The Pittsburgh Steelers could have clinched the AFC North, but instead, they embarrassed themselves. The Cincinnati Bengals were having so much fun dealing the not-so-long-ago undefeated team a 27-17 loss that Mackensie Alexander high-stepped in the middle of an interception return and third-string quarterback Ryan Finley laughed his way to the end zone after tricking what was once, just a couple of weeks ago, a fearsome defense.
This was the Steelers’ get-right game. They entered Monday Night Football on the heels of two consecutive losses, desperately needing to rebound against the lowly Bengals, who had just two wins this season. Pittsburgh already clinched a playoff berth, so its future was set, but the Steelers couldn’t get through the last couple of regular-season games playing as poorly as they were.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger admitted as much, offering some sage advice. “The season is not over,” he said. “We’ve got time,” he said.
“We have three weeks now to get it going, to turn it around, to give ourselves the best chance to reach our ultimate goal, which is winning a Super Bowl,” Roethlisberger added last week. “If we were starting the postseason tomorrow, maybe there would be a little bit more panic on our part.”
There should be full-blown panic now, because, when looking at the rest of Pittsburgh’s schedule and a surging AFC, it’s very likely this team won’t win another game. Forget the Super Bowl, the Steelers might not make it past the first week of the postseason and Week 15 was a blatant look at what’s been bubbling under the surface of this 11-win team.
The Steelers were trending down prior to their first loss in Week 13. They’ve been lacking physicality; Roethlisberger, who looked good at the start of the season after missing all but two games in 2019 with an elbow injury, hasn’t been able to push the ball down the field. The once-full wide receiver room is being held up by second-year pass-catcher Diontae Johnson and rookie Chase Claypool, who, despite being one of Pittsburgh’s biggest (literally) offensive threats, has the fourth-most targets. The team’s run game, which has struggled since 2018, is again at the bottom of the league. The non-existent backfield has averaged the second-fewest yards per game (88.9). The defense has been riddled with injuries up front.
The biggest question after all of these deficiencies is: Who can the Steelers beat now?
With Roethlisberger being unsuccessful in pushing the ball down the field, it’s going to be harder for Pittsburgh to rely on their veteran passer if he continually misses the mark underthrowing or completely misfiring his targets. The Steelers have scored fewer than 20 in four straight games and have to go toe-to-toe with the Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns to finish the regular season before facing possibly the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, or one of those aforementioned two teams again in the playoffs. Pittsburgh isn’t going to win any of these matchups with a depleted defense and an offense scoring fewer than 20 points while Roethlisberger is throwing, on average, 45 times per game (in the last four contests).
The Steelers don’t have the time, and, frankly, don’t have their identity. Are they a young, surging team that utilizes its budding stars? Or are they an old team of the past trying to hang on? The answer has been the latter with Roethlisberger showing obvious signs of aging and an offensive line that’s just as beaten; Pittsburgh ranks in the bottom five in pass-block win rate and run-block win rate.
The Steelers are no longer the fearsome team that opponents need to keep an eye on. No one is going to be afraid of a quarterback who can’t move the ball efficiently. No one is going to be scared of a defense that let a two-win team dismantle them in primetime.
Pittsburgh’s season isn’t over, Roethlisberger is right about that. But it’ll come to an abrupt end very quickly if the Steelers continue playing this poorly when it matters most.
- Aug 22, 2022
- Aug 22, 2022