I can’t imagine anyone would argue the Steelers passing offense was good in 2021, but you can get a pretty good argument going when you start asking why it was bad. A week ago I made my best case for four different potential suspects in the demise of the Steelers passing game.
I’ll go through them in reverse order, starting with the group that got the least votes and moving up.
4 - The Receivers, 22 votes, 2.7%.
While the receivers were talked about a lot after the 2020 season, mostly focusing on drops, they received by far the fewest votes in this poll. One reason for that is likely the decrease in drops in 2021, when in spite of playing a 17th game, the number of drops went from 43 drops on 656 passes in 2020 to 33 on 664 passes in 2021, reducing the drop rate from 6.55% to 4.97%. That’s an improvement from first in drop rate in the NFL in 2020 to 14th in 2021.
While the rest of the passing offense was worse statistically than it was in 2020, the one area that can best be isolated as the receivers fault actually improved substantially in one season. Even more impressive is that it happened in a season when JuJu Smith-Schuster, the most sure-handed receiver on the team statistically, only playing in 5 games.
3 - The Quarterback, 198 votes, 24.1%.
Depending on how you view Ben Roethlisberger, you will likely be surprised that the Steelers long-time quarterback got this many votes, or that he ranks 3rd on this list. While both statistics and film show the future Hall of Famer wasn’t the same quarterback after his arm injury in 2019.
But the stats and film also show that in 2020 before the Steelers offensive line fell apart, Ben Roethlisberger was still able to throw downfield and the Steelers offense moved the ball pretty well. We all know what we saw once the line fell apart in 2020, and what we saw in 2021, and it isn’t hard to look up Ben Roethlisberger’s time to throw and say that while Roethlisberger’s age and the diminished athleticism that goes with it certainly hurt his impact on the game, it wasn’t the only problem, and for BTSC readers, it ranked 3rd.
2 - The Offensive Coordinator, 207 votes, 25.2%.
Only nine votes separate the quarterback and offensive coordinator in this poll. Matt Canada joined the Steelers as the quarterbacks coach in 2020 and has some impact on the run game early on. He took over in 2021 and we saw the same problems in 2021 that we saw in 2020. So while the offensive scheme wasn’t good, it is questionable as to how much better the scheme could have been with the talent available to it, and it’s reasonable to ask if the scheme would be a problem if Matt Canada had the personnel to run it. So while Matt Canada’s offense earned a second place finish on this poll, the best judge of Canada’s offense will be the success in the upcoming season when the Steelers have a better chance to fit the talent to the scheme.
1 - The Offensive Line, 395 votes, 48%
The winner by a substantial margin of votes, and therefore the loser in this poll, is the offensive line. The stats and film show the struggles of the offensive line, and it is easy to see how poor offensive line play can undermine the scheme and the quarterback’s ability to function successfully.
With two rookies on the line there is a pretty good chance for the offensive line to improve. Kevin Dotson was playing really well while surrounded by overmatched first-year players, and while neither Trai Turner nor Chukwuma Okorafor were standout players, there is plenty of opportunity for the Steelers to improve on those positions this offseason. It should be noted that while this article and poll were about the passing offense, the offensive line would easily win a poll as to what was wrong with the run game as well.
The people have spoken, the No. 1 problem with the Steelers passing offense was the offensive line, now it’s up to the Steelers to fix that problem so the next quarterback of the Steelers doesn’t have to deal with what Ben Roethlisberger dealt with in 2021.