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After Week 1, the Steelers offense lacks chemistry

Looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive struggles in Week 1.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Sam Greene-USA TODAY Sports

Whenever things go poorly in football, you will hear plenty of people give very different reasons why. And since week one the blame has been thrown around to plenty of different targets. The offensive line, Mitchell Trubisky, Matt Canada are the most popular targets, but which one is to blame, or are none of them to blame?

While it is easier for fans to pick a single target for blame, since one person being at fault is easy to solve (Fire Bruce Arians already!). The truth is football is a team sport, and no player acts in a vacuum. Success in football requires eleven players to act together, and the better they do that, the better everything works.

When that teamwork is slightly off, results aren’t as good.

Steelers at Bengals, 1st quarter, 15:00

Pat Freiermuth is the tight end, to the right side of the line.

The problems for the Steelers started early in Week 1. This shovel pass to Pat Freiermuth is late. And it isn’t just quarterback Mitchell Trubisky whose timing is off. Right guard James Daniels is a little slow on this play as well, and those two players both being a little slow means Freiermuth is tackled as soon as he gets the ball.

If the shovel pass gets to Freiermuth a split-second earlier, and James Daniels is a split second earlier getting to the linebacker, this is a really nice gain. If just one of them is on time, it’s a decent gain.

Steelers at Bengals, 1st quarter, 14:21

Diontae Johnson is the receiver to the top of the screen.

Diontae Johnson has to come back for this ball and it costs the Steelers a first down. Johnson is looking for the ball as soon as he turns. If the ball was thrown a half-second earlier the Steelers likely convert here. These are the kinds of throws Ben Roethlisberger lived off of in 2021, even with the limitations of his health and the situation around him, he and Johnson were on the same page and made the most of limited opportunities.

Mitchell Trubisky is new to the offense, new to his receivers, and right now he isn’t making these throws the way they need to be made to have success.

Obviously there are plenty of problems with the offense, but on the opening drive there were two plays where the timing was a bit off, and it led to no first downs and a punt.

It wasn’t just the quarterback though.

Steelers at Bengals, 3rd quarter, 10:43

George Pickens is the receiver to the top of the screen.

The throw is out of bounds and not at all close to Pickens. But look at where Pickens starts to make his out cut, and where the ball is thrown. Mitchell Trubisky is throwing a ten-yard out route here, and Pickens is not running that route.

This looks like Trubisky is expecting a hard cut on this route and Pickens rounds it off. If he cuts it right, he has a good shot at getting the ball and being in-bounds. Instead, it’s 3rd and 14.

Steelers at Bengals, 3rd quarter, 10:38

Kevin Dotson (#69) is the left guard.

The next play the offensive line has this breakdown. This is on Kevin Dotson, but to understand why this mistake happens, you need to look at the pre-snap alignment.

The yellow lines show what likely Kevin Dotson was seeing here. Dotson is uncovered, and therefore thinks he is the help blocker here. This is how the Steelers would have blocked this play in 2021, and Derek Watt (#44) would have come across to block the edge rusher to the left that Zach Gentry chips. That’s not how Pat Meyer has his players block though. Dotson has to slide left and take the defensive end, and the linebacker that is blitzing, Dotson would need to slide over once he came, and pass the lineman off to Derek Watt. You can see in the play that Watt is looking to pick up the middle-most rusher.

Dotson reacts to this play like he did in college and his first two seasons in the NFL, but it is wrong in the Steelers current scheme. These kinds of mistakes happen when you change scheme. It takes time to rewrite a player's instinctive reactions, and Kevin Dotson was splitting time with the starters throughout the summer.

Steelers at Bengals, 4th quarter, 11:34

Pat Freiermuth (#88) is the tight end to the bottom of the screen.

This ball is another late throw, and not by much. A bit earlier and the linebacker doesn’t have a chance to make a play on the ball. But this play doesn’t just show Trubisky being slow, it also shows some real potential for the problem to be solved.

There are three key things to see here. First #24 (Von Bell) on the defense is blitzing. Look at the first angle of this play and the position Bell is vacating. With that blitz coming the in-cutting route to Diontae Johnson looks promising, but the Bengals fill that spot with the dropping defensive end, #94.

Now watch Trubisky’s eyes. Before the snap he sees Bell cheating up, so after the snap his first look is to that side to see if that gap is being filled. Notice how quickly Trubisky reads the defense and moves on from Johnson’s route. Once he looks off it though, he sees Freiermuth, then takes a couple little hop steps towards his target. Those little movements are the difference between a reception and a broken-up pass. Often movements like that arise out of uncertainty.

Steelers at Bengals, 4th quarter, 11:24

Diontae Johnson is the receiver to the top of the screen.

You can see that Diontae Johnson is open here, again the ball is just thrown too late to make the play. Mitchell Trubisky is able to bring in the high snap and avoid the pressure, but he can’t get the ball off in time to complete this play.

Steelers at Bengals, 4th quarter, 12:14

Diontae Johnson is the receiver to the top of the screen.

Here’s a good one. This is an in-rhythm throw that is perfectly placed so the defender has no chance to get to the ball, and it’s a fresh set of downs for the Steelers. This drive ended with a field goal.

It may not seem like a big deal when a short route fails due to the timing being a little off, but it is the difference between extended drives and three and outs, the difference between punts and points.

Steelers at Bengals, Overtime, 2:36

Diontae Johnson is the receiver to the top of the screen.

Again the throw is a little late, and it pulls Diontae Johnson away from the first down line. A first down here sets the Steelers up for at least a field goal attempt, instead the defense would have to hold one more time.

Week one was frustrating to watch, and even more frustrating to dig through for this film room, but a big part of that frustration is how close the Steelers were to being a much better offense than what we saw.

But it wasn’t just Mitchell Trubisky, Trubisky was actually a rarity for week one, a quarterback on a new team that won his first game. Most of the quarterbacks on a new team lost their games, and most didn’t play up to expectations. It takes time for an offense to come together and excel. The Steelers have a new quarterback, new offensive lineman, and a new offensive line coach with a different scheme.

It is going to take time for this offense to live up to its potential no matter who the players are. At some point it has to work out though, or the Steelers will have to look at changing the players and if that doesn’t work, the coaches.

But for now? What these players need is time to grow into a team.