It feels like it has been a very long year for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and we still have a ways to go. Here are a few things we have learned so far in this crazy 2019 season:
1, Bud Dupree is good – Nobody thought it was a good idea when Kevin Colbert used the fifth year option on Bud Dupree this off-season. Nine million dollars seemed steep at the time, but now it looks like a bargain. Dupree has finally become the pass-rushing threat he was expected to be when he was taken in the first round. His timing couldn’t be better as he is set to be a free agent in 2020.
2. The offensive line looks old: What was considered the strength of the team, now looks shaky at best. Villanueva, Pouncey, and Ramon Foster are all over thirty now and it is starting to show. This team has been completely unable to get any kind of running game going to this point. Some of this is due to injuries to James Conner, but this offensive line is not creating the holes it used to.
3. James Conner is not durable enough – It’s pretty clear now that James Conner’s running style is not doing him any favors. He is a violent runner who seeks contact. Playing that way is getting Conner hurt more often than not. There is no way the Steelers can count on him to play an entire season at this point. Look for Kevin Colbert to add yet another running back to the mix in 2020.
4. Mason Rudolph is not the guy – Sure we can come up with a million excuses why Mason Rudolph has struggled this year. Offensive line play, injuries, and dropped passes have all contributed to his lack of success. When you watch Rudolph play though, he just doesn’t pass the eye test. His ceiling is more slanted toward career backup, rather than an above average starter in this league.
5. This defense is now elite – While I have my reservations about the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, there’s no denying it took this defense to another level. This unit is loaded with talent at every position group. They are at the point now where it is successful despite having a sub par coordinator. Any unit that can make Keith Butler look good is an impressive group.
6. Mike Tomlin is having his best season – Tomlin has more than his share of detractors in Pittsburgh, but no one can deny how good he’s been this season. Having a team with this many injuries still in playoff contention is nothing short of amazing. With all the distractions gone, Tomlin has been able to do more coaching and less babysitting. The results speak for themselves.
7. The kick return game is bad – I guess this may not be all that new for 2019, but it does seem much worse. After killing Ryan Switzer (me included) for being a lousy returner, his replacements did not fair any better against the Browns. The blocking on this unit is atrocious, and changes need to be made. Whether that means firing Danny Smith, or brining in new special teams players next season, this can not be allowed to continue.
8. Not one, but two D.P.O.Y. Candidates – The Pittsburgh Steelers have two players on defense who can be considered for the defensive player of the year award. T.J. Watt has 10.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and an interception so far this season. He has become one of the premier edge rushers in the league. Not to be outdone, Minkah Fitzpatrick has 5 interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns. These two will be the cornerstones for some great Steelers defenses in the years to come.
9. Devin Bush is the real deal – Bush came into the league with quite a bit of excitement. Kevin Colbert rarely makes such a bold move during the draft, so expectations were high. We’ve seen enough of the raw athletic ability so far to know Bush has the skills it takes to be an outstanding linebacker. While he looks raw at times, there’s no doubting Devin Bush is a star in the making.
10. Diontae Johnson is going to be special – With the quarterback situation as it is, it would be pretty tough for any wide receiver to stand out. There have been glimpses of some elite route running from Diontae Johnson, as well as impressive bursts of speed. With a full year under his belt, and Ben Roethlisberger back behind center, we should see some big things in 2020 from the Steelers third round pick.