If it was easy, everyone would do it. The Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Wisconsin to take on the Green Bay Packers at historic Lambeau Field, only to suffer their third straight defeat that drops their record to 1-3 on the young season. Although there was noticeable improvements in certain areas, many of the same old offensive shortcomings raised their ugly heads yet again against the Stinky Cheddars. More on that to come.
The defense faced a tall task in trying to slow down the Packers impressive offense, lead by future HOF QB Aaron Rodgers. The Steelers received a much needed boast on defense with the returns of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, their starting outside linebackers. Both players had missed the previous game due to groin injuries, but suited up against the Packers. Although they both gave valiant efforts, neither young man was any where near 100%. Their explosiveness and burst were severely limited, and it showed in their results, especially in the Steelers inability to mount a consistent pass rush.
The Steelers currently sit alone in last place in the AFC North, with the other three division rivals all sitting at 3-1 after winning their Week 4 games. Not only are the Steelers struggling, but they have the misfortune of residing in the best division in the NFL. The Steelers simply can't afford to fall too far back in such a competitive division if they hope to remain relevant. There are no easy answers, but something has to give, and fast.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Joe Haeg
It has long been said that one of the best attributes that any offensive lineman can possess is invisibility. Meaning the ability to simply go unnoticed to the novice football fan. Joe Haeg went out and apparently did just that on Sunday against the Packers.
After three weeks of watching Chukwuma Okorafor's underwhelming performances; getting consistently bullied all around the football field, it appears few fans noticed the marked improvement at RT, thanks to Haeg.
Haeg is a journeyman lineman, known more for his versatility than his skill level. However, he is a survivor, showing the ability to overcome his physical limitations through tenacity and maximum effort. He gets every ounce out of abilities because of the realization that he must fight to survive. He is more heart than athleticism, or in other words, the polar opposite of Okorafor.
While it must be acknowledged that the Packers by no means have a dominant defense or pass rush, Haeg did a solid job throughout the game, both in pass protection and in the running game. Both areas showed noticeable improvement, and Haeg was a big reason why. For a Steelers offense striving to string together even the slightest positive results, that's a big deal. A step in the right direction.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the efforts of Isaiah Buggs and Chris Wormley. Both men have been forced to take over starting duties from their more talented predecessors due to injuries. Buggs will never be able to duplicate the run stopping abilities of Tyson Alualu, but he acquitted himself well against the Packers. He hustled throughout, making one tackle along the far sidelines. He just doesn't posses the power to tie up multiple blockers in the interior, and the results show, especially for both inside linebackers. Wormley is still far more suited for a 4-3 than a 3-4, but he is working hard to hold down the fort until if or when Stephon Tuitt can return. I am still holding out hope.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Steelers playoff chances
It's not how many times you get knocked down that matters, it's how many times you can get back up and keep moving forward. Tough times call for tough individuals, and make no mistake about it, things are tough all over for the Pittsburgh Steelers at the moment.
Many fans are understandably beyond frustrated, and are demanding changes be made. Not just any change mind you, but the benching of Ben Roethlisberger specifically. Oftentimes, making a change for the sake of change, especially to please the masses, isn't the optimal decision. Furthermore, the Steelers franchise doesn't operate that way. Thankfully.
Blame has been spread far and wide, and some of the recommended solutions have been too idiotic to mention, but the overwhelming consensus calls for a QB change. I am not here to argue yay or nay, only to question the validity and timing of the suggestion.
Benching Roethlisberger means starting Rudolph. There were numerous reasons that Dwayne Haskins was the preseason darling for Steelers Nation. Chief among them was the fact he wasn't Mason Rudolph. The complaints about Rudolph sound strangely familiar. Immobile, too conservative, doesn't see the field well, or have any pocket presence. Accuracy issues. Any of this ring a bell yet.
These are all common issues for any QB operating behind a struggling offensive line. At least for QBs with limited mobility, for which Rudolph definitely qualifies. Who knows, maybe Rudolph hits on a few of those near misses for Ben, maybe not. What we do know is Ben navigates pocket congestion better than Rudolph, and is far more capable of staring down the pass rush to complete the throw. Rudolph prefers the throw and duck method, or is it duck and throw, I am not certain.
If the offensive line was more established; closer to average than one of the worst in the league, and Roethlisberger was still missing on some of these throws he used to hit with ease, then a QB change at this junction might have more merit. Especially if the new QB had superior mobility, but that just isn't the case.
It is not yet time for the Steelers to throw in the towel on the 2021 NFL season. There were improvements on the offensive side of the ball against the Packers, however slight. Joe Haeg made a positive first impression, and Zach Banner's return may be just around the corner. Kevin Dotson may miss some time with a hip flexor, but B.J. Finney knows the Steelers system quite well. Maybe the offensive line could benefit from an increase in experience that these veteran performers can provide.
The Steelers find themselves in a strange predicament at the moment, cellar dwellers in the AFC North. Nobody can be happy with the results thus far, but now is not the time for panic. The Steelers need to focus all their efforts on winning their next game, which happens to be at home Sunday afternoon against the Denver Broncos.
Take it one game at a time. Win that one, and move on to the next. Character is not developed through adversity, it is revealed. It is time for the Steelers to show what they are made of. The same could be said for Steelers Nation. Keep the faith!