The proud Pittsburgh Steelers, an embarrassing 11-point underdog in Philadelphia on Sunday, seem destined to limp into their bye week at 2-6.
Where to begin in detailing this flawed team? With the most fundamental deficiency: They can’t run the ball.
That’s right, the rough, tough Black and Gold, the franchise of Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis, has compiled these recent NFL rankings in rushing offense:
- 2018: 31st
- 2019: 29th
- 2020: 32nd
- 2021: 29th
- 2022: 27th
The Steelers’ offensive line is mediocre and it’s no wonder. They haven’t drafted an offensive lineman in the first two rounds since 2012. LT Dan Moore Jr., in particular, is not an NFL-caliber starter.
Steelers Are Wasting George Pickens
The team’s excellent trio of wide receivers is scheme-limited mostly to outs, comebacks and an occasional go ball, virtually nothing in the middle of the field.
This is such a waste of phenom George Pickens, an extremely rare combination of size, speed and hands. He was the best player on the field Sunday night in Miami. Yes, better than Tyreek Hill on this particular night.
Pickens was targeted six times, all of them outside the numbers. He caught all six, including a fade to the corner of the end zone that he handled with ridiculous ease.
Now imagine Pickens snatching a slant and running away from the entire defense. Think Odell Beckham Jr. in his prime. The Steelers need to stop treating Pickens like a rookie. He’s a supernova.
Steelers’ Problems Are On Both Offense, Defense
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada, as if to please his many critics, announced in the off-season that he was planning to run the vogue outside zone. And he has to a limited degree, mixing a few reps into his grab bag of power, gap, fly sweeps, a little of everything.
What Canada fails to realize is that the outside zone is not one play. It’s a comprehensive system of offense. The basic front-side running play sets up a catalogue of complementary plays – counters, reverses, play-action bootlegs, layered pass routes on the backside. Canada incorporates very little of it.
On defense, the Steelers are not who they once were. After five consecutive years leading the league in sacks, they are tied for 22nd through Week 7. And they rank bottom-quarter in QB pressures.
For years, they lived on the “Blitzburgh” theory that heat from the front seven – most expensive in the league this year – would allow them to play less talented, less costly cornerbacks.
No longer. Their corners are now exposed. They’re small and play smaller. (About this type of player, Bill Parcells used to say, “You can eat peanuts off the top of their heads.”) This team cries out for a CB1 who can travel and compete with the opposition’s big-bodied WR1.
Someone Needs To Tell Mike Tomlin
But the biggest question is: Who’s going to persuade Mike Tomlin to consider this perspective? By seniority and force of personality, Tomlin has dominated Pittsburgh’s football operations for many years.
Who’s going to tell him that if he wants to run a contemporary offense, he must find a coordinator from the Sean McVay/Kyle Shanahan coaching tree? Look at the immediate turnarounds engineered by disciples Zac Taylor, Matt LaFleur, Kevin O’Connell and Mike McDaniel.
Tomlin himself has no coaching tree – a serious indictment after 16 years with the Steelers – so he must reach outside the familiar.
Who’s going to tell Tomlin that his 2023 draft must be committed to premium positions? No more trading up for inside linebackers like Devin Bush. No more first-round running backs like Najee Harris, nor safeties like Terrell Edmunds.
The fan focus this season has been Kenny Pickett vs. Mitch Trubisky. But in reality, it doesn’t matter in the short term who the quarterback is. The Steelers’ problems run much deeper.