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Steelers Commentary

Saunders: Steelers Offense Out of Answers, Hope for 2023



Steelers RB Jaylen Warren

INDIANAPOLIS — If you’ve noticed a different feel or demeanor to the Pittsburgh Steelers as they have struggled through this three-game losing streak that has effectively sunk their 2023 season, you’re not dreaming.

The Steelers are dealing with something that for many of them, and for this team and most of its recent history, is fairly unprecedented.

There are a plethora of problems with the team’s offense, from its overall design, to the way the players are being called, to the basic execution of the individual players doing their job on a down-in and down-out basis.

That’s not necessarily new. The Steelers, like all teams, have struggled before. But many times, those struggles have come when the problems that can be solved. You’ve heard the coach-speak of cliches like “we just have to clean up the details” or “we’ll look at the tape and get back to work” and while those sound like meaningless soundbites, that is how the profession deals with losses.

While the losing is a relatively recent development for these Steelers — they were 7-4 before the current three-game slide — their offensive struggles have been fairly persistent throughout the season. The Steelers fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada BEFORE they lost three games in a row.

They’ve been trying to clean up the details and looking at the tape for 15 weeks. They’ve changed coordinator and play-caller. It hasn’t been intentionally, but they’ve gotten a look at what the offense looks like with a different quarterback, with Mitch Trubisky coming in after Kenny Pickett’s ankle injury.

They’ve harped on, and focused on details, in film review, in team meetings, and in practices, and yet, those same fundamental details remain big problems for the team.

At this point, they’re out of answers. 

“I don’t necessarily have the answers as we sit here today,” head coach Mike Tomlin said after the loss. “If I had the answers we would’ve played differently today.”

“I don’t have the answers,” running back Jaylen Warren said.

“Not this second we don’t, but we’re going to find them,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. 

I’m not sure there’s a lot of reason to have Trubisky’s level of faith. 

This is a badly broken offensive unit, from the scheme, to the play-calling, to the quarterback play, to the offensive line, to the attitude and emotional maturity of the individuals. 

For the first time in three games, they didn’t have an illegal formation penalty against the Colts. If they were a pee-wee team, that might be progress. As an NFL squad, it’s embarrassing it got to this point.

There’s no reason to look at the parts of the Steelers offense as it stands today and think that anyone is going to find those answers.

The team needs a new coordinator and a new scheme, with modern passing concepts. It needs a play-caller that actually understands the strengths of the components of the unit, instead of saying, calling runs that involved Mason Cole solo blocking DeForest Buckner on the first series of the game. It needs better quarterback play, and a quarterback coach that might actually have a chance of being able to develop Kenny Pickett into something. And it either needs real leadership that will get the misbehaving members of the unit to step into line, or to jettison those that aren’t bought into the team concept.

None of that is going to happen this week. Or next week. It’s going to take an offseason.

That doesn’t mean that these players can’t be good or can’t become the core parts of a unit that is. But there’s no reason to have any hope they’ll figure it out the rest of this season.

The Steelers seem to know it.