The Pittsburgh Steelers posted the fourth-best record in the NFL last season, with only the Kansas City Chiefs, the Buffalo Bills, and the Green Bay Packers finishing 13-3 or better. But they were also among the first teams eliminated from the postseason during the Wildcard Round in January, marking the fifth consecutive season in which they went without recording a postseason victory.
It’s not surprising that opinions about the Steelers in 2021 have been pretty mixed then, though few have really given them much consideration as genuine Super Bowl contenders. Pro Football Focus recently placed them 12th in their post-draft power rankings, which unsurprisingly positions them third in the AFC North, behind the Baltimore Ravens (5th) and the Cleveland Browns (8th).
“The single biggest question the Steelers face this year is what they will get out of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but that’s a question that hinges on two others, primarily: How will the shaken-up offensive line perform; and what can Najee Harris bring to the table in the way of a complementary running game?”
Those seemingly few commentators who have suggested that the Steelers have a chance of doing some damage this year have focused on the importance of their building a diverse offense that takes some of the burden off of Roethlisberger’s shoulders and doesn’t ask him to do too much after being among the league leaders in pass attempts per game last season.
It seems fairly logical, after all. Even the players talked during the 2020 season about how so much of their offense was ‘drawn up in the dirt’ and was a byproduct of a lack of success running the football. They turned to a passing attack in multiple games just as a way to jump-start an offense that was going nowhere, going five-wide with no running back on the field, and often with five wide receivers.
The key is more about running well, however, as opposed to running more, though the former typically leads to the latter — you generally want to do the things you do well as often as it works. Pittsburgh not only ran infrequently, but especially in the second half of the year, poorly.
And it’s not just on the offense. The defense also has to measure up. The bare minimum requirement is that they keep the status quo from recent years, and they will have to do so in the absence of core contributors like Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, and without any prominent additions this offseason, though they do get Devin Bush back from injury.
What does it all add up to? Well, nobody really knows in May, as attested to by the variability in analysis about how the Steelers are projected to perform this year. But one way or another, this figures to mark the end of an era, or at least the beginning of an end.