took a look at some of the best moments and performances by the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers in our first of two installments of three up, three down.
In part two of of the series, let’s look at some of the worst of the past season.
*There’s little doubt that the secondary was a big issue for the Steelers and it will be a hot-button topic during the off-season. Only the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints gave more yards through the air than the Steelers dismal total of 271.9 yards per game. An uptick in both sacks and forced turnovers masked some of the warts, but it’s still fair to say the secondary was simply not good enough this season.
William Gay and Antwan Blake were starters and both are free agents. Gay was arguably the Steelers most reliable option this season, but once again was asked to be their top corner, a lot to ask from the veteran. The Steelers might consider bringing him back, but can they expect him to be heavily relied upon?
Blake was mostly terrible this season — consistently getting burned and his tackling was simply awful. It’s hard to see the Steelers bringing Blake back to play a similar role if at all.
Brandon Boykin was brought in via trade to fix the issues at corner and did little to help. Boykin too is a free agent and almost assuredly won’t be back next season. Ross Cockrell ended up playing ahead of Boykin most of the year in spite of being cut by the Buffalo Bills as a free agent. Although Cockrell shows some promise, can the Steelers expect him to be a key component for a team looking to win a Super Bowl in 2016?
What seems certain is Cortez Allen won’t be a part of the equation even though he will cost the Steelers upwards of $2 million toward the cap if he’s cut after June 1.
The Steelers will expect second-round pick Senquez Golson to make an immediate impact next year but still have a ton of questions to answer at cornerback this off-season.
Safety was another area of concern for the Steelers. Will Allen was asked to start in place of Shamarko Thomas, and the Steelers pass defense was hurt for it. The veteran Allen did his best to fill the role expected to be filled by the disappointing Thomas, but it was tough year for Allen, who struggled mightily in coverage. Improving the strong safety position is as big a need as help at cornerback.
*Outside of the remarkable story that was the rise of kicker Chris Boswell, the Steelers special teams were far from special. Punter Jordan Berry was a key culprit in the loss to the Denver Broncos in AFC Divisional round, and there were simply too many mistakes and poor play in both the kick and punt return coverage teams.
At some point the Steelers will have to find a replacement for Antonio Brown as a punt returner, and the need to find a viable option in the kickoff return game should be a priority after the release of another draft disappointment in Dri Archer.
Despite of Mike Tomlin’s assertion that he hopes to retain his entire coaching staff for next season, special teams coach Danny Smith might need replaced considering the generally poor play of his group.
*To the team’s credit, no one was using injuries as an excuse for coming up short this season. However, the loss of Maurkice Pouncey, Kelvin Beachum and Le’Veon Bell are not your average injuries. Pouncey and Bell are quite arguably the best in the NFL at their respective positions, while Beachum quietly was considered one of the best left tackles in the game.
Although their replacements all had fine seasons, it’s hard not to wonder how different the season would have went with each in the lineup, especially down the stretch.
The loss of Ben Roethlisberger for a quarter of the season was equally crippling. Forced to rely on Michael Vick and Landry Jones to start, the Steelers lost winnable games to the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs. Those losses alone likely cost the Steelers the AFC North crown and a very good shot at one of the two top seeds in the AFC.
It seems clear that the Steelers will need to look at a variety of options in regards to a backup for Roethlisberger next season. Jones is not the answer and it’s doubtful the team will bring back Bruce Gradkowski for the role.