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NFL Draft

Are The Steelers The AFC’s Best Team?

  • The Draft Network
  • October 19, 2020
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Can anyone stop the Kansas City Chiefs? That was the big question going into the season. After a year in which the Chiefs and their former MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes took their 12-4 regular season record all the way to a Lombardi Trophy, it was a valid question to raise on who might possibly be able to slow them down after they looked like they were just getting started.

Certainly the Baltimore Ravens are a top option. They finished 2019 with the league’s best record at 14-2, and their MVP quarterback, Lamar Jackson, looked like no one could stop him. Until of course, someone did—that someone being the Tennessee Titans. Baltimore is poised to be strong yet again this season, and maybe we’ll finally get that Ravens-Chiefs postseason matchup we all missed out on last year. At the same time, the Chiefs and the Ravens already faced off once this season, and the Chiefs took care of business against them.

As we stand here nearing the end of Week 6, I would like to proclaim another challenger we need to start taking very seriously. It’s not the Buffalo Bills, although their play this year has certainly warranted them being in the conversation here, and it’s not the Tennessee Titans, though they are riding their postseason wave of last year into an undefeated start this year, and clearly can’t be overlooked by anyone anymore.

The team I want to talk about is the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers are fresh off a good ol’ fashioned beatdown of their divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns. In the game, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was held to just 119 passing yards with one touchdown and two interceptions before being pulled from the game due to how much pressure the Steelers were putting on the pocket. And the most impressive part about that is that the Browns’ offensive line is one of the best in the NFL. This is a group that had eight players graded at 80 or higher by Pro Football Focus. The Steelers also shut the Browns down in the run game, limiting Kareem Hunt to just 40 yards on 13 carries.

But it certainly wasn’t the first masterful defensive performance from the Steelers this season, as you might expect from an undefeated team. Their defensive line is playing at a truly unmatched level. Pass-rusher T.J. Watt has one of the highest individual pass-rush win rates of any player in the NFL—and as a whole, this group has the highest win rate in the NFL. That’s because it’s not just Watt. Bud Dupree is as explosive as ever off the other edge, and Stephon Tuitt and Cam Hayward are playing so well on the interior that the Steelers aren’t even feeling the effects of losing nose tackle Javon Hargreave this past offseason. Not only that, they’re bringing tons of extra pressure via blitzes, and it’s working. According to ESPN Stats, the Steelers are No. 1 in the league by a mile in the pressure they bring and how much it works.

According to Football Outsiders, the Steelers defense was No. 7 in the league in DVOA coming into Week 6, their metrics on both sides, run and pass, will only increase after their dominant performance over the Browns.

But what really made me come around to the Steelers not just being contenders in the AFC but perhaps the best team in that conference is how complete they have played over the last two weeks on the offensive side of the ball.

Since wide receiver Chase Claypool’s emergence in the offense, the passing game has shown it has the weapons to dictate how a game plays in their favor. Running back James Conner rushed for his third 100-yard game this season this past Sunday. The Steelers have been able to lean on him plenty, but it’s how well things are clicking for them in the passing game now with the likes of Claypool, James Washington, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and Eric Ebron. Those guys, along with a rejuvenated Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, makes for quite the complete group. The Steelers are making you cover every blade of grass on the field on offense. When you combine that with what has been the league’s most suffocating defense, that’s a recipe for a lot of success.

Would the Steelers be favored in a game over the Ravens or the Chiefs? Maybe not. But would that mean they have any less of a chance to match up with and even take down the very best in the conference? Absolutely not. 

Right now they’re for real. If they keep playing this way, their championship goals will be, too.

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