Through four weeks for the 2021 season, what many expected to be an improved Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense has instead looked much like the offense the Steelers fielded in the final month and a half of the 2020 season: muddled, unable to create explosive plays or run the football, and a lack of pass protection.
Due to the struggles, a lot of eyes have been cast in Ben Roethlisberger’s direction, blaming him for some of the struggles. While that might not be fully fair to the future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, he certainly hasn’t been good enough in big moments, and continues to struggle to connect on deep throws or utilize the middle of the field, especially when teams deploy two-high or single-high safeties.
Those struggles, according to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon for the veteran quarterback and the franchise.
Writing a piece after the first four weeks stating what he believes is real and what’s not, Roethlisberger’s struggles spoke loudly in the “real” category for Barnwell.
“It’s the same guy. Stats don’t tell the whole story, but Roethlisberger doesn’t look any different on the field than he did a year ago,” Barnwell writes. “The running game struggled then and doesn’t look any better with Harris in the fold. The rookie is averaging 1.51 yards before first contact with a defender, which ranks 18th out of the 19 backs with at least 50 carries. Only Mark Ingram gets hit faster, and Ingram is a 31-year-old power back playing for the Texans.
“The offensive line is cheaper and doesn’t have the same trophy room, but it ranks 27th in both pass block win rate and run block win rate. The offense has actually gotten worse, with Pittsburgh falling from averaging 1.7 points per drive during the disappointing stretch in 2020 to 1.4 points per trip this season. The Steelers have just 13 plays of 20 yards or more, which ranks 24th. As a neutral observer, it is agonizing to watch them try to score.”
Barwell is pretty spot-on here. Many believes the struggles of the offense last year had to do with the offensive line, and maybe not Roethlisberger’s limitations. Adding a do-everything running back in the first round like Najee Harris was believed to help fix the run game issues, but that hasn’t worked to date, and Roethlisberger has clearly regressed some from his close to the 2020 season.
The line can’t pass protect, struggles to create consistent push in the run game, and Roethlisberger continues to miss receivers, displaying accuracy issues the were never a true problem for the standout quarterback.
Those aren’t the biggest issues for the Steelers though when it comes to Roethlisberger and the offense’s struggles. Those issues are on fourth down.
How that improves is anybody’s guess as offensive coordinator Matt Canada has taken blame for the play-calling on fourth down, while Roethlisberger has stated that the offense must execute better, him included.
Regardless of who is truly at fault, the offense is a mess at this point in time in the 2021 season, and Roethlisberger looks much close to the end of the line than many could have possibly anticipated coming into the season.