The first quarter of the Steelers’ 2018 season was rough, the second saw them go 4-0 to lift their record to 5-2-1. The third quarter started off perfect, but then they went 2-4 over the remaining six weeks. Instead of booking a trip to the playoffs, the only reservation the 2018 Steelers seem to be able to muster is one at a Motel 6. With that, I am tasked to break out the red pen and evaluate the team for what was a most-disappointing 2018.
As I’ve stated all along, I’m not a football coach or a teacher, but I play one in blogs and podcasts. Each week of the 2018 exhibition and regular season, I’ve graded the efforts of the Black-and-gold via “the eye test”. Grading games is an extremely difficult and somewhat thankless task. While the coaches’ grades, of course, are what count the most, the media and fans can’t help but evaluate as well. So you, the reader, get to vote as well. You even get to grade the grader in the comments section.
So let’s take a look at BTSC’s perceptions of the 2018 Steeler Offense.
The Steelers’ offense ended the year ranked fourth in the league with 403.3 ypg and had a 26.6 points per game (ppg). However, that was down from the first three quarters of the season.
Ben Roethlisberger had the finest statistical season of his career with 34 TD passes and 5,129 yards. No. 7 finished as the league’s attempts and passing yards leader, but he is also finished with the most interceptions thrown this NFL season with 16. Those interceptions were very costly in losses against Los Angeles and in Denver. He got very good receiver play and looked brilliant at junctures. The season would have been a complete disaster without his come-from-behind brilliance, but his bad balls at the wrong time were paramount in keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs. Josh Dobbs was brilliant for his first throw, but subpar later on.
Ben’s offensive line was hardly to blame for missing the postseason. They are an elite squad with their genius coach (Mike Munchak) staying put. PFF ranked them the top O-Line for 2018, with no individual starter ranking lower than 61st in the entire league. Injuries sidelined Marcus Gilbert for most of the season, but Matt Feiler and Chuks Okorafor filled in tremendously at RT. Ramon Foster, Dave DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey continued to dominate oncoming defenders, while Alejandro Villanueva emerged as perfect blindside protector for Ben. The unit allowed only 24 sacks. That’s a sack every 28.7 passing attempts, second only to the Colts. While the running game was ranked low at No. 31, it was not due to these five. They opened major holes for James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, but the team had the second-least rushing attempts of any team. Villanueva, Pouncey and DeCastro are all going to the Pro Bowl, while Pouncey was named a second-team All Pro.
James Conner finished 11th in the NFL with 973 yards in 2018, but at one time he led the league. No. 30 replaced Le’Veon Bell admirably in his second year, but only exceeded 19 carries four times. Aided by a remarkable line, Conner averaged 4.5 ypc and was named to his first Pro Bowl. Conner was a weapon catching the ball as well, with 55 catches and 497 yards. Had he refrained from injury and the team rushed more than just one team, Conner would have competed for the rushing crown. Stevan Ridley had a good moment against New England, but his two critical fumbles made him mostly a bust. Jaylen Samuels turned some heads with a late season surge in Conner’s stead. No. 38 had 256 yards, including 143 against the Pats. He also hauled-in 26 balls for 199 yards. Roosevelt Nix was valuable as a FB, but his snaps seemed too limited. All-in-all, the running game played well. But they lacked a guy who could close games out, because theirs stayed home the entire season.
Antonio Brown did not have the receptions and yardage season that he’s accustomed to, His 1,297 yards and his 104 receptions ranked fifth in his illustrious careers, but his 15 TDs were tops in the league. The biggest number though was the multiple tantrums that most likely will end his career in the Steel City. Double-teaming AB has forced balls to go in other directions, mostly to JuJu Smith-Schuster and that could be the source of the problem. JuJu (tied for sixth in the league) led the team with 111 catches for 1,426 yards (5th). This gave the Steelers two elite WR1’s and the first duo in team lore to both have over 1200 yards in the same campaign. JuJu was named the team’s MVP by his peers, The deep threat that Martavis Bryant provided couldn’t be replicated, as Justin Hunter and James Washington couldn’t seize the WR3 role. Washington showed some brilliance towards the end, while Hunter probably didn’t do enough to get resigned. Ryan Switzer emerged as a weapon for Ben and Eli Rogers returned late to offer some assistance. The receivers grade high up top, but the depth declined in 2018.
The TE duo of Jesse James (423 yards on 30 catches) and Vance McDonald (610 yards on 50 catches) were a reliable unit for the Steelers, but only contributed 13 catches in the last quarter of the season. The Vanimal (McDonald) and the Outlaw (James) combined for 80 grabs for 1,053 yards. The X-Man (Xavier Grimble) had a mere six catches and helped blow the game in Denver with a poor decision that led to a fumble instead of an easy score.
Overall Offense Grade: B-
The offense failed to close out games. When they got a lead, they sat on it. They had three complete games (Atlanta, Carolina and Cleveland), but more dominance from a juggernaut filled with talent was needed. Despite no luck, this offense should have helped provide more victories.
Offensive Valedictorian: Antonio Brown
Despite the poor attitude, Brown was very consistent on offense and proved to be the biggest scoring weapon. His absence was felt when JuJu looked less bionic as the sole WR1 in the finale.
What grade would you assign the Steelers for their offensive performance in 2018?
This poll is closed