The 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers season has taken some weird twists and turns. So it happened last week in Pittsburgh that, after doing almost nothing until late in the third quarter, the Steelers' offense rose from the dead and destroyed the Indianapolis Colts’ defense. Similarly, during the Steelers' 11-game win streak, the offense typically sputtered during the first half, only to reassert itself later in the game to secure the wins. Frequently during halftimes this season we've had cause to openly question whether the Black-and-Gold had managed to get off of the team bus.
Given the obstacles of COVID-19, being forced to play multiple games within a short period and losing some key players due both to injuries and virus-related issues, it's not too surprising that the Steelers' 11-0 win streak ended in a skid that persisted for more than three games. But regardless of the unique challenges faced in 2020, there were also some recurring themes which have troubled the fan base in previous seasons as well. So the following are my five questions as we prepare for playoff football:
#1: Why did the Steelers (even during their winning streak) often start slowly in games and frequently rely on halftime adjustments which might have been made before the game?
#2: Why do 3rd-and-short situations pose such a problem for the Steelers’ talented offense, and why is their play selection typically so questionable when only a few yards are needed to move the sticks?
#3: Why is the Red Zone offense so tentative, even when the Steelers have 1st-and-goal opportunities inside the 10-yard line?
#4: Why have the Steelers’ receivers dropped so many well-thrown passes this year compared to previous years?
#5: Why is the Steelers’ offensive line unable to block effectively for running plays?
Suppose we chalk up the recent, 3-game losing streak to the team being exhausted and not really needing those wins to earn a playoff spot. It’s still reasonable to question how this Steelers team might fare against high-scoring opponents such as Kansas City or Buffalo in the AFC playoffs. And should they manage to win the AFC crown and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl, they’d likely be facing the Saints, the Bucs or the Packers in the Super Bowl.
The Steelers can’t go anywhere, of course, without a strong showing this Sunday night against the Cleveland Browns. But if we find we’re still looking at an inconsistent Steelers’ offense in the game at Heinz Field, the larger question is what this would tell us about the Black-and-Gold’s prospects for sticking around in subsequent weeks when possibly facing Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers.
The 2020 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers has shown a knack for finding ways to win games even when they haven’t played their best football. While that trait seems to bode well for the playoffs by itself, it’s also true that the quality of Pittsburgh’s competition will be substantially better in the crucial games ahead.