When the Pittsburgh Steelers entered this 2015 campaign, many no doubt expected that there would not be a significant margin between how many points the offense scored, and how many points the defense allowed, also referred to as net points.
Halfway through the season, the Steelers have just a +21 points differential, scoring 168 points (a figure that includes a pick six), while giving up 147 points. That figure ranks 12th in the league, nearly 100 points behind the Patriots, and 45 points behind the AFC North-leading Bengals.
But the road to this reality is not the one that we expected when we first started.
The anticipation was that the offense would finally make good on its explosive potential with Ben Roethlisberger reaching new heights surrounded by a dynamic cast of skill position players and an offensive line that has finally had stability.
Defensively, the hope was simply that they could manage to give up less points than the offense scores on a weekly basis. For perspective, Roethlisberger reasonably posited that this offense should be able to put up 30 points per game, which they bettered over the course of the last 10 games of the 2014 regular season.
Instead, the team has been averaging just 21 points per game, and the offense slightly less than that when you take away the defensive touchdown. It goes without saying that there are extreme caveats to this scenario, as the team has been riddled with injuries on offense in the wake of a pair of suspensions to key contributors to start the year.
The fact that the Steelers had four games quarterbacked by Mike Vick and Landry Jones goes a long way toward explaining why they have fallen so short of the goal of scoring 30 points per game. The season-ending and potentially season-ending injuries to two key linemen, Kelvin Beachum and Maurkice Pouncey, go a long way toward explaining that.
The fact that they will have gotten just six games out of perhaps the greatest all-around football player in the game, Le’Veon Bell—the fact that Martavis Bryant missed the first five games of the season—that they had to fire their third kicker of the year after missing four field goals out of 10 attempts—goes a long way toward explaining the offensive futility.
It was hoped that they had weathered the storm the best they could and that Sunday would be the turning point. Roethlisberger was back, and they were as healthy as they could be. But in the process, they lost Bell, and Roethlisberger looked not far short of awful after the opening drive.
In order for the Steelers to reach that lofty goal of 30 points per game, they would need to score 312 points over the course of the next eight games, or 39 points per game. But they no longer have the offense that could have taken them there, minus Bell, minus Pouncey, minus Beachum, and with Roethlisberger looking to rediscover his form on the fly.
Surprisingly, it has been the defense keeping the Steelers in games, and keeping their season alive. The defense has allowed opponents to score just 18.4 points per game after holding the Bengals to 16.
The most the Steelers have given up to date in a game are to the Patriots with 28. They are averaging 35.6 points per game. They have allowed only three opponents to score more than 20 points, one of which came in overtime. With the 21st-ranked scoring offense, Pittsburgh has simply needed its top-five scoring defense just to be where it is now.