Even with the expectation that the Steelers will field a better defense in 2016, the offensive game plan remains the same: Score a lot of points. Specifically, offensive coordinator Todd Haley thinks 30 points a game is a realistic goal.
"I think what we did great last year was we got in the red zone a bunch," Haley told the team's website. "We probably scored six out of the 10 times we were in there and we always want that to be better. There's not a lot of separation from us and the top teams in the red, but clearly when you get down into that area of the field you got to come away with points and the more times it's touchdowns the better.
"If you're looking at reasons why we didn't get to 30, I'd say turnovers number one. Anytime you give up possessions, you're giving yourself one less chance to score points. And then red. I think we did a pretty good job scoring outside the fringe red area. We made some big plays, so those have to continue. We have to get a little better in the red and then we'll be going in the right direction."
For the record, the Steelers averaged 26.4 points a game in 2015, but that was with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missing four games with various ailments and having Michael Vick or Landry Jones lead the offense in his place.
Of course, any discussion about this unit begins with Big Ben, but unlike, say, recent Patriots teams that relied solely on Tom Brady (specifically, when the Pats were without Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski because of injuries), Roethlisberger is surrounded by playmakers.
Antonio Brown is the NFL's best wide receiver and Markus Wheaton continues to grow into the role of a legit No. 2 option. Then there's Le'Veon Bell, the league's most dynamic running back. Not only can he rush for 100 yards a game, he could be a starting wide receiver on most teams.
Behind Bell is DeAngelo Williams, the 32-year-old who had something of a resurgence last season. Yes, tight end Heath Miller retired this offseason, but the Steelers went out and signed 25-year-old Ladarius Green, an athletic, speedy matchup nightmare for most defenses.
This group would be even more explosive with wideout Martavis Bryant, who will miss the 2016 season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. That means the Steelers will be without one of the NFL's best young pass catchers until at least 2017. But it's tough to argue that Bryant isn't worth the trouble; in 10 games as a rookie he had 26 receptions for 549 yards and eight touchdowns. And last season he followed that up with 50 catches for 765 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games.
The Steelers will turn to Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates to fill the void but the reality is that the only person who can replace Bryant is Bryant.
Over the past 2 years, #Steelers have scored 30+ points in 52.3% of games with Martavis Bryant vs. 27.3% without him.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) March 12, 2016
While it's tough to imagine that Coates, a 2015 third-round pick out of Auburn, will come close Bryant's production, Haley says he's been impressed by the second-year player.
"[Coates] has had a tremendous offseason," Haley said. "A guy that any day you were in here he was in here. You don't see that with everybody, so you know he had turned it up a notch. I thought he finished the year in strong fashion, it wasn't an easy year. It's not an easy year for a guy that's been playing in the NCAA at a high level to be running scout team. But as the year went on I think everybody saw him growing and we saw it continue in the offseason and its continued out here. He understands that there's great opportunity."
In case all this sounds familiar, it should; last summer, Big Ben talked about hanging 30 points on the board every week, and that came after the Steelers averaged 27.3 points a game in 2014. Barring injuries, there's no reason to think the Steelers can't make 30 a reality, especially if the defense improves, spends less time on the field, and gives the offense more opportunities to find the end zone.