The Pittsburgh Steelers were one of the better teams in the NFL during the 2017 season, but the year still ended in disappointment. Pittsburgh lost its first playoff game, to the Jacksonville Jaguars, at home. Pittsburgh gave up 42 points in that game, and for the fifth time in 17 games, allowed its opponent to rush for at least 150 yards. Only four teams allowed 150 or more rushing yards more often during the 2017 season.
So when he was asked what the team needs to improve upon this offseason, Steelers owner and president Art Rooney II pinpointed an obvious area of weakness.
"Last year there were some games where we were kind of soft against the run, and that's not Steelers football," Rooney said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We have to get stronger against the run so we can put our defense in position to get after the quarterback."
Pittsburgh allowed the 10th-most rushing yards in the NFL during the 2017 season, but they tied for 27th in yards per carry against and ranked 18th in Football Outsiders' run defense DVOA. It was definitely a problem for them. It could be an even bigger problem if Ryan Shazier doesn't make it back on the field, as he has consistently been their best second-level run defender during his career. It's obviously more important that Shazier get himself healthy than that the Steelers' run defense improves, but Rooney and the organization know they need to replace his skill set just in case he doesn't make it back.
Rooney also noted an area where the offense needs to improve.
"We need to become better in the red zone," he said. "We have a new offensive coordinator, and we'll make a few changes to affect that. If we stay healthy we'll be difficult to defend. We have the ability to run the ball with Le'Veon (Bell) and throw the ball. We do need to get better there and hopefully we will be."
Despite their abundance of offensive talent, the Steelers ranked just 22nd in touchdown rate in the red zone during the 2017 season, per Football Outsiders. That's not nearly good enough for a team quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger and that also features one of the NFL's best offensive lines and its best running back and wide receiver. If the Steelers want to advance farther next year than they did in 2017, they'll have to clean up their performance in close.