Steelers looking at life after Brown and Bell finally depart


This time last year the Pittsburgh Steelers were coming off of a 13-3 AFC North Championship season in which they dominated opponents through the air and on the ground with what many consider the best offensive skill position players in the league.

The big three of Pittsburgh: Le’veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger were top five in yardage for rushing, receiving and passing respectively, earning Pro Bowl honors for each of them. Despite a tough loss in the Divisional round to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Steelers went into the season with much promise.

Yet, here we are a year later. The Steelers are a team that missed the playoffs, mired in turmoil and with two of the best playmakers in the NFL now on different rosters.  With Bell signing with the New York Jets in free agency and Brown traded to the Raiders, the future of the franchise rests on the grizzled shoulders of Roethlisberger and the Steelers will need to put together a strategy on how to move on without their departing talent.

At least for Pittsburgh, they’ve already grown accustomed to life without Bell, as they got a taste of the experience this past season when the running back forfeited his 14 million dollar contract to sit out.  The Steelers were able to discover that they had a pretty competent replacement in their second year running back, James Conner.

The former University of Pittsburgh product put together an effective season of a little under 1000 yards on the ground and a 13 total touchdowns, which was enough to earn him a Pro Bowl spot.  Conner maintained an impressive 4.5 yards per carry in his first season getting meaningful carries (he had only 32 carries in his rookie season).

James Conner will look to continue his success from last season (photo credit:


Not only has Conner earned plaudits for his play on the field, he has been the perfect personality to follow the drama filled ending to Bell’s era in Pittsburgh.  The former third round pick was a survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when he was in college, and he carries himself as a player who takes nothing for granted.

Often quoted by his offensive line as being one of the hardest working players on the team, making great strides in some of the more nuanced facets of the position such as blitz pick up and conditioning.  While he may not have the ceiling as his predecessor at the position, he will, at least for now, have a quieter tenure.

While Pittsburgh looks to have an easy enough solution for the loss of Bell, replacing Brown might be a taller task.  Brown has been historically good in his time with the Steelers, amassing over 800 catches and 74 touchdowns in 9 years.  There will be no one player who will be able to fill in that kind of loss of production so it will likely be a shared burden between Juju Smith-Schuster and Donte Moncrief.

The Steelers will rely heavily on Juju Smith-Schuster with the absence of Antonio Brown (Photo credit:


While Smith-Schuster is coming off of a breakout second year where he caught 111 balls for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns, with the loss of Brown, the former USC product will now have to lineup opposite the opponent’s premier corners. While Smith-Schuster should continue to be a great asset for Big Ben, having opposing defenses primarily game plan for you should make year three for the young receiver considerably harder.

While Smith-Schuster will be vital for filling the void left behind by Brown, he will need considerable help from the rest of the receiving corp to carry the burden.  The Steelers will hope that last year’s second round draft pick, receiver James Washington, matures quickly. While he definitely made strides from the beginning of his rookie year, Pittsburgh will hope that Washington makes the kind of jump that Smith-Schuster made last year.

The Steelers will hope that Smith-Schuster, Washington, the newly signed Donte Moncrief and Tight End Vance McDonald will fill in for the giant hole that Brown leaves behind.  They should be able to handle much of AB’s production but they will find it unbelievably difficult to provide the big play capabilities that a premier receiver like Brown can pull off on a consistent basis.

Big Ben is now the unquestioned leader of the Pittsburgh offense (photo credit:


With two of the key members of the Steelers big three shipped out from the Steel City, Pittsburgh will rely heavily on the leadership of Big Ben this season.  While it seems that he has the whole support of the Steelers front office, there have been some questions asked about Roethlisberger’s leadership skills. While Roethlisberger has definitely been a steady on field leader for the team, he has earned sharp criticism for seeming to be “above the team,” as specifically noted by Antonio Brown in a February tweet:



The owner’s mentality that Brown refers to seems to stem from the Roethlisberger’s habit of criticising teammates openly in the media rather than as an equal member of a team.

Roethlisberger has been outspoken in the past blasting teammates on radio shows or through other media outlets. When quizzed on how teammates may react to such bashing the Steelers signal caller said:

“Go ask them, I have no idea. I would hope that they would understand that as the quarterback and the captain that I have the right to do those things. I don’t feel like I abuse that situation. So I don’t think it’s an issue, but you would have to ask them.”

With two of the biggest personalities on the team gone, Big Ben has further entrenched himself as the sole leader of the Pittsburgh offense.  Without two massive weapons like AB and Bell, it will take Roethlisberger’s leadership and ability to be a mentor and not a critic, to push the Steelers towards success.



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based in Frederick, MD, USA. Multi-sport correspondent for Prost International and Prost Amerika focusing mainly on Soccer/Football and American Football

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