Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were written off as a franchise too old to continue to consistently compete at the top of the AFC North, much less the NFL. As a Bengals fan, I never write off the Steelers as a Super Bowl contender, but the team was showing significant weaknesses – a once physically dominating team had gone from great to old and a once grind-it-out offense had become pass-happy, minus the positive results. Unfortunately for the division, it seems the Steelers are getting back to physically dominant football.
Defensively, the Steelers should be fine with young players such as Jarvis Jones expected to have huge seasons. However, the worry for the Bengals (and the rest of the NFL) should be the Steelers new running back tandem of Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blunt. I personally cannot think of any two running backs in the league who possess the combination of athleticism and size that Bell and Blount possess. This duo will wear teams out, simultaneously giving Ben Roethlisberger more time in the pocket instead of immediately having to shrug off defensive lineman as if they were gnats.
Adding another layer to Pittsburgh’s running game is rookie Dri Archer, a diminutive WR/RB who happened to post the 2nd best laser-timed 40 in NFL combine history behind Chris Johnson with a time of 4.26 seconds. With the attention Bell and Blount should receive inside the box, it is no inconceivable to think that Archer may frequently find himself in space on both sweeps and quick hitches/screens, a frightening prospect for any opposing defense given his incredible speed plus tremendous lateral quickness.
All of the above presented a lot of rambling about the Steelers, but it is not without reason. It seems as if most national media ranking/betting services have the Bengals and Steelers getting somewhere around 9 wins this season (with the Ravens very closely behind). The Bengals defense has been consistently dominant over the past few years, but will the new Steelers running game allow the Bengals to maintain their place atop the AFC North?
As long as Vontaze Burfict and Geno Atkins are healthy members of the Bengals defense, I like their chances, but this new Steelers offense certainly is something to watch out for – I mean, Bell and Blount are seemingly one=of-a-kind backs (can anybody think of any other RB’s with as much athleticism and size?) and are on the same team? And that team is arguably the most physical team in NFL history? As a fan of a divisional rival, this frightens me.
While I have the utmost faith in the Vontaze-led Bengals defense, the revamped Steelers backfield is certainly pause for concern. Does anybody else share similar worries, or, preferably, reasons why the Bengals will repeat as AFCN champions?