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Lack of Rushing Success Leads to Mixed Reviews for Steelers Offensive Line

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Any time a football team struggles to run the ball, there will be questions about the play of the offensive line.

And there’s no question that the Steelers have struggled to run the ball. On the season, Pittsburgh’s 92.6 yards per game is 28th in the NFL, and it’s been even worse lately, with the team collecting a season-low 21 yards in a loss to Washington on Monday night.

Even 22 yards, if that one extra one had come when Benny Snell Jr. was stopped three times from the 1-yard line, would have been enough for the Steelers to win. But it probably would not have stopped the questions about what’s wrong with the Pittsburgh running game.

“There comes a time where that physicality has to be matched,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said on Thursday. “We have seen some pretty good front seven folks, but we have seen pretty good front seven folks before. It never felt like first-and-1 from the 1 [yard line], and you can’t get the ball in running the football.”

Fichtner did not have a specific answer for what has ailed the Pittsburgh ground attack, though it should be noted that starting running back James Conner and starting center Maurkice Pouncey have missed the last two games while on the COVID-19 reserve list.

“Sometimes it comes down to one man,” Fichtner said. “Sometimes it comes down just to the runner. That’s been a point of emphasis for us over the last week and a half, and we will continue to do that because it’s not what we want to be and who we aspire to be. I believe we have been good in those situations and we are capable of being good in those situations and the expectation is we have to be.”

Of course, while the offensive line’s efforts in the running game have been below the line, to use a phrase from head coach Mike Tomlin, they have been outstanding in protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers are the only NFL team averaging under one sack against per game.

“If you are going to get disappointed in maybe the physicality of the line and the run game, then you have to look to the flip side and say, ‘Well, from a pass protection standpoint, they’re keeping the quarterback as clean as they possibly can at probably the highest level in the league,’” Fichtner said. “There is a slight trade off. If you say maybe our players are built more like that to do that better, then maybe we are at this present time. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to keep working and trying to put ourselves in better positions to establish the run.”

In that regard, the Steelers will get a bit of a respite this week. After facing No. 13 Baltimore and No. 10 Washington in back-to-back weeks, they’ll get a crack at Buffalo’s No. 24 NFL rushing defense.

Steelers

Report: Ben Roethlisberger Wants JuJu Smith-Schuster to Return to Steelers for 2021

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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return to the team, according to a report by NFL Network, and he apparently also wants wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to return to the team with him.

NFL Network’s Mike Garafalo reported that Roethlisberger has communicated to the team that he wants Smith-Schuster back for the 2021 season.


Roethlisberger has one season left on his contract, which carries a $41 million cap hit, including $19 million of salary. Smith-Schuster is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career after making $1.04 million in 2020.

Roethlisberger’s contract is a big part of a money crunch that has the Steelers as much as $40 million over the 2021 salary cap entering the offseason.

Smith-Schuster is expected to make as much as $15 million per year on a market-value contract.

It’s not clear how the Steelers would be able to fit both Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster under the 2021 salary cap. Roethlisberger would almost certainly have to take a significant pay cut.

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Report: Steelers to Promote Matt Canada to Offensive Coordinator

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The Steelers are expected to promote quarterback coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator, according to a report by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Randy Fichtner, who had held the job since 2018, was not retained as the team’s offensive coordinator the team announced, the team announced on Thursday.

Canada, 48, spent his first season in the NFL with the Steelers in 2020 as quarterbacks coach. He had also been a candidate to become offensive coordinator at Miami.

A native of New Palestine, Indiana, Canada has been a coordinator at multiple stop at the collegiate level. He was most recently Maryland’s offensive coordinator and interim head coach in 2018, guiding the Terrapins to 5-7 record after the firing of D.J. Durkin following the death of a player in an offseason workout.

Before that, Canada was a coordinator at LSU, Pitt, NC State, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, Indiana and Butler.

At Pitt in 2016, Canada was a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach after leading the Panthers to a program record in points scored. He coached NFL quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett at NC State and Nate Peterman at Pitt. Steelers running backs James Conner (Pitt), Anthony McFarland (Maryland) and Jaylen Samuels (NC State) all played under Canada.

Canada is the sixth offensive coordinator hired by the Steelers in the last 20 years and all but one of them have been internal promotions.

The Steelers will need to replace Canada as quarterbacks coach, as well as tight ends coach James Daniel, who retired, and offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett, who was not retained, on the offensive staff.

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Report: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger Expected to Return for 2021

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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return for the 2021 season, according to a report by Mike Garafolo of NFL Network.

Roethlisberger, 38, said after the season that he would take time to consult with his family and think about whether he wanted to return for an 18th NFL season.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said earlier this week that the Steelers would welcome a return by Roethlisberger.

In 2020, Roethlisberger started all but one game for the Steelers, as he was rested in the regular season finale against Cleveland. In 15 regular season games, he threw for 3,803 yards while completing 65.6 percent of his passes, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Roethlisberger pushed the ball downfield less in 2020 than he has in the past, which his 6.3 yards per attempt the lowest full-season mark of his career. Pro Football Focus rated him as the 25th-most effective quarterback in the NFL this season and the worst of the four starters in the AFC North.

In Pittsburgh’s postseason loss to Cleveland, Roethlisberger set an NFL record for completions in a game while racking up four touchdowns and 501 passing yards, but also threw four interceptions.


His contract is a potential sticking point, as he is set to earn $19 million in salary in 2021 in addition to a $22 million deferred signing bonus from the last time he signed a contract that must be paid out, whether Roethlisberger plays or not.

Depending on the final salary cap figure, the Steelers could be as much as $40 million over the salary cap entering the 2021 offseason.

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