PITTSBURGH — The Steelers win over the Bills in Week 1 feels like a distant memory now.
At that point, even with the signs that the offense was not up to par, there was hope that the rookie-laden unit would improve. Instead, they have done nothing but regress. The Steelers put up 16 points in the second half of the Buffalo game, but they have never gotten anywhere near that level of success since that moment.
There are a number of factors that could be pointed to for these results, and in fact, there are so many to name, that no one can be summed up.
Perhaps the only player that can not be thrown into the fire is rookie running back Najee Harris. He had a few drops, and he has missed a hole or two during his first two games. But it really is not much of an issue with him. Harris has played his heart out and was arguably the most redeeming quality of this offense on a day where it was truly awful. He is far from a problem and at this point is their biggest strength. In fact, he just about single-handedly drove them down the field on their touchdown drive. That was perhaps the biggest boon for the offense the entire game.
Either way, the Steelers are last in rushing, they average 14.3 points per game, there have been far too many turnover-worthy plays, and there is no identity to the offense at all. It seems they just go with the motions, with nothing to actually speak of for any level of success.
With these stats in mind, what is the true problem with the Steelers? Is there actually one thing to point to that can then nip this problem in the bud? The short answer to that is no.
The Steelers do not have something that is simply just pointed to and fixed. They have to fix quite literally everything. It is not just the play calling, drops, offensive line, injuries, or quarterback play.
Everything is a problem here.
The Steelers are not going to be successful offensively because they can not seem to do anything right. Now, maybe there are things they can do the overhaul this whole operation drastically. However, it seems like that is something that would have to be done in an offseason, and can not be addressed in a week’s time.
Starting off with the injuries, the Steelers now are without three starting offensive linemen and two starting wide receivers. They have lost their best true separator in Diontae Johnson. JuJu Smith-Schuster could be out for an extended period of time after suffering a rib injury. Kendrick Green’s knee injury might sap his one biggest trait in his athleticism. Zach Banner’s knee has never fully healed from his torn ACL. Chuks Okorafor might not be that great, but Joe Haeg is exactly dazzling, either. Anthony McFarland’s injury has essentially sapped the Steelers of their best speed threat at running back. The injuries are a factor.
However, saying they are the main reason would just be an excuse. The Steelers gameplans are all over the place. In Week 1, it was to attack the Bills’ man coverage defense. That ended up working with a few nice throws and big catches by the receivers. In Week 2, the Steelers went either with a lethargic quick game, or a heave and pray ball down the sideline. They never found any type of rhythm. In Week 3, it was to feed Najee Harris. Yet again, however, the Steelers never got any semblance of rhythm or identity. It reeks of an offensive coordinator who does not know what he can do with his personnel and is largely limited by the play of his personnel. The ply-calling of Matt Canada appears scattershot, with little to no cohesion.
The wide receivers are injured. What is left of them, along with the other pass catchers, put on a drop show on Sunday. When they are asked to make the big play for their quarterback and ailing offensive line, they have failed to deliver far too often on the 2021 season. They are not blameless, even if they are a clearly talented group. They all should be much better than they actually are right now. Still, they gave their quarterback plenty of opportunities, too.
The offensive line is an abject disaster. It is not just that they have failed to truly block for their quarterback and running back. That almost certainly has been a crux of the Steelers’ issues. However, they are going backward. For a young line, it was thought the upside would at least bear fruits. It may eventually, but they appear to be regressing, not progressing.
Every big run seems to come back on a holding call. There are far too many procedural penalties. The line has little to no cohesion. They had to be told to pick up the quarterback. Often, they fail to give the quarterback or running back enough time to make anything happen. They severely limit what Canada can do because they have extreme trouble blocking his scheme.
Then, there is Ben Roethlisberger. The quarterback is part of the problem in this offense. There are the signs, and they just have to be accepted as such, that Roethlisberger no longer the same player behind this kind of an offensive line.
With a solid line, there would be a lot more confidence that Roethlisberger could be a passable quarterback. In the second half against Buffalo, he was more than fine. However, he has been inaccurate. Missing Chase Claypool and James Washington for would-be touchdowns was killer. His lack of mobility never truly allows the Steelers to get things going out of structure. Roethlisberger is making questionable decisions, especially on his second interception. The swing pass on 4th-and-10 is a prime example of a failed read from Roethlisberger. His arm is not what it once was, so the question then becomes if he could fit it into tight windows. That is yet to be seen with consistency.
Combine all of these things together, and what comes about from it is an offense that has nothing to it. They may get better. This feels like it has to be at least near rock bottom and time for the reset button. Still, this is a monumental task to fixing the offense. There is no one thing to point to with this group. They lack an identity and cohesiveness. the offense feels like they have not played together.
Overall, the issue is simple. There are too many explanations for why the offense is sputtering and playing like the worst in the league. Nothing is going right for this unit, and no one is blameless in this. So, as the Steelers look to improve over the week, they have a lot of things to consider. There is a lot on their plate. But if they somehow want to turn this season around, they will have to fix a ton in record time.