The Pittsburgh Steelers are far from a perfect team, but the one thing they knew they had coming into this season were skill position players on offense. Whether it was rookie running back Najee Harris, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson or Chase Claypool, the issues seemed to reside in other areas.
One of those areas was the offensive line, and those issues have been well documented, but injuries to JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eric Ebron have limited the skill position players at this juncture of the regular season.
If the Steelers were to be able to do anything on offense it was supposed to be putting points on the scoreboard. Through thirteen games the team averages just 20.9 points per game, tied for 21st in the NFL, and it has fans everywhere scratching their heads wondering what is wrong with the offense.
Is it Ben Roethlisberger and Father Time catching up with him?
Is it Matt Canada not being able to call plays at the NFL level?
Is it the offensive line failures to both run the ball and protect the quarterback?
Is it a mixture of everything?
Against teams like the Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings the Steelers ended the game with a flurry of offense. Not every game resulted in a win, but it had fans wondering if this is what to expect moving forward. Every time the team followed it up with another sluggish start.
What can the Steelers do to improve their starts? Not even the players know. This is what Ben Roethlisberger said after the team’s Thursday Night Football loss in Minneapolis in Week 14.
“I don’t know. I mean, we drove the ball down the field. We had a penalty, I believe, on the first drive that got us backed up a little bit, but I don’t know.” Roethlisberger said. “Some weeks we do. Some weeks we start fast. Some weeks we don’t. I’m not really sure what the key is to it. We’ve made some adjustments where we’ve practiced the first 10 a lot during the week, and I don’t know.”
After these tremendous comebacks, is there something to be gained from them? With a young offensive core, can moral victories be something the team can hang their hat on?
“I don’t look at moral victories.” Roethlisberger said after the Week 14 loss. “I told the guys that as I walked around to the linemen and some of the skill guys, I’m not going to tell you all great moral victory, great fight back, because it’s not that, but I’m proud of them for fighting.”
One area of the offense most fans turn to when they want to see changes in the offense is going to a more up tempo, no huddle approach. For whatever reason the offense is hesitant to do this, and many continue to reiterate how the team doesn’t really have a “no-huddle offense” like in years past.
“That’s something we’ve done, but we weren’t really no-huddle.” Offensive coordinator said after the Week 13 win over Baltimore and preparing for Week 14. “We were a little bit. Couple of plays with no-huddle there before the end of the half. We weren’t like no-huddle, we were just using our tempo and getting plays in and the calls faster.”
One mystery is why the Steelers don’t use tempo more often to maximize matchups. This is something some of the great quarterbacks of the recent era have done to perfection. They want to catch you in bad situations, and if you try to substitute they’ll snap the ball and get you for too many men on the field. Either way, the Steelers never seem to want to bring their up tempo offense until they absolutely have to bring it to the table.
“Yeah. We were kind of doing it early in the year at times too.” Canada recalled when asked about the up tempo offense. “It happened a little bit more when we started to feel like it was keeping certain guys on the field. We were obviously having a little success with it, so it’s kind of a situational deal. I don’t know more or less. Anything that works, we like doing. When we were doing it before, you guys didn’t think it was working. So many things factor into it, but, like everything else, it’s part of our offense, part of our changing things up, and part of our trying to help our guys. Younger guys are improving. They understand what we’re doing, to your question.”
The more the season progresses, and the more you hear both players and coaches talk, the more it feels as if the Steelers are simply throwing whatever they have against the wall in hopes of something sticking. At this point, nothing has stuck and it is a large reason why the offense remains a mystery.
If this team has a prayer at making the postseason, they’ll need the offense to not just score more points, but also to be more consistent throughout the game. If the current trends remain intact, which we shouldn’t expect anything to change at this point, it will likely be more of the same to finish out the regular season.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Tennessee Titans in Week 15 at Heinz Field.