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Behind Enemy Lines: Steelers banking on Ben Roethlisberger returning to form

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The Steelers spent most of 2019 without Ben Roethlisberger and still ended up on the playoff bubble. Could his return see them return to the postseason?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

As we get closer to a *potential* 2020 NFL season, we thought this was a good time to catch up with Dave Schofield of Behind the Steel Curtain. We asked him about the return of Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh’s apparent less than flashy offseason and his overall expectations for the Steelers in 2020.

Here is what he had to say:

Patrick Judis: The Steelers didn’t have a flashy offseason by any means. That isn’t always a bad thing, but it really put an emphasis on the draft. Which of their picks from this years draft do you think has the biggest impact this season?

Dave Schofield: The Steelers had a much better free agent period than what most realize. They replaced FB Roosavelt Nix with what they considered to be an upgrade in Derek Watt, made a major upgrade at tight end with the signing of Eric Ebron, and replaced the retired guard Ramon Foster with Super Bowl champion Stefen Wisniewski. By filling all of their major holes by using free agency, the Steelers are not planning on relying on players drafted in 2020. With a limited offseason and preseason, it will most likely give them an advantage. But rookies should see some snaps in 2020 as wide receiver Chase Claypool will work into the mix and outside linebacker Alex Highsmith should get some reps in order to give T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree a breather occasionally.

PJ: The absence of Ben Roethlisberger was obvious last season. Do you think his return gets this offense back on track?

DS: It is exactly what the Steelers are banking on for 2020. Just the threat of Roethlisberger being able to diagnose and exploit defenses will make the entire Steelers offense much improved from 2019. Seeing how defenses played the Steelers differently last season, the return of Roethlisberger will help the offensive line, the running game, and obviously the passing game. It’s Ben or bust for the Steelers in 2020.

PJ: The defense is still pretty much intact from 2019 minus Javon Hargrave. They finished the year sixth in points per game (18.9 per game). What do you feel like the strength of the defense is at this point as well as any weaknesses?

DS: The biggest strength of the Steelers defense for 2020 is overall balance. Even with the loss of Hargrave, the Steelers actually have a greater increase on the defensive line with the return of Stephon Tuitt. With a dominating defensive front paired with the best secondary the Steelers have had in over a decade, 2020 should see possibly more success than 2019. The biggest weakness the Steelers have with their defense is limited depth at both the inside linebacker and safety positions should a starter go down for a significant stretch.

PJ: Is there a player you feel like isn’t getting enough national love going into the 2020 season who is set to break out?

DS: Steven Nelson is still being forgotten as an elite cornerback in the NFL. He is arguably better than 2019 Pro Bowler Joe Haden as he had better stats than Haden (and Stephon Gilmore) in just about every category other than interceptions.

PJ: What are your expectations for the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers? How many wins/losses and if the postseason is in their future?

DS: With the new postseason format, the Steelers would have been the 7th team in the playoffs the last two years. With the return of Ben Roethlisberger, still producing an elite defense, and having one of the NFL’s easiest schedules, the Steelers should get back to double-digit wins again in 2020 and qualify for the postseason. With a safe choice of 10-6, as long as Roethlisberger remains healthy and effective the Steelers could over-achieve with a record as high as 13-3 if things fall into place.

Thanks again to Dave Schofield for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’d like to see more of his work or Steelers’ coverage, you can head over to Behind the Steel Curtain.