What happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers?
The league’s only undefeated team, sitting at 11-0 and backed by the NFL’s top defense, has just dropped two games back to back in a pair of dismal performances against the Washington Football Team (WFT) and Buffalo Bills.
Losses happen to the best teams in the NFL, and anyone who watched the Steelers before the WFT game would tell you the team’s inconsistent play would catch up to them eventually. However, going from 11-0 to 0-2 in the last two weeks has definitely felt like a complete collapse.
If you asked the national sports media, or even Steelers fans, why Pittsburgh has struggled as of late, you’d probably hear a lot of the following reasons:
No run game.
Ben Roethlisberger’s arm.
And the list goes on and on. Some are valid reasons (especially Randy Fichtner), while others are completely ridiculous. But most are missing the key issue behind why the Steelers are suddenly on a two-game losing streak.
This team is tired, and really banged up.
To recap, the Steelers lost two starters, Zach Banner and Devin Bush, early in the season with torn ACL’s. However, the injuries didn’t stop there with star pass-rusher Bud Dupree suffering a torn ACL against the Ravens. Two other starters, Matt Feiler and Robert Spillane, have also landed on Injured Reserve (IR) in the past few weeks with a pec injury and knee injury, respectively.
Against Washington, the Steelers were without starters Maurkice Pouncey, Steven Nelson, and Chris Boswell, and later lost Joe Haden and Robert Spillane. The next week against Buffalo, the Steelers regained Pouncey, Nelson, and Boswell, but were without Haden yet again and lost Matt Feiler, as well as his backup Kevin Dotson, to injury. To put a cherry on top of this sundae, top inside linebacker Vince Williams also missed the game due to COVID-19.
Heading into the Steelers’ Monday night matchup against Cincinnati, it appears that James Conner, Terrell Edmunds, and Chukwuma Okorafor are also dealing with injuries.
Every NFL team has suffered injuries issues this season, but the Steelers have been hit especially hard. It’s no wonder they lost a game to an elite AFC team when they had a backup safety starting at linebacker, a slot corner playing outside and covering the AFC’s leading receiver, and an undrafted center playing guard. It also doesn’t help that top receiver Diontae Johnson has suffered a crippling case of the yips lately, leading the NFL with 9 drops this season per NBC Sports.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Steelers’ veteran players have looked incredibly tired over the past few weeks. Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been his usual self, and former Pro-Bowl linemen Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro have not been playing at that level at all this year. Stephon Tuitt disappeared against Buffalo, while other defensive leaders, such as Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt, have looked completely gassed at times this season.
It’s rather obvious. While the Steelers have struggled due to issues such as a poor running game or below-average schematics, the main culprit for their losing streak is simply injuries and fatigue. The sheer number of starters lost to injuries is becoming harder and harder to overcome.
It’s almost as if NFL teams actually need a true bye week at some point in their 17 week schedule.
But the Steelers didn’t get that luxury this season, and it appears that they won’t receive one in the first round of the playoffs, either. Despite these setbacks, do they still have a chance at making it to the Super Bowl this year?
The short answer is yes. It may take an unorthodox bye week or some simple luck, but the Steelers still have time to get healthier and get their act together before the playoffs. For starters, it looks as if Pittsburgh will get some key players back in the lineup before the end of the season such as Matt Feiler, Robert Spillane, and Joe Haden. And the team has what looks to be an ideal game to get back on track coming up against Cincinnati on Monday.
Despite numerous injuries, the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers are still talented enough to win a Lombardi. Pittsburgh has a guaranteed playoff spot and is still in the driver’s seat of the AFC North. “Any given Sunday” still applies in January, and the Steelers have a defense strong enough to keep them in games against any opponent. Injuries may have derailed the Steelers’ season, but they still have a chance to get back on track.