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5 Major Issues Suggest a Long Season for the Pittsburgh Steelers

In a game far uglier than its final score, the Pittsburgh Steelers resembled a team in utter disarray, losing 30-6 to the Houston Texans. Shortly after the opening kickoff, the Black-and-gold began digging themselves into a hole from which escape was impossible. The same defense which bailed them out in previous weeks turned porous while failing to notch a single turnover or sack.

Once again, the Steelers offense was so ineffective that it often seemed the Texans had a copy of their play chart. For the majority of the game, running lanes were closed while receivers were blanketed. Kenny Pickett was pressured throughout the game and sacked three times, the final sack knocking him out of the game with a knee injury.

Without delving into every instance of poor play, the most significant revelation from this crushing defeat is that the Steelers’ overall strategic plan implemented during the past two years after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement apparently has run completely off track. Many of the high expectations accompanying the Steelers’ more recent drafts particularly those predicated on the performance of their highly touted, young QB collapsed with an audible thud on their disastrous outing at NRG Stadium.

Quite clearly, the performance Steelers fans have witnessed during this season’s first quarter bears no resemblance to the brand of Steelers football that produced six NFL championships. As the team currently stands, it would be hard pressed to beat any of the middling teams in the league, let alone the teams they would need to defeat were they lucky enough to somehow secure a playoff berth.

This looks very much like a back-to-the-drawing-board moment for the Steelers organization. While the weeks ahead will determine the validity of that dismal impression, the following are five broad issues which the Steelers must resolve if they hope to find success:

1) Lack of offensive creativity and inappropriate usage of offensive talent:

Just about everyone recognizes the Steelers’ current offensive scheme is entirely inadequate for any serious NFL contender. Could there possibly be a more mundane or predictable offense in the entire NFL than the one Steelers Nation has witnessed this season? Every week, we watch other NFL teams successfully running offensive plays which the Steelers seldom or never use. Largely due to poor coordination of the Steelers offense, highly talented athletes such as Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, George Pickens, Calvin Austin III and Pat Freiermuth mostly have been spinning their wheels. None of these players currently is being used in roles corresponding to their greatest strengths.

2) Poor coordination between the QB and his receivers:

Kenny Pickett hasn’t consistently been on the same page with his receivers. Because his best receivers mostly haven’t been getting open, Pickett has been tempted to exit the pocket prematurely instead of stepping up to extend the play or tucking the ball and running for positive yardage instead of
taking the sack. Perhaps worst of all, Pickett is exhibiting the same “happy feet” syndrome which has short-circuited the careers of many other highly-touted NFL quarterbacks. On the play when he sustained the knee injury, Pickett ran directly into the path of the onrushing defender when he just as easily could have tucked the ball and probably have picked up a few yards.

3) Poor OL coaching and coordination:

Despite personnel changes on the Steelers’ OL their lack of coordination both in run-and pass-blocking has been obvious in terms of the offense’s inability to move the ball and stack first downs. While poor offensive scheme certainly is responsible for part of this problem, it’s obvious
that the OL still isn’t functioning as a cohesive unit.

4) Interior Linebacker Tackling:

The Steelers’ offseason additions at interior LB largely have not impressed through four weeks of the season. Poor tackling has enabled opponents to rack up impressive yardage on the ground thereby opening up their passing attacks. Once again, we’re witnessing the downside of attempting to patch up a particular unit with players picked up as free agents during the offseason. This approach never succeeded previously with the Steelers’ OL and it probably won’t be a remedy for the inside linebacker issue.

5) Inadequate secondary talent:

Because the Steelers failed to sack or consistently pressure Texans rookie QB C.J. Stroud, their issues in the defensive backfield were exposed in Houston. In particular, free agent Patrick Peterson appears to have lost some of the capabilities that formerly made him a defensive star. As for the other
DBs, only Minkah Fitzpatrick appears to be playing standout football. But because Minkah has been forced to make most of the tackles for this defense, his durability will continue to be a significant factor
unless other teammates can step up.

Viewed as a whole, the Pittsburgh Steelers organization currently faces its greatest challenge in many years. The team’s obvious strategy of grooming Kenny Pickett to be its next franchise QB now appears to have encountered a significant roadblock. The young QB clearly isn’t getting the level of support from his offensive coaches necessary to develop his skills.

Considering the substantial investment the Steelers have made in Pickett and also drafting players to support him, this could represent a serious, potential reversal. While it’s still too early to pass judgment on Pickett’s ability to eventually become one of the NFL’s top QBs, it now at least seems obvious he won’t be the kind of fast-starter Big Ben once was.

So for every fan whose patience with the team already is nearing an end, Sunday’s debacle ought to be a neon sign flashing the unwelcome message that the Steelers might actually find themselves back to the beginning of another transition. Perhaps the greatest danger at times like this is making moves which compound the team’s problems. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what the Steelers did in Houston not only by playing so poorly but also by playing themselves into some costly injuries.

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