Saunders: No Quick Fixes for Steelers Biggest Problem
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The Pittsburgh Steelers have been avoiding an inconvenient truth for quite some time, but after Sunday’s 38-3 thrashing by the Buffalo Bills, it’s time to take the issue head on: These Steelers just aren’t very good.
The Steelers entered Highmark Stadium without the team’s best player (T.J. Watt) and with the next two best players (Cam Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick) played through injury.
The Steelers did not play well against Buffalo. Heyward said afterward that the Steelers “played bad,” before adding that “bad is an understatement.”
There were unforced errors everywhere, from Tre Norwood’s blown coverage on the first Buffalo Bills touchdown, to James Pierre’s fumbled kickoff, to Fitzpatrick letting Gabe Davis out-muscle him for another long touchdown. There are enough mistakes from that game for Mike Tomlin and the Steelers staff to be able to spend the entire upcoming week stressing, emphasizing and fixing all of them.
But at the end of the day, the mistakes only masked the bigger picture. The Steelers did not play well on Sunday. But even if they had, they simply don’t have the depth of talent to deal with a team like Buffalo playing the way they did.
Put another way — even on their best day, these Steelers could never do to another team what Buffalo did to them.
Of the players that the Steelers sent out to the turf at Highmark Stadium on Sunday, how many could crack the Bills’ starting roster? Heyward and Fitzpatrick — at least the healthy versions of them, for sure.
Najee Harris, maybe? Though Harris had a miserable game against the Bills and has yet to even be as good this year as he was in an up-and-down rookie season.
Anyone else? I don’t see any.
The Steelers have a lot of problems, but the chief one amongst them is an overall talent deficiency when compared to their peers. Tomlin and Heyward emphasized individual accountability after the game, and that’s fine. That’s probably what they should do. Tomlin made it a point to say that all options would be on the table, whether that be demote a starter or fire a coach or anything else in his power to get the team to play better.
But at some point, if the same group of players is failing to execute over and over again, it’s probably not that they’re not focused enough or not trying hard enough or not disciplined enough. It’s not that their coaches didn’t call the right plays or that they weren’t put in enough positions to succeed. It’s probably that they’re just not good enough.
Furthermore, Tomlin has already used up all the obvious bullets in that gun. He replaced Mitch Trubisky with Kenny Pickett. Short of changing a play-caller, what else is there? The defensive backs that spent the afternoon chasing Davis and Stefon Diggs were the last healthy bodies Tomlin had available.
So while most of the rest of this season will be focused on how these Steelers can improve, the real bottom line of it is that it won’t be until general manager Omar Khan gets his first chance to really build a roster next spring that the team can begin to address the core issue at hand.
In the meantime, things might get worst before they get better, as the brutal stretch of the team’s schedule could lead to a 1-7 start.