It was less than a month ago that we were looking at the Steelers and trying to find weaknesses in their perfect 11-0 record. We knew that their offense was not elite and we knew that they played a very soft schedule, but how the tables have turned since then. The Steelers have dropped three straight games, including two losses to teams with losing records.
The Steelers hit rock bottom for the season last night by losing to the 2-10-1 Bengals who they had beaten 11 straight times! To make it worse, the Bengals were on their third-string QB, without their RB1 and their most productive WR left the game in the 1st quarter with a concussion. Even with all of these injuries, the Bengals were able to win the game 27-17 while holding the Steelers to 244 total yards of offense and three turnovers. There are very troubling issues going on with the Steelers offense, and they show absolutely no signs of being fixable this season.
The glaring issue is the lack of ability for the Steelers to move the ball consistently on offense. Before the injury bug hit their defense taking out players like Bud Dupree and Devin Bush for the season due to torn ACL's and knocking out Robert Spillane with a knee injury until Week 17, this defense was able to hide a lot of the issues on the other side of the football. The defense still ranks second in the league in turnovers forced per game, yards allowed per game, and points allowed per game, but these numbers have taken a hit over this three game losing streak, forcing the offense to win them games. The offense simply is incapable of doing this.
Over the previous four games, in which the Steelers are 1-3 with only a win over a Ravens team without Lamar Jackson, the Steelers are averaging 282 total yards of offense, 17 points per game and a dismal 4.4 yards per play. This issue is not new, but is much easier to see when the defense isn't dominating every team they play. The Steelers rank 27th in the league in yards per play on the season at five yards. They rank 31st in the league in rushing yards per game at 88.9 yards, and the Steelers rank 17th in the league in passing yards per game at 240.1. This offense has only eclipsed six yards per play in one game this season all the way back in Week Two against the Denver Broncos. There are seven offenses that average over six yards per play on the season. To make it even worse, the Steelers have failed to reach five yards per play on offense in half of their 14 games this season. This offense lacks a running game and a downfield passing game. Teams can get away without having one of these areas of an offense, but no way with both.
The script to shutting down this Steelers offense is well-known at this point. Defenses are taking away the ability for the talented Pittsburgh receivers' to get yards after the catch and sitting on their underneath routes. Defenses don't even necessarily have to load the box because everyone knows the Steelers do not have the ability to run the football. With Big Ben's inability to make throws downfield accurately and the Steelers obsession of making sure Ben takes as few hits as possible per game, this offense is extremely basic and easy to predict. These are issues that are not fixable this late in the season. The Steelers need their defense to dominate and force a couple turnovers to give their offense a short field week in and week out at this point to win football games. With all of the injuries on that side of the football and with the amount of time per game the defense is stuck out on the field, this is a very difficult task to ask consistently.
The Steelers are now in real trouble in their own division, which is crazy to think about considering they held a three game lead and the tiebreaker over the Cleveland Browns just three weeks ago. Now the Steelers lead is down to just one game, while having to face a very good team in the Colts this week. If they lose this game and the Browns take care of business vs the Jets, that means the Steelers would be traveling to Cleveland in Week 17 for a division deciding game against a team that has not won the division title since 1989. This spells real trouble and some warranted panic if you are a fan of the Steelers. It's a very real possibility this Steelers team goes from 11-0 to finishing 11-5. That is far from ideal for motivating a team to make a postseason run.