So, what’s wrong with the Steelers’ offense that has reduced its effectiveness and caused it to average only 21 points a game through three weeks (19 if you take away Tyler Matakevich's blocked punt vs. the Browns in Week 1, and Anthony Chickillo's recovery of it for a touchdown)?
This obviously wasn't supposed to happen. After all, how many times did I read comments from fans such as, "Just once, I'd like to see Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant on the field at the same time!"?
But, here we are, almost a month into the 2017 regular season, and nobody can seem to figure out why the offense is sputtering so badly.
Is it rust and a lack of cohesion due to the superstars hardly playing at all during the preseason? Is Roethlisberger so far past his prime that he no longer can be effective? Is Bell still dealing with his groin issue, or is he proving everyone right that training camp was super-important to his performance? Is Bryant also dealing with rust, after having sat out an entire season due to suspension? Have there been too many untimely penalties by the offensive line and/or rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on the successful running plays by Bell? Has it been . . . wait for it . . . offensive coordinator Todd Haley's play-calling?
Perhaps the answer is "yes" to all or some of these questions—it's hard to say, obviously.
But I do know one thing. The Steelers’ third-down conversion rate has been downright putrid through three games.
How putrid, you ask?
Try 12 of 37 (or 32.4 percent) which is good for 17th in the league.
Think about that: The Steelers have converted 12 third downs into first downs in three games.
Sure, 17th isn't exactly horrible, but for an offense like this, with the weapons it possesses, you have to do better.
It's efficiency like that which leads to less-than-desirable offensive results—which leads to people wondering what’s wrong with the unit.
It goes without saying that offenses which frustrate opposing defenses (instead of their fans) are the offenses that pick up third downs at a high rate.
Offenses that possess a franchise quarterback, the best receiver in the NFL and the best running back in the NFL—along with an offensive line all on their second Steelers contracts—should be able to do this.
This keeps drives alive, and it usually leads to touchdowns instead of field goals.
The perfect example of Pittsburgh's current offensive stagnation came early in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's loss to the Bears at Solider Field.
With his team trailing 17-14, safety J.J. Wilcox intercepted a Mike Glennon pass at the Chicago 21.
Unfortunately, instead of putting the final nail in the coffin of the home underdog, the Steelers’ offense kept its opponent alive by gaining a measly seven yards on three plays and settling for a Chris Boswell field goal.
You obviously know the rest of the story. Pittsburgh's offense did nothing the remainder of the day, and the Bears quickly won the game in overtime.
In the days since the loss to Chicago, Roethlisberger has admitted to focusing on Brown just a little too much. And as someone who sat in Section 228 of Heinz Field two weeks ago and witnessed No. 7 repeatedly passing up open receivers underneath— instead trying to force the ball to Brown downfield—I can tell you this definitely might be a thing.
I've heard the effectiveness of the Patriots’ passing game described as "death by a thousand cuts." Maybe it's time the Steelers’ offense starts taking what the defense gives it, instead of trying to force the big play--at least not all the time.
I know one thing this would likely solve: The third down-efficiency problem.
If the Steelers’ offense solves that, it’ll probably solve many other problems.
And if the Steelers’ offense solves most of its problems, we’ll stop wondering what's wrong with it.