Share & Comment:

Comparing the 2024 Steelers to the 2017 team, Part One: The Offense

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the depth the Steelers have assembled on their 2024 roster. This team looks as complete on paper as any in recent memory. In fact, you would probably have to go back to 2017 to find a Steelers team that seemed more complete in all phases of the game.

That 2017 team was loaded. It had an embarrassment of talent on offense, some star players on defense and the makings of what seemed like a championship squad. But a tragic injury to linebacker Ryan Shazier on a Monday night in early December was a devastating blow. Shazier’s injury, and the infamous “Jesse James” game two weeks later at home against New England, changed the momentum of a season that seemed destined to end with a trip to the Super Bowl. The Steelers suffered an ugly playoff defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round and haven’t won a post-season game since.

Could 2024 put an end to that streak? It’s possible. Here, in Part One of a two-part series, we examine the offense on each of those squads, with an assessment of where the 2024 team stands in comparison. A subsequent article will examine each respective defense.


The 2017 Steelers had one of the best quarterbacks in the league in late-prime Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger did not have his best statistical season that year, throwing for 4,251 yards, 28 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a 64.2 completion percentage. But he did turn in some stellar performances, including one against a tough Green Bay squad where he went 33-45 for 351 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-28 win. Two weeks later, he went 44-66 for 506 yards as the Steelers outlasted Baltimore 39-38 in another rivalry classic. Roethlisberger wasn’t immune to an occasional dumpster-fire performance — against Jacksonville in Week 5, he threw five interceptions in a miserable 30-9 loss — but he was still playing the position at an extremely high level.

At receiver, Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown were one of the most dangerous duos in the league. Brown caught 101 passes for 1,533 yards and nine touchdowns that year. He was complimented by Martavis Bryant and rookie Juju Smith-Schuster, who combined for another 108 catches. Roethlisberger’s favorite target behind Brown was not a receiver, however. It was running back Le’Veon Bell, who caught 85 passes for 655 yards. Bell also rushed for 1,291 yards. His 1,946 yards from scrimmage were the third-most by a Steeler in a single season in team history. James Conner and Steven Ridley were the backups to Bell. At tight end, Pittsburgh employed a workmanlike trio of James, Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble. James led the group in receptions with 43.

Up front, the Steelers were solid. Maurkice Pouncey started at center and was flanked by David DeCastro and Ramon Foster at guard. Alejandro Villanueva started at left tackle, with Chris Hubbard on the right. B.J. Finney and Matt Feiler provided the unit capable depth. It wasn’t a legendary Steelers line, like the 2005 group, but it was very good.

The 2017 offense averaged 25.8 points per game, which was eighth-best in the league. The “Killer B’s” trio of Brown, Bell and Big Ben were explosive, and the supporting cast was deep. A hidden but important component of their success was their health. The starting 11 missed just 15 games collectively, with six of those a result of the team sitting most of its starters in the season finale. When the team did go to its bench, the overall depth was solid if not spectacular.


The 2024 offense lacks the star-power of its 2017 counterpart, but isn’t far behind in overall quality.

There would seem to be a big drop-off at quarterback from Roethlisberger to Russell Wilson, but that may not be the case. Wilson threw for almost 1,200 less yards last season than Roethlisberger did in 2017, but his completion percentage was higher (66.4 to 64.2) and his touchdown to interception ratio was far better (26:8 to 28:14). So too was his quarterback rating (98.0 to 93.6). The weapons Wilson had at his disposal palled in comparison to Roethlisberger’s, and Wilson was treated less-than-ideally in Denver by new head coach Sean Payton. Circumstantially, Wilson’s situation in Pittsburgh in 2024 will be much better than it was last season. It doesn’t feel like a reach to suggest he is capable of matching, or even bettering, Roethlisberger’s 2017 numbers.

Behind Wilson, the Steelers have a tantalizing talent in Justin Fields. Fields should find his way into the lineup in situational packages where the Steelers scheme to his explosive strengths. I would expect a game-breaking play or two out of Pittsburgh’s backup quarterback this year, which is not something that could be said in 2017 of Landry Jones.

At running back, Pittsburgh doesn’t feature an every-down back on the level of Bell. But they may have something better: a one-two punch that compliments each other ideally. The Najee Harris-Jaylen Warren duo rushed for 1,819 yards last season, which far outpaced the production of Bell and his backups in 2017. By splitting reps, the two are likelier than Bell to be fresh late in the season when Bell, because of his heavy workload, had a tendency to get injured or wear down. The addition of free agent veteran Cordarrelle Patterson could be sneaky-good as well, as his size, running style and familiarity with new coordinator Arthur Smith’s scheme make him an intriguing player.

Up front, the Steelers should be solid. After struggling to restock the line when the core of that 2017 unit retired or moved on, the Steelers have invested some serious capital the past few off-seasons. Starting guards James Daniels and Isaac Seumalo were fairly big free agent signings (at least for Pittsburgh), while starting left tackle Broderick Jones was a number one draft pick. So too was Troy Fautanu, who is expected to start at some point in 2024. Second-round pick Zach Frazier should take over at center as well. The Steelers will be young up front but very talented. If they stay healthy, they should gel come playoff time.

The tight end room may have a budding star in Pat Freiermuth, whose relationship with Wilson is said to be developing wonderfully. Second-year man Darnell Washington is a huge people-mover who saw plenty of time as a rookie, and free agent signee MyCole Pruitt is an accomplished blocker and another veteran of Smith’s system. Smith likes using a fullback in his offense, and he may have a good one in Connor Heyward, whose versatility could allow him to move about the formation. Overall, the tight end group is superior to the 2017 unit.

The big hole is at wide receiver. George Pickens is another budding star whose production could match Brown’s in 2017. But behind him there are questions, with a host of unproven players vying for playing time. The lack of an established second starter means an injury to Pickens would be devastating. It will not be surprising to see the Steelers make a move at this position sometime before the start of training camp.


Stylistically, the 2017 offense and the anticipated 2024 unit are very different animals. The 2017 group could put up points in bunches, win shootouts and score from anywhere on the field. If the team fell behind, it didn’t matter. They could catch up in a hurry, like they did in Baltimore rallying from 11 points down in the 4th quarter to win. The 2024 unit will be more deliberate and less explosive. They won’t be built for double-digit comebacks and will have to keep games tight to win. That doesn’t mean they’ll be less effective, however. If Pittsburgh can play ball-control football, be great in the red zone, get solid quarterback play and make enough big plays to keep defenses from ganging up against the run, this could be the best offense the team has seen since that 2017 unit.

Next, we’ll examine the defense of both teams, and offer some thoughts on whether the 2024 squad can advance further in the post-season than its 2017 counterpart.


Sign up below for the latest news, stories and podcasts from our affiliates

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.