The Pittsburgh Steelers are a tough team to figure out so far this season, and after a 1-3 start they have found a way to get back to .500 with back-to-back wins. Following their Week 7 bye week, it is safe to say the focus now turns not just to the Cleveland Browns in Week 8, but a potential playoff push.
Many will suggest looking ahead is futile, but at the same time the improvement of individual players, even on a week-to-week basis, will be what determines the Steelers’ season outlook. With that said, I put together a list of five offensive players and five defensive players who need to step up their game for the Steelers to be considered a contender, not a pretender.
Let’s start on offense...
You had to know Roethlisberger would be on this list. Not just because his play has resembled a Kennywood roller coaster, but also because the Steelers will need him to deliver when it matters the most. If the plan continues to be balance on the offense, and leaning on the run, Roethlisberger will need to make the most of his limited opportunities. There is plenty left for him to prove in 2021.
Claypool is coming off a game where he didn’t play well, and that being the last image fans have in their minds can certainly play tricks on the brain. Nonetheless, with JuJu Smith-Schuster out of the lineup for the rest of the season, the focus then turns to Claypool to be a dominant player. Diontae Johnson is a great player, but Claypool is the one who has the look of a No. 1 receiver. Time for him to start playing like it in his sophomore season.
Early in the season, when the offensive line looked as bad as they have in the Roethlisberger era, I asked Dave Schofield if the line’s issues were all based around Kendrick Green. His non-answer gave me all the information I needed to know. When you watched plays it almost looked like Kevin Dotson and Trai Turner were doing their best to cover for the rookie center. This can’t happen if the Steelers want to be a run-first team, and even a capable offensive unit. Even if Green becoming trustworthy to do his job along the line would be an elevation which could have a lasting impact on the offense.
I know what you might be thinking, “How can Banner be on the list when he hasn’t played a snap in 2021?” I’m glad you asked! The organization, and fan base, has put a lot of pressure on Banner’s return this season, and the hope is he delivers. When the Steelers gave Banner a two-year contract, they were hoping to see a player who can open up holes for the running game, as well as protect their franchise quarterback. If what the Steelers get out of Banner is Chuks 2.0 it would be considered a major disappointment. Banner needs to play at a high level, and that’s a big ask for a player coming off Injured Reserve (IR).
It is tough to ask Najee Harris to be better than he already has been during his rookie season, but the Steelers’ offense needs his dynamic playmaking ability to be a threat in the division and conference. The drop off from Harris is steep on the team’s depth chart, and Harris provides the dynamic running back the Steelers haven’t seen since the prime of Le’Veon Bell’s tenure in Pittsburgh. This isn’t to suggest Harris can’t improve, he certainly can. If he could improve his blitz pick-up, along with his continued improvement as a runner and receiver, the Steelers’ offense will have a new wrinkle every week for the opposition to have to concern themselves with.
To hear this list in more detail, check out the Monday edition of my “Let’s Ride” podcast in the player below: