Despite having Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger and a $100 million line, the Steelers’ offensive output so far in 2017 has been underwhelming, to say the very least. So far, Brown has been the only player consistently above the line. Every other offensive player has looked, across the spectrum of the first three weeks, mostly average.
Sure, there have been bright spots, like Martavis Bryant’s 51-yard catch and his 27-yard touchdown in Week 2, or Jesse James’ two touchdowns in Week 1. But they’ve been few and far between, and that’s simply unacceptable when you have this much firepower at your disposal.
But it’s not entirely just the lack of performance from players. For players to perform consistently, they need to be given consistent opportunities to perform. That comes from the offensive play-calling, and that’s been lackluster at best and downright terrible at worst. That blame lies squarely on the shoulders of offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Second-and-goal from the 1-yard line? Empty set. Second-and-goal from the one is a situation offensive coordinators love, because anything and everything is on the table. By going without a running back, though, half of the options — in other words, all the running plays — are immediately off the table. The defense can drop six or even seven defenders into coverage, and simply make sure the quarterback doesn’t take off running. The same applies to second-and-short just about everywhere else on the field, too. Yet, inexplicably, Haley continues to telegraph his intentions by taking everyone out of the backfield.
Then there’s his near-obsessive use of bubble screens. Against the Browns in week one, the Steelers’ first four plays were all screens to wide receivers on the perimeter. And when it wasn’t a screen, it was a deep ball. There have been frighteningly few plays called through three games that have been designed to take advantage of the intermediate parts of the field where the Steelers’ bread-and-butter has been during the last few years.
Defensively, coordinator Keith Butler might not be on quite as hot of a seat, but he should still be feeling uncomfortably toasty right now. Despite the defense carrying the team through the first two weeks, they were absolutely destroyed by running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen on Sunday. The errors were junior-varsity goofs, too, like poor run fills and over-pursuit on the edges. Those are preparation and discipline issues, not the absence of knowledge and technique.
Yes, the defense was playing without defensive end Stephon Tuitt and outside linebacker T.J. Watt. But they have more than enough talent to replace them and stay above the line. They simply didn’t do that on Sunday. Maybe they were distracted by all the political issues that cast a pall over the entire day of games. But that’s no excuse for multi-million-dollar professionals. If it is, then there’s a bigger issue at play.
Some of the blame certainly lies with head coach Mike Tomlin, as well. A running theme for the Steelers under Tomlin has been the seemingly annual September Stinker, losing to a far-inferior team and usually on the road. It’s a valid argument, but the Steelers aren’t about to even consider firing a head coach who has never had a losing season and was a game away from the Super Bowl last season.
In the end, though, something needs to change. Hopefully, Tomlin will light a fire under his coordinators. If he doesn’t, maybe team president Art Rooney II will.