There’s one good thing you can say about the Pittsburgh Steelers after three weeks of the 2021 regular season: thank goodness there are only four teams in the AFC North
If there were five, the Steelers would likely still be the worst team in the division.
That’s right, while everyone thought the Steelers were just jockeying with the Browns and Ravens for AFC North superiority, there were those little Bengals, 1-1 like everyone else, just licking their chops and waiting for Sunday afternoon’s Week 3 showdown at Heinz Field.
Why? For one thing, the visitors may have thought the Steelers had a lot of nerve thinking they were jockeying for anything other than draft positioning next spring. For another thing, Cincinnati came into Sunday’s contest with the look of a good, young team full of talent.
In other words, the Bengals came into Week 3 looking like a team on the rise.
As for Pittsburgh? If Sunday’s lifeless, listless 24-10 beatdown at the hands of those young cats was any indication, the Steelers have the look and feel of a team that’s about to fold.
Sure, you can blame the injuries, and the Steelers sure did have a lot of them heading into Sunday’s game—including defensive lineman Tyson Alualu, receiver Diontae Johnson and linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.
Unfortunately, Watt was listed as “out” for Sunday’s game almost a full day ahead of time, a somewhat surprising development that seemed to attach a sense of inevitability to the outcome.
We’ve seen how the Steelers’ offense has operated for almost a full calendar year. It isn’t a good unit. Without the playmakers on the defensive side of the ball wreaking havoc and creating optimal opportunities, or at least stifling the opposition for a full four quarters while Ben Roethlisberger and Co. try to scrounge up enough points, it’s almost impossible for this team to achieve victory these days.
Where would the Steelers be right now without that Miles Killebrew blocked punt at Buffalo in Week 1? Winless after three games, that’s where.
And that’s kind of my point. You can’t rely on a perfect performance by the defense every week. You can’t count on blocked punts. You can’t expect your other units to bail out your lifeless offense each and every game.
Can that happen at times? Yes, but it can’t happen all the time.
Sunday would have been a great time for the Steelers' offense to finally show a bit of life and lift up the defense a little. You knew the defense would be compromised, and sure enough, that’s how it played against the Bengals.
The Steelers' injury-plagued defense didn’t register a sack or even a quarterback hit on Joe Burrow all day. Keith Butler’s unit seemed helpless and mostly watched as the young passer turned in an efficient performance by completing 14 of 18 passes for 172 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.
The interception occurred early enough in Sunday’s game to make one think it would be Pittsburgh’s day after all. But not long after Terrell Edmunds’ interception set the offense up at its own 44, Roethlisberger returned the favor with his own interception that set the Bengals up at the Pittsburgh 42.
Cincinnati turned that gift into a touchdown, of course. That is what good quarterbacks do. That is what good offenses do. That is what good, young teams on the rise do.
Oh, sure, Roethlisberger threw for 318 yards on the day, but did it really feel like it?
It was no different than the usual shenanigans you’ve seen as of late, where No. 7 plays awful for most of the game, before turning things on at the end.
And did Roethlisberger really turn things on in the second half, or did he simply take advantage of some prevent-defenses once the Bengals got out to a three-score lead?
I think you know my answer.
The offense couldn’t run the ball again on Sunday, either. Oh yeah, and the offensive line did little to make anyone believe the guy who gained 40 yards running behind it—Najee Harris—was the right 2021 first-round draft pick.
Will the Steelers be okay after they get their defense healthy? I’m sure they’ll be more than okay on that side of the ball. As for the team as a whole? It just doesn’t have the look of a squad that figures to be much more than simply okay—and even that might be wishful thinking.
The Steelers' lifeless performance on Sunday sadly did seem inevitable in hindsight, and you will probably be having that feeling—along with lots of dread—a lot as the season progresses.
The 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers just aren’t very good right now, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.