The Pittsburgh Steelers are an enigma which can be difficult to decipher in 2021. Throughout the regular season fans have been treated with splashes of brilliance on offense, dominance on defense, and ineptitude all around. To put it simply, the team hasn’t been able to put together a complete game on both sides of the football. You know, those games where both sides of the field are clicking.
Now, I’m not talking about the team being able to blow teams out of the water, we know those games are few and far between in the Roethlisberger/Tomlin era, but games where the offense and defense work almost in a symbiotic relationship.
It begs the question, is a complete Steelers game on the horizon, or is it nothing more than a pipe dream?
Let’s take a look at what has transpired to date during the 2021 regular season, and see if we can somehow see some trends developing which can tell fans if there is hope for the future, or if the team’s demise is near.
Week 1 at Buffalo Bills: 23-16 Win
Most fans won’t forget this game for a long time. As heavy underdogs the Steelers’ defense put on a show, harassing Josh Allen every drop back. But it still took a special teams touchdown to turn the tide. The offense was going through some serious growing pains, and in terms of being above the line, this win was far from complete.
Week 2 vs. Las Vegas Raiders: 26-17 Loss
The Steelers’ defense was dominating this game until T.J. Watt left with a groin injury. The story of this game was the offensive line’s inability to protect Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger was pummeled on several drop backs, and all it took were a few big plays by the Raiders to turn this into a disappointing home opener at Heinz Field. Far from a complete performance.
Week 3 vs. Cincinnati Bengals: 24-10 Loss
Still no T.J. Watt, but also no Alex Highsmith left the Steelers’ defense severely short-handed. Throw in losing Tyson Alualu in Week 2 and this game got really ugly really quick. The boo birds were out in full force as the Steelers’ offense displayed nothing but ineptitude. If fans were looking for signs of life from the offense, it didn’t come in Week 3.
Week 4 at Green Bay Packers: 27-17 Loss
Speaking of signs of life, this was the game where it looked like the offensive line might actually start to be turning the corner. Yes, it was a loss, but this was the first game of 2021 where the offense looked somewhat competent on more than one occasion. However, a not 100% T.J. Watt proved to be not enough as the Packers gashed the Steelers, and no one did it more than Randall Cobb. The search for a complete game continues...
Week 5 vs. Denver Broncos: 27-19 Win
The Steelers’ offense puts together their best game of the season vs. Denver to date, but it is the defense which leaves fans scratching their heads. The win snapped a three-game losing streak, but it required a James Pierre interception in the end zone to keep Teddy Bridgewater from pulling off the comeback.
Week 6 vs. Seattle Seahawks: 23-20 Win (OT)
When the Russell Wilson-less Seattle Seahawks came to Heinz Field for a Sunday Night Football game, it was deemed to be a “get right” game for the home team. This was the game the Steelers should dominate on both sides of the ball. The Seattle defense was far from the Legion of Boom, and Geno Smith shouldn’t be able to do much vs. the stout Steelers’ defense. The offense did just enough, and Seattle ran all over the Pittsburgh defense as the game went to an extra frame. An overtime win was hardly complete, and far from a “get right” game.
Week 7 BYE
The ‘Steelers Can’t Lose’ Week.
Week 8 vs. Cleveland Browns: 15-10 Win
If you were going to find a game which might be closest to a complete game, this might be it. On the road in a hostile environment, the Steelers were able to make enough plays to win. 15 points is far from dominant on offense, but when Chris Boswell was knocked out of the game with a concussion it threw a lot of the game plan out the window.
Week 9 vs. Chicago Bears: 29-27 Win
Monday Night Football in Pittsburgh usually means a win for the Steelers, and it did in Week 9, but it didn’t go as planned. Justin Fields settled into the game and eventually led the Bears to a late game lead. It took a 4th quarter Ben Roethlisberger drive which ended in a game-winning Chris Boswell field goal. Not ideal.
Week 10 vs. Detroit Lions: 16-16 Tie
I think it’s safe to say I don’t have to spend too much time revisiting the tie with Mason Rudolph at the helm along with the Lions gaining over 200 yards on the ground to show this wasn’t a complete game.
Week 11 at Los Angeles Chargers: 41-37 Loss
The first time the Steelers’ offense hits the 30-point plateau on the season is also another game when the decimated Steelers’ defense can’t stop Justin Herbert no matter the circumstance or situation.
Let’s get something out of the way here. Injuries are a part of the game, and the Steelers have had their share of them during this regular season. But that simple guarantee in the NFL shouldn’t deter the team from putting together a complete performance at least once through the first 10 games of the season.
I’m not looking for perfection, but a game where the offense is able to move the ball and score points, and the defense matches that performance by stopping the run and limiting offensive production by the opponent.
Seems simple enough, but it clearly is far from it. One thing we’ve all learned about the Steelers over the years is you never know when this game will come. No one expected it to come vs. the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton on Thursday night. No one expected it to happen on Monday Night Football vs. the Baltimore Ravens when the Steelers scored 35 first half points vs. Ray Lewis and company.
Could it happen this Sunday vs. the Cincinnati Bengals on the road in Week 12? Fans of the team can only hope.