Every decent to great offense in the NFL has an identity or a structural belief on how their offense is going to operate. There have been many identities across the league throughout the years, even the Pittsburgh Steelers have gone through a couple identity changes over the last couple of years. Right now though, the Steelers are in the midst of an identity crisis as figuring out just who they are has been a difficult and often frustrating task this season.
Most teams are great at moving the ball in one of two areas; either through the air or through the trenches. Some teams are good enough to be able to do both. The Steelers fall into neither of these two categories as they have struggled to accomplish either this season.
It would be tough and unreasonable to expect this offense to play up to the standard that Ben Roethlisberger has set without him but the aerial attack has not struggled like this in quite some time. Dating back to last season, the Steelers have now gone 11 games in a row without a 300-yard passing performance and are just one of four teams not to surpass 300-yards passing in a game yet this season.
Currently this is the longest streak of its nature since 2016-2017 when the Steelers also went 11 games without surpassing 300-yards passing. The Steelers went 10-1 during that stretch while they are just 6-5 during the current 300-yard drought. Winning without throwing the football in today’s game is certainly possible, it just requires a good to elite running game. During the 2016-2017 season, the Steelers had a guy named Le’Veon Bell in their backfield. They currently do not have Bell, instead boosting a backfield that has visited the medical tent more often than they have visited the end zone.
Here are the comparisons in rushing yards between the current 300-yard passing drought and the one that occurred during the 2016-2017 seasons:
– 6-5 record
– 872 rushing yards
– 79.3 rushing yards per game
– 3.5 yards per attempt
– 10-1 record
– 1324 rushing yards
– 120.4 rushing yards per game
– 4.2 yards per attempt
The Steelers are on pace for just 1297 rushing yards this season, which would be their fewest since 1966. Truth be told, anyone looking for a sole individual or aspect to blame is going to come up empty as there are a lot of reasons for the regression in the rushing department.
James Conner has looked very good on the field this season, the only issue being that he has had a problem staying on the field. The third-year running back has missed two full games while missing time in a few others as he has suffered a multitude of injuries ranging from his ankle to his knee and now his shoulder.
His backups have also spent time on the shelf this season as both Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell have missed time this season leaving the team to rely on practice squad caliber players like Trey Edmunds and Tony Brooks-James.
The once undeniable offensive line has also been arguably suspect as the running backs have failed to put up the yardage they have usually recorded. It is not like teams are stacking the box at a higher rate than usual as Conner is facing an 8+ man defensive box on just 13.7-percent of his carries this season, a big decrease from the 27.9-percent he faced last season according to Next Gen Stats.
With a risky passing attack and a disappointing rushing attack, the Steelers offense has become as run of the mill as an offense can get. There is simply nothing here that strikes fear into defenses, especially with an unproven quarterback and an injury bug that has plagued all of its skill players. The Steelers have scored just three offensive touchdowns over the last three games as their best offense has been their defense.
The offense will not be able to rely on their defense to go to bat for them week after week. Eventually this offense is going to have to make a play and manufacture points on its own. The postseason is fast approaching and if the team wants an invitation, they are going to need an identity that will make others take notice.