ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The problems with the Steelers offense have been evident at least for the entire month of December.
In the 2020 season’s fourth month, the Steelers have been largely unable to run the ball, and the team’s short-passing game directed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has suffered from a lack of efficiency.
The Steelers have spent consecutive weeks working through those issues after below-average offensive performances against Baltimore on Dec. 2 and Washington on Dec. 7, but Sunday night in Buffalo, those familiar issues returned.
Even with the return of starting running back James Conner, the Steelers were unable to run the ball, with Conner finishing with 18 yards on 10 carries.
While the Steelers receivers largely did a better job of holding onto the football than they had in the previous two games, it was a lack of ability to convert on third down that prevented the offense from sustaining drives and a pair of Roethlisberger interceptions turned the tide of the game.
What’s wrong continues to be obvious. How the Steelers can fix it is not.
“If I had that answer, we wouldn’t be tripped up, and we wouldn’t be playing so poorly on offense,” Roethlisberger said after the game. “We need to look in the mirror, and it starts with me. I need to play better football because the ball is in my hands every single play. When it’s in my hands, I need to make the best decision. Right now, I’m not playing good enough football to win.”
The Steelers have lost two straight after starting their season 11-0, and after a sojourn to Cincinnati in Week 15, will close their schedule with playoff-bound teams in Indianapolis and Cleveland before the postseason.
That’s not a long time or an easy road to repair those problems, and Roethlisberger admitted that it’s not a sure thing that the Steelers will do so.
“I hope so,” he said. “If I don’t play good enough football, then I need to hang it up. I still feel like I can do enough things to help this team win football games. I’m going to do everything I can to get us back on track.”
When head coach Mike Tomlin was asked if one week is enough time to get the Pittsburgh offense back on track, he was succinct: “yes.”
It certainly is. But whether they’ll be able to is the question that might define the rest of the Steelers’ season.
Report: Ben Roethlisberger Wants JuJu Smith-Schuster to Return to Steelers for 2021
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.
Report: Steelers to Promote Matt Canada to Offensive Coordinator
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.
The #Steelers are expected to promote QB coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator, sources tell me and @TomPelissero. A creative mind originally from the college game, Canada also interviewed with the #Dolphins but now stays in Pittsburgh.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 16, 2021
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.
Report: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger Expected to Return for 2021
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.