The Pittsburgh Steelers will enter the 2019 season without their two biggest offensive weapons from the past five seasons. The team already played all of 2018 without star running back Le’Veon Bell. Now the Steelers will face the daunting task of being without both Bell and Antonio Brown. Those two represent the majority of the Steelers offensive production over recent years. The question now becomes who will the team miss more? Which player’s absence will have the bigger impact going forward??
The easy answer would be to say the offense is going to miss Antonio Brown more, and its hard to argue. He has been Ben Roethlisberger’s go to receiver over the last several seasons. Brown had led the team in receiving every year since 2013. That streak was broken in 2018 by Ju Ju Smith-Schuster. Even in a year where AB didn’t lead the team in yards, he more than doubled Ju Ju’s touchdown output to the tune of 15 to 7. The real problem with losing a player like Antonio Brown is the fact that the Steelers are as thin at receiver as they have been in over a decade. Smith-Schuster has all the makings of a number one receiver, but after that it gets worrisome. There are some very inexperienced players like James Washington and rookie Diontae Johnson who will be asked to carry quite a big load this season.
We have already seen what a season without Le’Veon Bell looks like. The all-pro running-back sat out the entire 2018 campaign in a contract dispute with the team. On the surface, it didn’t look so bad with the way James Conner played. In his first season as a starter, Conner churned out 973 yards and 12 touchdowns. There are some concerns however. Conner broke down towards the end of 2018, and had some key fumbles along the way as well. The Steelers missed Bell more and more as the season went along. It’s no coincidence the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Bell did so many things at such a high level for this team, his absence took its toll. No one player can fill the shoes of such a talented player. The Steelers agree with this as evidenced by drafting running backs in three straight years. Each one has a different skill set that Bell had all on his own. Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and Benny Snell will all have to contribute to replace the loss of Bell.
In the end, the loss of Antonio Brown will have to be considered the biggest for the team. If for nothing else the very nature of the positions the two play. Running back seems to be a position that is more easily replaced in today’s NFL. The Steelers have also done a better job preparing for the loss of Bell. In fairness to Kevin Colbert, no one could have predicted losing the best receiver in the NFL even as little as six months ago. On the other hand, the team has been setting themselves up for the loss of Bell for at least two years now. The exit of superstar Antonio Brown will affect all aspects of the offense. The running game will see more loaded boxes without the threat of AB. Ju Ju Smith Shcuster will get more double teams then ever before, and consequently Ben Roehtlisberger will have a harder time finding open receivers. The Steelers are better equipped than most to absorb this kind of blow to their team, but there is no denying the loss of Antonio Brown will be a tough one to overcome. Tougher than any player the Steelers have lost in a very long time.