What’s going on in Pittsburgh: Big Ben’s final year? Offensive troubles and defensive injuries.
There is a lot going on in Pittsburgh. This is a team that has a lot of history. Bruising defense paired with a deadly offense. This is a team that hasn’t finished below .500 since the 2003 season. They rank 3rd in the NFL in terms of Hall of Fame members with 24, only trailing Green Bay with 26 and Chicago with 30. The were the 1st franchise to hit six Super Bowl wins, which they now share with the New England Patriots.
When we take a look back at this franchise, there are so many notable players and plays. The Immaculate reception where we saw Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw throw a pass over the middle to John Fuqua, only to be deflected off of Jack Tatum’s facemask. Then out of nowhere, you see Franco Harris running with the ball down the sidelines to score a game winning touchdown against the Raiders. What about Lynn Swann’s catch in Super Bowl 10? Nicknamed the “Levitating Leap”, even though some think the “Kangaroo Catch” was the better of the two nicknames.
Regardless of their history, lets take a look at what’s going on now. For the better part of the last 20 years, the AFC North has been controlled by mainly the Steelers, with the Baltimore Ravens hot on their trail. Since 2001, the Steelers have won the division 11 times and finished second six times. The other four years they finished third.
Right now, the division is looking tight. The Cleveland Browns are looking fantastic, the Ravens took down defending AFC Champs the Kansas City Chiefs, the Cincinnati Bengals are looking promising, and Pittsburgh is just running along side them. Lets breakdown what seems to be the problem with Pittsburgh.
The Steelers lost 3 out of their 5 starting offensive linemen from last season. Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey retired during the offseason, and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva left for division rival Ravens. As if things couldn’t look any worse, the team decided to release one of the top guards in the game in David Decastro. Now with these moves, one would expect the Steelers to get younger and/or better. They signed Trai Turner, and paired him with Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, rookie Kenrick Green and Zach Banner.
This team invested a late first round pick on running back Najee Harris, but through 2 weeks he only has 83 rushing yards. Last year we saw Ben throw the ball 608 times. Bringing in Najee was a way to get the ball out of Ben’s hands that much and help him with a rushing attack. So far this year we haven’t seen too much of that attack. They rank 32nd, dead last, in terms of rushing yards per game with 57. The Ravens average 220 rushing yards per game, and the Eagles come in second with 162. They are not off to a great start.
Last year, Ben threw the ball 608 times, second most in his career. His career high is 675 in 2018. In 2020 he averaged 40.5 passes per game as he only played in 15 regular season games. He averaged 42 passes in 2018 playing in all 16 games.
Here’s where the stats differ. 2018 saw Ben complete 452/675 for a completion rate of 67%. He also threw for 5129 yards, 34 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Last year we saw him go 399/608 for a 65.8% completion rate, but it was for only 3803 yards. His touchdowns were at 33, and his picks were at 10. He was throwing an average of 320.6 yards pre game on 42 passes, while last year he was throwing for an average of 253.5 yards on 40.5 passes.
Ben is throwing almost the same amount, but isn’t seeing the same production. This year Ben is averaging 36 passes per game for 241.5 yards. Hopefully as the year goes on, the run game can progress and become better to give Ben a break.
3 notable players on defense are listed as questionable. Starting Cornerback Joe Haden, starting Linebacker Devin Bush, and arguably the biggest name is freshly paid Linebacker/Edge Rusher T.J. Watt.
· T.J. Watt (groin)– Steelers fans have lucked out with this one. Watt’s injury is not considered to be serious, as he could be ready to go for their weekly matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals offensive line stopping T.J. Watt is going to be like a group of 3rd graders at recess going up against Bishop Sycamore.
· Devin Bush (Groin)- Devin Bush was absent on Sunday’s matchup against the Raiders. No word yet as he is still questionable of this upcoming Sunday.
· Joe Haden (Groin) – Another day, another groin injury. Along with Bush, Haden was also out for last Sunday’s game. Haden is working on making his return to the field but remains questionable for Sunday’s matchup.
There is not doubt in my mind that if Pittsburgh had the three players above out there for the full 60 minutes, the outcome of the game would’ve been different. T.J. Watt is a gamechanger, a true X-Factor. He has 2 strip sacks in a game and a half this season. Devin Bush can keep up with almost any running back, tight end, or wide receiver in the league with his 4.43 40 time, Saquon Barkley ran a 4.41 as a comparison. Joe Haden is past him prime, but past his prime is still better than most corner back prime years anyway.
Once they are all back and healthy, they will be able to pick up where they left off last year.
Big Ben has thrown for 60,831 in his career, he still has a little bit of juice left in him, but if they cant control games by running the ball, Ben wont win you games. You can’t expect him to be able to go throw 40 times a game and make the Super Bowl, it’s not realistic for him. Some fans are calling for his head, others remember what he has done for them over the years and still believe he can be that guy.
I think that this is a prove it year for Ben. Show the people what you can do, and if you can’t get it done, then you start to look for other options. Whether that be drafting his replacement in the 2022 draft, let Ben go, see what you have in Haskins who is only a couple years removed from being a first round draft pick, or keep him for one more year to mentor a young guy you bring in.
Whatever it is, the time to act is sooner rather than later, before you waste a couple of years on what is a top rated defense, and a deep selection of skill position players. Invest next offseason on a better offensive line as well to help whoever the signal caller is in Pittsburgh. Unless you are Mahomes and Reid in Kansas City, its going to be hard to win with a pass heavy offense. Balance is always the key
Article by Passion