Following Jason La Canfora’s scathing comments about Ben Roethlisberger and the state of the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s no surprise to see him exclude the Steelers from the 2021 playoff race. In a CBS article posted Monday, he predicted Pittsburgh to be one of five teams who made the 2020 postseason but won’t return this year.
Here’s what La Canfora wrote:
“Every bit of empirical data and every hour of film review painted a very bleak picture of where this offense was headed with Ben Roethlisberger hanging on by a thread. Hard to see this ending well, and the offensive line is a shell of what it once was, too. This franchise has staved off a losing season in ways most could only dream of, but this league will eventually pull everyone down, and this roster is not good enough to overcome the shortcomings moving the ball downfield. I’m getting worried about all the tread on the defensive line as well.”
There’s no question the Steelers’ roster is in worse shape than a year ago and carries more question marks than it usually does. Beyond Roethlisberger, the offensive line is a total unknown, with changes at every level. Personnel, positional coaches, and coordinators. In some ways though, that isn’t a bad thing. This line wasn’t good enough a season ago and carrying the same group of guys into 2021 probably wasn’t going to produce significantly better results. But the front five, individually and as a unit, will determine how well this offense plays. How Chukwuma Okorafor presumably will look at left tackle. What kind of player Zach Banner is. If a rookie like Kendrick Green can win the starting job and fill Maurkice Pouncey’s shoes.
Questions on defense, as La Canfora alludes to at the end, are bigger than they were a year ago. How well Alex Highsmith will do in replacing Bud Dupree and more importantly, the lack of depth behind him. The Steelers’ secondary went from being one of the league’s strongest and deepest to have its own projections, mainly around James Pierre and/or Justin Layne. Either one of those guys could be in line to play a ton of snaps this season. The team’s dime defender is unknown. It may be handed to sophomore Antoine Brooks Jr., and safety depth is thin, especially behind FS Minkah Fitzpatrick. Mike Hilton’s departure was expected. Steven Nelson’s was not.
Beyond the Steelers’ roster, the AFC North continues to get more competitive. Cleveland could enter as a justifiable divisional favorite for the first time in forever, while Baltimore will always be a tough out. All that said, don’t discount Pittsburgh’s chances. After all, they swept the Ravens last season and blew out the Browns in their first regular-season meeting. La Canfora is underestimating Roethlisberger, and the defense is still stout up front and could easily have another 50+ sack season.
But if his prediction comes true and the Steelers don’t make the playoffs, it would not be a shock, even if it would be a disappointment and probably a quiet end to Roethlisberger’s Hall of Fame career.