The 2021 NFL season has been anything but enjoyable for the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans. Nothing ever comes easy, and I mean never. Not a single rushing yard, completion, or first down. Forget about putting points on the scoreboard, the Steelers are lucky to execute a simple snap, or hold onto a ball after they catch it, even if they are not touched by a defender.
In ways, the defense is even worse. At least the defense has a few standout performers scattered throughout each level, a claim the offense can't make. If the Steelers handful of stars can't make the play, it's not happening. It's almost as if the defense has lost it's intensity, it's edge if you will.
I can't even keep up with how many times the Steelers defenders will collide with a ball carrier short of the sticks or goal line, only to be driven backwards for the first down or TD. It happens every week. I don't know if that is a physicality issue, or a intensity problem, but at times they appear Charmin soft. Maybe the Steelers are in desperate need of improvements in their strength and conditioning programs, but the grab and hang on for dear life approach isn't working.
I wasn't surprised the Steelers lost to the surging Kansas City Chiefs on the road. On the contrary, the majority of rational Steelers fans expected that outcome. There is a huge difference in wanting and hoping the Steelers will emerge victorious, and actually predicting it to happen.
Neither team had their full allotment of starters, and a few who did suit up were less than 100%. Yes, I am talking about you, T.J. Watt. Valiant effort, but he would have been better off taking the extra time to heal up as much as possible for next week, as the Steelers had realistically zero chances of winning that game. Alas, you know what they say about hindsight.
It really didn't matter who the Chiefs were forced to trot out on the field, the Steelers made them all look like established contributors. Once again, the Steelers were outplayed, outcoached, and outclassed in every conceivable way possible. What's worse, there isn't a single adjustment or personnel change that is going to get this runaway train back on the tracks.
The issues go much deeper than that with this team, with no easy answers. Talent, execution, coaching, culture; it's not one of the above, it's all of them.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Corliss Waitman
My initial thought process was to list "nobody" as the stock trending up, and "everybody else" as the stock trending down, but that would have been an extremely short article. It would have also been inaccurate and misleading. There were a few participants deserving of positive recognition, at least a mention, and one individual who stood out in a good way.
For starters, Pro Bowl participants Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt continue to lead the way. Heyward competes throughout the entirety of every play of every single contest, and T.J. has returned to the lineup at far less than 100% on multiple occasions now this season. Playing with cracked ribs will test any man's pain threshold. These two gentlemen are team first individuals who most definitely lead by example.
Minkah Fitzpatrick wanted out of Miami reportedly because he felt the Dolphins weren't utilizing him properly. Hopefully he doesn't become equally disenchanted with his current usage with the Steelers, because he is been forced out of necessity to morph into some semblance of a FS/SS/ILB hybrid. He is quite literally the last line of defense far too frequently, and I often find myself holding my breath that he gets up uninjured after yet another violent collision. I give him an abundance of credit, because coming into this season I considered physicality and tackling to be his biggest weakness. I readily admit I was mistaken, which has become commonplace with this team. He has shown great heart this year, and had a underappreciated season.
Having said all that, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the outstanding effort of replacement punter Corliss Waitman, who excelled in the contest under less than ideal circumstances. It's one thing to win a position through competition at training camp, or to replace an individual due to ineffectiveness, injury, or illness. It's another thing to replace a struggling player whose absence is due to bereavement.
The joy and excitement of the opportunity for the newcomer, and the atmospheric nature of the meeting room, has to be dampened by the sadness of the situation. Waitman was able to overcome those distractions and produce an above the line performance. He was killing the ball, achieving both distance and hang times. Incredibly, he struck the ball cleanly on each occasion.
What I found even more impressive was how he was attacking the football, as if somehow channeling a season's worth of frustration from each and every card carrying member of Steelers Nation into every assault on the football. We aggravated fans were like the wind beneath his wings, or foot and leg in this instance. I just wanted to assure him that his efforts didn't go unnoticed.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Everything else
This is where I will stick to my original instincts about this article. Sometimes there are no words to adequately express one's innermost thoughts and feelings about a situation or subject matter. I would be doing a disservice to the Steelers current situation, and to the BTSC community as a whole, if I tried to encapsulate everything wrong with the Steelers at this present moment into one section of a article. There will be plenty of articles and discussions about that expansive topic during the off season from myself and my talented colleagues here at BTSC, so stay tuned.
I will share this thought in closing. The talent, coaching, effort, and execution shown on the field far too often this season isn't an accurate depiction of the standards befitting the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise I have always known and loved. I will leave it at that.