Welcome to this week's edition of the Steelers Stock Report, where yours truly attempts to identify areas where the team is trending in one direction or another. Ever the eternal optimist, I search for even the slightest improvements when and where they can be found. I also try to quantify the struggles that be by trying to minimize the negativity and maintain hope for the future. That has been easier said than done this season.
The 2021 NFL season has been absolutely zero fun for the Pittsburgh Steelers, both the players and the coaches. It's been beyond frustrating for Steelers Nation as well. Success of any kind has been hard to come by. The list of reasons responsible for these struggles is quite lengthy.
Injuries have definitely played a huge role, not only stunting the team chemistry needed for effective execution, but severely limiting the available talent on the field the past couple of games. These type of situations happen to every franchise at some point. Take the San Francisco 49ers from last year. Fresh off a Super Bowl appearance, they suffer multiple devastating injuries early last year, in what ended up being a lost season. Nobody felt sorry for them, and nobody is going to feel sorry for the Steelers situation either.
All penalties are ill timed when your offense struggles to even gain the 10 yards necessary for a first down, but it is especially frustrating to watch the rare successful offensive play negated due to infraction. Or to have numerous pre-snap hiccups make your already difficult task that much harder to achieve.
There is a obvious disconnect with the Steelers franchise at the moment, both on and off the field. Football is the ultimate team sport, meaning you win as a team and you lose as a team. Not exactly sure why, but something feels off with this group. There doesn't seem to be a sense of camaraderie, like in years past. Maybe there was just too much roster turnover via free agency and retirements for cohesiveness to be possible, especially in the early portion of the season.
Whatever the reasons, it is what it is. The 2021 season for the Steelers is in it's infancy, but it's in real danger of slipping away. It's going to take a total team effort to get things back on track, and only the players and coaching staff know what they are willing to sacrifice to make this season a success.
Steelers Stock Up: Najee Harris
Some weeks it is honestly difficult to decide on who's stock is trending in a optimal direction because the choices are plentiful. This was not one of those weeks. I honestly struggled to find worthy candidates after the latest debacle against the Cincinnati Bengals franchise that the Steelers have dominated for years. That's two ugly losses in a row to a young Bengals team that is obviously trending in the right direction. I want to show proper respect to the Bengals squad that kicked the Steelers tails fair and square, from start to finish. Injuries, both to the players on the field and the players standing in street clothes on the sidelines, definitely played a huge role in the final outcome. Not trying to make excuses, but every aspect of a loss must be closely examined prior to searching for solutions.
WR Cody White and OLB Derrek Tuszka made their NFL debuts in a Steelers uniform, with positive results. White was promoted from the practice squad due to Diontae Johnson's knee injury. He was then forced into action in the second half when JuJu Smith-Schuster was knocked out of the game with a rib injury. He caught the two targets that came his way cleanly, which was sadly notable for the Steelers receivers on Sunday.
Tuszka was surprisingly solid when you consider that was his first NFL action for the Pittsburgh Steelers, of any kind. No training camp or preseason games to get his feet wet, or break the proverbial ice. He was credited with two tackles, one solo. He also drew a holding call that negated a successful play by the Bengals. It was a less than ideal situation for the young man, and I think he acquitted himself well for the most part, especially against the running game. Consistent effort throughout, though results were sporadic.
Najee Harris is definitely trending up for the Steelers, and has cemented his status as the focal point of the offense. He had the same number of receptions on the day as he did rushing attempts, 14 of each to be precise. He was targeted an astounding 19 times in the passing game, with 4 dropped passes on his ledger. Not trying to make excuses for the youngster, but the drops were the direct byproduct of trying to do too much with precious little help from those around him, particularly his offensive line.
Steelers Stock Down: Offensive execution
During his post game presser, Ben Roethlisberger was asked a myriad of questions about why he thought the Steelers offense has been struggling so mightily thus far this season. As usual, he claimed the lion's share of the blame. He refused to place blame on his offensive line, or even mention the 11 dropped passes on the afternoon by his receivers. He did choose to mention the lack of execution by the offense as a whole.
That was a telling statement from the veteran signal caller in my opinion. Roethlisberger followed that revelation up by openly stressing that the Steelers are a proud franchise that doesn't quit. How he had been taught that lesson early on in his career by team leaders and Steelers legends. That it was his desire to pass that knowledge onto his young teammates.
I thought it strange that at that moment he felt that comment needed to be said. Then the news broke on Monday that the Bengals felt that some Steelers players gave up late in the game. That's as damning a statement for the Steelers franchise as the offensive line being labeled "soft" at the latter stages of last season.
The winningest franchise in NFL history by most metrics can never allow that mindset to enter into the realm of possibility. The one thing that every player can control everytime they step foot between the white lines is their own individual effort. Anything else other than everything you got on every play doesn't deserve to wear the Black and Gold.
The Steelers need to perform better across the board, in every aspect of the game. There are three projected contributors getting ready to be activated from injured reserve hopefully this week. Most of the injuries that caused multiple starters to miss the Bengals game altogether, or knocked them from the contest at some point, are not believed to be serious. Hopefully the majority of these talented individuals will find their way back on the playing field as early as this week.
That's the real hope that the Steelers have to show improvement this season, especially in the near future. Get their most talented players like T.J. Watt, Stephon Tuitt, Alex Highsmith, Diontae Johnson, etc. healthy and back on the field. That's the only way the Steelers can truly know what kind of roster they have, and plan for the near future accordingly.
Each player has to do their part in a collective effort for this team to be competitive, something they are not at the moment. Anybody who is unwilling to pay the price to get the job done, or is simply unable to rise to the occasion, must be replaced. Yes, even Steelers legends.