The Steelers are a mess.
Their Week 4 game, a 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers was not any better than their disappointing Week 3 performance against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Packers came out and looked like a methodical, purposeful team on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, the Steelers bumbled their way on both sides of the ball and it looked like a mess for just about the entire game.
What are some takeaways that can be built upon from this game?
Ben Roethlisberger is the Steelers’ Biggest Issue
To be fair, Roethlisberger is certainly not the Steelers’ only issue on offense. However, it became increasingly clear as the game wore on that he was the biggest of their issues. It started with a poor throw in the dirt to Diontae Johnson that would have been a first down. Then came the numerous missed throws to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Smith-Schuster probably should have had two touchdowns in this game if Roethlisberger hit him right where he needed to hit him. There were multiple missed reads, including a key one where he missed a wide-open Pat Freiermuth breaking open over the middle of the field on a fourth-down play.
Most of the big problems that surround this offense can be tied back to Roethlisberger’s limitations as a root point. Roethlisberger is the rare quarterback where he is worse off play-action, and it does not appear to be a strength with his line, either. That eliminates that option.
He is not mobile, so moving the pocket is not a viable strategy to take some pressure off him. Then, Roethlisberger misses open throws when the team tries to scheme up throws in the middle of the field. If they try to hit a Cover 2 hole shot, he no longer has the juice to hit it consistently, either. The offense is so limited largely due to Roethlisberger. The physical skillset is just not that good anymore. However, there are still physically limited quarterbacks that can execute an offense. Roethlisberger’s mental processing has also been a disaster and that is really his biggest issue right now.
There is so much wrong with the offense, but Roethlisberger’s play is hurting the offense worse than any of them. The offensive line was by no means good against Green Bay. Give or take, they were a bottom third of the league unit on this day. However, they were good enough that the big chances that have not been available to Roethlisberger routinely this season were there on Sunday. Roethlisberger failed to convert on them. It is that simple, and the blame lies largely at Roethlisberger’s feet.
At Least the Weapons Are Really Good
They were not helped out by the quarterback, but the weapons today played a superb game. Smith-Schuster was open all day and should have gone off for a nuclear game at Lambeau Field. Johnson’s return went as expected and he had a touchdown against Jaire Alexander. He continues to be a budding star. Freiermuth was sure-handed and had a relatively solid outing. Najee Haris continues to prove that he is a talent and put together a nice performance. Even James Washington was rather good in his relief effort of Chase Claypool.
Roethlisberger let them down, so they will not get the praise they deserve. The Steelers have a really talented group of pass-catchers, and they just are not being taken advantage of with how this offense is currently performing at a macro level.
The Run Defense is an Issue
Two weeks in a row now the Steelers have had trouble consistently stopping the run. Against the Bengals, they were without their most talented defensive player in T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith as well. From that viewpoint, it is obviously understandable to not turn in their best game.
However, Green Bay executed the same wide zone schemes against the Steelers and they still had few answers for it overall. A lot of the issue was actually up front in this one. Watt never looked quite at his best. On the line, Isaiah Buggs, Henry Mondeaux, and Chris Wormley all had some really tough reps in this game. Whether it was getting blown off the ball at times or just being a non-factor on run plays, they failed to make their presence felt in the running lanes and at times got pushed out of their gaps. It was a performance that showcased just how badly the Steelers still miss Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu.
The Running Game Has Life
This one is the most positive of all of these takeaways because it is simply something that was not to be expected. The Steelers never ran the football much overall on the day, but they averaged over four yards per carry. That in the grand scheme of things is at least a big improvement compared to the run blocking that has been showcased over the year. The Packers are a team that befuddled Kyle Shanahan on the ground, so this is at the least a win for the offensive line and Harris overall.
That is still not a phenomenal number or anything, but the Steelers had a semi-effective running game that could work. They ground out some short-yardage situations on the ground. If there were some signs of optimism moving forward, this would be it. The offensive line’s run blocking was much better than any other game this season.