It has certainly not been easy for Steeler Nation and the Pittsburgh Steelers the last three weeks. The Steelers have not had a losing season since 2003 and it sure looks like this could be the year that streak is snapped. While fans everywhere are quick to forget about winning now for a higher draft stock in 2022, each player, coach and staff member would beg to differ. The question here is not what anyone wants out of the 2021 Steelers, but simply: Can Mike Tomlin‘s team turn the ship around? And if they can, how in the world are they supposed to do it with this offense?
Well, that’s just it. The key to a turnaround may not rely on the offense. The Steelers found a way to finish 8-8 in 2019, and almost make the playoffs, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was out for almost the entirety of the season with an elbow injury. Mason Rudolph and Delvin Hodges were at quarterback and, with all due respect to them, going 8-8 seemed like a miracle. Randy Fichtner‘s offense cracked the top 20 in just two categories: sacks allowed (9th) and rushing attempts (20th). Yes, the offense was that bad in 2019.
It is staggering to look back and see a team finish 8-8 while being dead last (32nd) in red zone touchdowns and red zone touchdown percentage, 31st in turnovers, total plays and passing yards, and 30th in first downs and total yards. In addition, the team started the season 1-3 that year. So how did the team manage to play well enough to fall just short of a playoff berth and compete each and every week? Defense.
The Steelers defense was ranked in the top 10 in 10 different defensive categories that season including sacks and turnovers (1st), interceptions (2nd), passing yards allowed (3rd) and points and total yards allowed (5th). This season, the defensive unit does not land in the top 12 in of any of those categories.
While a boost from the offense could never hurt a team trying to win football games, who has the confidence in that side of the ball to score more than, let’s be generous and say, 20 points a game from here on out? Whether it is because Roethlisberger has been bad, the play calling hasn’t fulfilled the expectations for Matt Canada‘s offense, or the offensive line’s atrocious blocking, this unit can’t be counted on. That does not mean the season has to be flushed down the toilet. The NFL’s inaugural 17-game season only benefits a team like the Steelers who have started slow. This season is not over.
Stats do not tell the whole story, but it is hard to deny that it is completely possible for a 1-3 team to turn it around and have a shot at the playoffs with a defensive-minded team. We saw it just two years ago and that was without a Hall of Fame quarterback at the helm of a struggling offense. The defense isn’t necessarily the problem with the 2021 Steelers, but it could be the solution. If Keith Butler can get T.J. Watt and co. back to 2019 form, this team has a chance to get back on track. Time is of the essence, however, and there is not much room for error going forward.
Do you think the Steelers season can still be saved? Let us know in the comments below!