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Players vs. Coaches: Where to place the blame for the Steelers 2020 collapse?

The Steelers managed only one victory over the last 6 games of the 2020 season. Was it a shortcoming by the players, coaches, or a combination of both?

NFL: DEC 21 Steelers at Bengals Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers 2020 NFL season has come to an unexpected and premature end thanks to their 48–37 defeat in the Wild Card Round of the 2020 NFL postseason at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. After starting the season with 11 straight wins, the Steelers managed only one victory in their last six games, including the postseason, to finish out the year. While there are always circumstances such as injuries which factor in, the decrease in quality of play is something even the average football fan could see at the end of the season.

So what went wrong for the Steelers? In the hours and days following the loss, both the organization and its fan base will be scrutinizing these questions.

Of course, fans have a variety of opinions. Was it the players just don’t have what it takes to be a championship team? Was it the Steelers coaches that wasted the talent and did not get the most from the players? Was it a combination of these things?

Here is an argument for both sides of the spectrum in order for you to make your own decision.

The coaches are to blame

While they do not step onto the field to get the job done, it is the job of the Steelers coaching staff to have the players ready to play and have a proper game plan for success. When the Steelers were rolling off 11 straight wins, the game plan seemed to be working just fine. But in the NFL, things that work in Week 1 are not necessarily going to work in Week 10 as teams are constantly breaking down film and coming up with schemes to combat their opponents. As the Steelers season progressed, there didn’t appear to be a whole lot of changes when it came to both scheme and game plan.

When former players and fans watching at home know what the Steelers are about to do, you can assume so does their opponent. On both sides of the ball, they were too many situations where teams could do the same things week in and week out in order to stymie the Steelers.

When looking particularly at game plan for the Steelers on the offensive side of the ball, they came out of the gate so lackluster the second half of the season. Whether it was the lack of preparation or a poor game plan, the Steelers did not score any points in the first quarter their final 5 regular-season games as well as their playoff game. The last time the Steelers scored points in the first quarter was in Week 12 against the Baltimore Ravens where they had 6 points on a defensive touchdown. The last time the Steelers offense produced points in the first quarter of the game was in Week 10 against the Cincinnati Bengals. With the offensive plays to start a game being part of the coach’s script, the constant lack of production has to bring the script into question.

The players are to blame

Sometimes teams are limited in what they can do in both their offensive and defensive game plan based on the players they have available to them. While a team may want to rush the ball more effectively, if the offensive line is not producing and/or a running back is not running effectively, a coach can scheme up everything in their power and it’s still not be able to work. Sometimes they can scheme something to work for a while, but once teams figure it out they are left with limited or no options.

When it comes to the 2020 Steelers, perhaps the 11 game win streak came down to the coaches exhausting all their options based on the limitations of their players until those options simply ran out. If the offensive line is not capable of sustaining their blocks against the pass rush, then the quarterback must throw passes quickly. If a quarterback is unable to throw accurately down the field, short passes are the best way to move the ball. While I am not saying these are definitely the case with the 2020 Steelers, these are possible explanations as to why a game plan would be developed in a certain way.

A good football coach is responsible for developing a game plan for their player strengths. If the strengths of said players are not enough to diversify the plan enough, there’s only so much a coach can do.

It’s a combination of players and coaches

As many things go in this world, sometimes problems are not simply black or white. There is a lot of gray area in life. When it comes to the Steelers struggles at the end of the season, it may not have been all on the coaches or all on the players.

It was not a coach who snapped the ball into the end zone on the first play of the Steelers playoff game against the Cleveland Browns. In this case, it was a player issue. It was also not the coach’s fault when passes were overthrown into the arms of a defender. But it could be the coach’s fault for these players not being prepared for the game by resting in practice or not adequately preparing for these things for the game. Sometimes players don’t perform well because of how they’re being coached, and sometimes coaches don’t coach well because of the way the players are performing.

There is a possibility that it’s not all on the players or the coaches, but how they each respond to the other’s shortcomings which magnified the issue. If the Steelers have a bad offensive game plan and turn the ball over, they are in trouble. If the defense if not tackling well and the coach decides to punt at midfield, it is a recipe for defeat.

It may not be the players perfectly implementing an imperfect game plan. I might also not be players imperfectly executing the prefect plan. Perhaps it’s simply an imperfect execution of an imperfect plan doubling a teams problems.

So what do you think? Do you think the Steelers late-season collapse falls on the coaches, the players, or a combination of both? Make sure you vote in the poll below and leave your thoughts in the comments.


Who is to blame for the Steelers late-season collapse?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    The coaches preparing the team and implementing the game plan
    (435 votes)
  • 3%
    The players execution on the field
    (52 votes)
  • 62%
    A combination of coaches and the players
    (821 votes)
1308 votes total Vote Now