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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Why is the Pittsburgh Steelers so good?

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Willie Gay enters the national anthem last season during the Steelers’ 41-39 victory over the Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium. (Chris Osias/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Steelers play on Oct. 28 at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team’s position group is stacked with impressive skill players, many of whom would likely be making their rosters for many other NFL teams. What makes the Steelers stand out among others?

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is elite. He has already made his way into the debate of being the best player in the NFL. Brown enters the Jaguars game with 145 catches and 2,623 yards on the season. The Steelers only have four receivers under contract with 10 or more catches on the season and they all combine for about 140 catches. And yet, the Steelers find ways to get it done.

The Steelers’ quarterback situation was one of the primary reasons the team finished 8-8 in last season’s playoff run. Ben Roethlisberger made it clear this off-season that he wanted to be the team’s quarterback again in 2019. What the Steelers did was sign veterans Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs, but they also gave their quarterback position to Brandon Weeden, who was left out of offseason workouts as a young player and had only four career starts as a pro.

Weeden has struggled this season, as has Dobbs. Roethlisberger played all 16 games last season, but looked like a shell of himself, especially compared to his performances in years past. With Weeden and Dobbs, the Steelers have had to play with an injured Roethlisberger for two out of their last three games.

But when they roll out Roethlisberger, they don’t get enough of a passing attack to feel like the Ravens did on Sunday. Pittsburgh ranks sixth in the NFL in yards per game, and with a cast like Brown, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Darrius Heyward-Bey, the Steelers have one of the top offenses in the league.

This season, however, is different than previous years. The Steelers have been ranked near the bottom of the league in sacks and yards allowed. This isn’t to take anything away from the Jacksonville defense, which is ranked third in the league. But the Steelers have gone back to a more physical style of play. They’ve been more aggressive with their pass rush and it’s paid off.

The Steelers have beaten the Carolina Panthers, Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens in the last two weeks. Their defense is playing with more energy this season, and they’ve received help from an improved offense that has led the way in the victories. Of the top five rushing offenses in the league, the Steelers have the most yards per game (224.8).

Getting off to a hot start, and improving on their win total in the season, would be a major accomplishment for this team. The Steelers are not a flashy, high-scoring team. No, there isn’t one high-flying playmaker in this group. But they are excellent at playing a game within the game, and that’s enough to win games.

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