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No Playoff Wins Since 2016? Look to Steelers Offense for Blame



Steelers OC Matt Canada Najee Harris

As all of Pittsburgh watched the divisional round of the playoffs yet again this weekend, it is a reminder that the Steelers have yet to reach the divisional round since they received a first-round bye after going 13-3 in the 2016 season. They have yet to win a playoff game since they went to Kansas City and knocked on the Chiefs in the AFC divisional round to head to the AFC Championship.

Since then, the Steelers have made three trips to the playoffs, finishing 13-3, 12-4, and 9-8 in their respective seasons, and yet, they have not won a playoff game. In three of those seasons, they treaded water to 8-8 twice and 9-8 this year, but yet, there is still no playoff success to follow with it.

So, what gives? Why in the world has Pittsburgh not won a playoff game since the 2016 season, and why were Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin unable to make yet another playoff run before the future Hall of Famer hung up his cleats after the 2022 season?

2017 Defense

That brings us to the causes of this lack of playoff success. The first, and obvious truth, is that the Steelers in 2017 lacked a defense that could get any stop in their game against Jacksonville. While Pittsburgh fell behind 21-0 early, the offense did come alive in explosive fashion. In fact, there were multiple times that the Steelers were within striking distance. The Steelers cut it to a one-score game three times in the second half. However, the Jaguars kept them at an arm’s length the entire third quarter after a Le’Veon Bell touchdown.

Led by Leonard Fournette and Blake Bortles, the Jaguars’ offense marched its way up and down the field consistently. The Steelers had no answer for that. In the other three playoff games? The defense holds some of the blame, too.

But the Chiefs were slowed down for nearly the entire first half and the Steelers’ defense even gave the 2021 offense a defensive touchdown. But Patrick Mahomes worked his magic and cracked the code. Looking back to 2021, the Steelers’ defense played fine, but the offense held them out to dry. And maybe, that is where the rest of the blame comes on for the Steelers. The 2017 loss can be blamed on the defense largely, but 2020 and 2021? Not hardly.

So, then what is it?

The Offense Falters

But how much of that 2017 blame goes on the defense, really? The Steelers’ offense spotted the Jaguars 14 points. Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception that got the Jaguars down to Pittsburgh’s 18-yard line, and then a Roethlisbeger fumble led to a Telvin Smith touchdown return.

Then, once the Steelers cut it to 28-21, the defense got enough stops in the third quarter to give the Steelers’ offense not one but two stops, and Pittsburgh’s offense could not come through. That includes the awful toss call from Todd Haley on 4th-and-1 in that third quarter. Is everything on the offense in this game? No, not really, but they set the Steelers back behind the eight ball.

After 2018, both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown were gone. So, then were the explosive playmakers that Pittsburgh relied upon so heavily to create one of the most dynamic offenses in the entire NFL. In 2019, Roethlisberger suffered his career-altering elbow injury. He never got back to what he was before that, even though they made the playoffs both years after his injury.

In the Browns game, the Steelers offense disastrously gave up five turnovers, including Maurkice Pouncey’s snap over Ben Roethlisberger’s head. For the first quarter alone, the Browns drove down a field of fewer than 50 yards twice in addition to a touchdown off the errant snap. Then, the offense would not score until there was 1:44 left in the second quarter. Pittsburgh tried to come back in that one, too. However, Randy Fichtner’s play calling, the offense’s turnovers, and a lack of explosiveness on offense left Pittsburgh out of flux. By then, the offensive line began to fall apart, too.

Finally, there was Roethlisberger’s last game. In this one, the defense held Patrick Mahomes at bay for most of the first half. But Pittsburgh’s first seven drives all ended in either a punt or a fumble. Yet again, the offense was lifeless from a production and explosive play standpoint. The Steelers’ defense created two first-half turnovers, but nothing worked. That blame can be equally distributed across Matt Canada, Roethlisberger, personnel, and many others.

What is the point of all of this? When you look at the essence of the last six years in Pittsburgh, a lot of it boils down to offensive struggles. That 2017-2018 era at the end of the Killer B era is the season when the offense still clicked. But in a big game where they had a chance to make a run, the offense left the defense out to dry.

It starts with the loss of Bell and Brown. Then, the decline of Roethlisberger and the offensive line. And lastly, but not to be forgotten, the hapless array of offensive coordinators the Steelers have had during that period has only exacerbated their issues when personnel could no longer make up for their shortcomings.

Look around the league right now at teams that are still in it. They have offenses that can create explosive plays and work through an array of modes. Can Pittsburgh do that right now? Probably not. These teams also have quality play callers. Is that true for the Steelers?

When Pittsburgh is thinking of building its next contending team, they have to remember its offensive shortcomings in previous trips.


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Biggus Dickus
Biggus Dickus
January 24, 2023 8:20 am

How can you not mention tomlin? He is the common denominator…. Once again, coach Teflon

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