The Steelers reach their bye week, and the former half-way point of the season, before they added a 17th game, with a 2-6 record. Since Chuck Noll’s awful 1969 season, his first with the team, the Steelers have never been worse than 2-6 to start a season, and each of the Steelers three coaches since then have done it twice. Noll in 1986 and 1988, Cowher in 2003 and 2006, and Tomlin in 2013 and 2022.
Take a snapshot of these snap counts and who played, because this is one of the worst teams through eight games in post-merger Steelers history.
The offensive line and quarterback played the entire game, usually a good sign. The Steelers played their starters at every position on offense, and all of their key backups. That was the Steelers offense. I’d love to say there’s magical hope for this offense to become one that can reliably score two touchdowns a game, but where would that hope come from?
Unless the defense is handing the ball to the offense already in field goal range, does anyone trust this offense to score a reasonable amount of points?
The coaching staff certainly carries a lot of responsibility for the lack of success, but look at those players. This offense only fielded two players who have been to a Pro Bowl in Week 8, Diontae Johnson and Najee Harris both made it last season. But now? In the month of October Diontae Johnson is averaging 4.1 yards per target and Najee Harris is averaging 3.5 yards per target/carry. Between the two of them they have one touchdown in these last 5 games, a reception by Harris.
The Steelers have two players who have made a Pro Bowl that didn’t play in Week 8, but while Chris Boswell is really good, he is limited to kicking plays and Mitch Trubisky doesn’t seem like the answer to turning this offense around.
This offense isn’t very talented, they aren’t well-coached, and their best players aren’t producing. But at least they have a bye week to figure things out, right?
For weeks the Steelers defense has been holding on even while the offense went farther and farther into being awful. But this week the Steelers faced an offense they couldn’t contain. A.J. Brown’s athleticism, physicality and skill exposed the Steelers secondary. The Steelers got Ahkello Witherspoon back, but he and Cameron Sutton couldn’t cover Brown. Terrell Edmunds and later James Pierre were used to cover Brown, and while they did a little better, it didn’t stop Brown from scoring three touchdowns on 156 yards receiving.
The difference between the Steelers corners trying to cover Brown and the Eagles corners covering the Steelers receivers reveals the gap in talent on both sides. Teams are figuring out how to force Minkah Fitzpatrick into helping in one area of the field, and they attack the other. When the Steelers best man-cover defender, Terrell Edmunds, can’t shut down a receiver, the Steelers really have no answers.
Since I talked about awards and the lack of award winners playing on offense, it should also be brought up that the Steelers have only Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick on defense that have played in a Pro Bowl right now. And while both of them are performing at a high level, there isn’t enough talent around them to take advantage when teams avoid those two players.
Carlos Davis deserves some praise for his return to the field. He recorded a sack, but more than that was disruptive and while he wasn’t very good against the run in this game, he was crashing the pocket, making Jalen Hurts uncomfortable and forced the Eagles to not just focus on Cameron Heyward. Carlos Davis isn’t likely to be a real solution to upgrading the defensive line, but improved depth is always a good thing on the defensive line, so that’s a nice thing.
The Steelers weaknesses on this defense are the cornerbacks and defensive line, where they could use a number one corner and another high-end lineman to complement Cameron Heyward. Of course T.J. Watt will likely cover for a lot of that when he returns from injury, but the Steelers defense looks like it is two players (and the return of Watt) away from being a great defense. That’s not something you can pull off over a bye week.