The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended in a humiliating loss to the Cleveland Browns Sunday night. Their pristine start to the season had them looking like clear contenders. But instead, their flaws all showed to close the season, then they fell flat on their face once the game was for all the marbles. Here are the top 3 issues the Steelers need to address in the offseason:
3. Correct Their Wide Receiver Problem
After an 11-0 start, the Steelers unraveled before the NFL community’s eyes. That collapse began in their 23-13 loss against Washington– a game where their players dropped eight passes.
The trend continued throughout the season, the Steelers tied with the Cowboys for most dropped passes in the NFL.
With Ben Roethlisberger’s decline, he’s no longer the world-beater that he once was. But the Steelers dropped even many of the good passes that Big Ben was able to throw, which led to deflating three-and-out drives.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is very aware of this issue and has already hinted at the solution.
#Steelers had eight drops yesterday. Mike Tomlin’s plan to address that? “They can catch the ball or they can get replaced by those that will catch it. I expect guys to make routine plays routinely.”
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) December 8, 2020
2. The Steelers’ QB Plan
It’s no secret that Big Ben isn’t in the best of shape– it’s actually the norm. The problem now is that not only is he out of shape, but he’s getting up there in age. Being older means some of those intermediate passes aren’t
Since the Steelers’ run game isn’t at the elite level fans are accustomed to it is, they aren’t able to run play action to protect Roethlisberger under center. The easiest fix, of course, is to develop a run game. If they aren’t able to do that then they have two options.
The first and likely option is for Roethlisberger to get in better shape. In his current state, he isn’t able to move side left or right to get in the pocket. Because of this, he’s been a standing target for opposing defenses. He’s been taking hits that have piled up into minor injuries where he can’t get that pass off anymore.
Unless he is able to develop a level of elusiveness– which is unlikely this late in his career– Roethlisberger will continue to struggle.
The next option is to move on at quarterback. With Roethlisberger on the decline, largely behind Father Time– the Steelers need someone under center who can scramble to keep plays alive.
The problem is that Pittsburgh never developed another quarterback. Since Big Ben has always been there, the Steelers haven’t put the time and money towards their second string.
That leaves the Steelers with very few options to upgrade at quarterback, meaning they have to find ways to protect and cover up their quarterback issues.
1. Reestablish The Run Game
The Steelers have always been a physical team– from the ’70s to the past few seasons. Since the departure of Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers have failed to replace his productivity.
The Steelers ranked dead last in rushing yards and yards per carry this season. In Week 13, the team managed to only gain 21 yards on the ground and followed up with just 47 yards in Week 14.
There are a few contributing factors to Pittsburgh’s abysmal run game. The first is their offensive line. Injuries definitely played a role in their line’s woes but were not the sole problem. Father Time has caught up with Pittsburgh’s two Pro Bowlers– center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro–leaving them ineffective on zone running plays.
Additionally, their offensive line as a whole is much more effective in pass protection than run blocking – a primary reason the team is unable to garner movement on the ground.
At the running back position, they lack a dynamic playmaker. Their current running back, James Connor, can only use what’s there– a quality that is effective with a strong o-line. To add to that, Connor isn’t the most durable running back, a tough trait that hurts in a highly physical position.
The coaching staff is also at fault in this case, because they haven’t put enough emphasis on running the ball. The Steelers pass more than any team in the NFL. When you neglect the run game for long durations, the team becomes accustomed to not being physical upfront. In turn, the team will throw for 40-plus times a game then fail to grind out a 3rd-and-short.
The Steelers have to strengthen their o-line to create more opportunities for Connor– or strengthen their roster in both the running back position as well as their o-line. Once they strengthen their running game, their play-action passing game becomes deadly– helping issues 2 and 3 in a big way.