The Pittsburgh Steelers looked like they were going home early after last week’s game versus the Baltimore Ravens. The team looked lifeless, the passing game looked off and the defense was getting burnt by a bunch of backups that the Ravens had on the field. The Jets, meanwhile, were looking good. They beat the New England Patriots at home and only had to beat the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park to make the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Steelers have the best wide receiving corps in the NFL and were thought to be out of the playoffs. But in one week, the situation for the playoffs changed in the Steelers’ favor. The Jets went to Buffalo to face their old coach, Rex Ryan. And in their effort to play spoiler, the Bills knocked off the Jets 22-17. Meanwhile in Cleveland, the Steelers handled business and knocked off the Browns 28-12 to go into the playoffs. And now a team that many thought were done is back in the playoffs. And just like that, some trepidation just came from teams in the AFC.
The Steelers have not played consistently all season. The perfect example is their last two games of the season. They showed up against the Browns today but mailed it in against the Ravens the week before. But what scares many is the weapons that they have. Through good drafting, they have created the best wide receiving corps in the NFL. Their best receiver (and arguably the best receiver in the NFL), Antonio Brown, does a little bit of everything. He may not be the tallest of guys, but he uses his quickness, route-running and smarts to make things happen each and every game. You would think that most teams would put more coverage towards him, but the Steelers have another weapon on the opposite side that craves attention from defenses as well. Second-year wide receiver Martavis Bryant has been getting it done ever since he returned from his four-game suspension to start the season. He has over 700 yards receiving in the ten games he played and he also accounted for six touchdowns. He scored his touchdowns in a myriad of different ways just like his counterpart, Antonio Brown. For a guy his size (6’4”) he is very fast and is a homerun threat from any point on the field he catches it. And as we all saw, he took some short passes the distance and he also burned defensive backs on deep patterns. These two are dangerous, but what takes this wide receiver corps to the next level is the development of wide receiver Markus Wheaton. The third-year wide receiver from Oregon State is enjoying his best season as a pro. Wheaton has accumulated almost 700 yards receiving despite having twelve less receptions from last season and he also has doubled his touchdown production (up to four from two touchdowns last season). And like Bryant and Brown, he can take it to the house from any point on the field. Guarding these three can make any defender sweat a little more. And with veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger extending plays a lot, their opponents are often at their mercy.
The wide receiving group has been downright scary all year long. But there is one other guy that helps make this team as dangerous as they are. In the offseason, running back DeAngelo Williams was deciding where he wanted to play. He was no longer with the Carolina Panthers and wanted to go somewhere that he had a chance of winning. The place he chose was Pittsburgh, as he agreed to a two-year deal worth $4 million. It was thought that he would get some playing time in his first two games due to Le’Veon Bell being suspended for the first two games. Williams performed well in those first two games, averaging over 100 yards rushing in those two performances while scoring a total of three touchdowns. But when Bell was back, it was expected that he would go back to his backup role. But when Bell went down for the season on November 1st against the Bengals, Williams resumed the role as the starter. And it seems the Steelers have not even missed a beat. Williams has been the biggest bargain in football this season, giving the Steelers 899 yards rushing and scoring 11 touchdowns. Not bad for a guy that was not expected to have this much of the workload this season. He was injured against the Browns in the season finale, but it is expected that he will play in the Wildcard round of the playoffs. His running gives the Steelers offensive balance and makes defenses have to play the Steelers honest. And just like Le’Veon Bell, he can also be effective in the passing game, where he averaged 9.3 yards per reception and totaled 354 yards.
The Steelers’ offense is one of the most explosive in the league. And they will have to be on top of their game to make up for their defense, which has not been as tough as they usually are (ranked 22nd overall and 30th against the pass). If the Steelers’ defense is able to get at least three or four stops a game in the playoffs, then they will be in the driver’s seat and the pressure will shift to the opponent’s offense. And in the playoffs with the pressure picked up, the battle-tested Steelers have some players that have been to there before. The team no one wanted to see in the playoffs has made it. And with that, the Steelers are the most dangerous team in the playoffs.