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2019 AFC North recap series: Steelers fall just short

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The 2019 Steelrs overachieved, but they ultimately ended up still missing the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The 2019 Steelers finished 8-8, which was fairly impressive given all the talent they lost from 2018. It was a season of perseverance, but they ultimately ended up falling short of the postseason.

Pittsburgh had running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown leave before the 2019 season. Both players were two of the best at the positions, and they were responsible for a crazy amount of the team’s offense, so it was easy to see that 2019 would already be an uphill battle offensively.

They hit another early bump when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down in Week 2 with a shoulder injury that required surgery. That meant the entire season rested on the shoulders of second year quarterback Mason Rudolph. His eventual benching in Week 12 probably speaks volumes about how his season went.

Rudolph started off hot, but he never really elevated the offense to the point where they were helping win games. He kept them from losing games most of the time, but with five interceptions over two weeks, it was pretty easy for the Steelers to make the choice to move on to Devlin Hodges. He helped comeback against the Bengals and win the next two games, but then he tossed six interceptions with only a single touchdown over the final three weeks, which climaxed with him only completing nine of 25 pass attempts in Week 17 against a second string Ravens team. That performance looked worse because Pittsburgh was still technically alive in the playoff race.

The reason the Steelers were even competitive in 2019 was their defense. They only allowed 18.9 points per game (fifth in the NFL). They only allowed the opposing team to score more than 20 points seven times, and they only won one of those games. Despite Pittsburgh’s offense struggling, the team still finished plus eight in the turnover ratio.

Edge defender T.J. Watt was probably one of the most valuable defenders in 2019. He had 14.5 sacks, forced eight fumbles and had two interceptions. He has really slid right into the role of being a premiere pass rusher in Pittsburgh. The pressure the front seven was able to consistently able to put on quarterbacks made things easy on a secondary that added Minkah Fitzpatrick early on in the regular season. They only allowed 194.6 passing yards per game (third in the NFL).

The one thing the Steelers’ defense struggled with was stopping the run. Opposing teams were able to rush for 109.6 per game, which was the 14th best in the NFL, but it was their biggest weakness that teams were able to take advantage of in 2019.

Overall, you have to wonder if this team makes it to the playoffs with Roethlisberger healthy all season. It leads to some interesting hypothetical situations because they’d probably be taking the Titans’ spot, and that would’ve changed a large part off how the playoffs played out.

This isn’t the what if league, though. We’ll see if this team is able to springboard into 2020, or if their lack of capital this offseason sees them lose a step in the AFC North.