There isn’t a living soul who could successfully paint the Pittsburgh Steelers’ current predicament in a positive light. They are already two games out of third place in the AFC North just four games into the season, sitting at 1-3, despite at least being relatively healthy on the offensive side of the ball, even if they have had some injuries defensively.
They have had a bit of a tough schedule, admittedly—all four of their opponents currently hold a 3-1 record—but there isn’t a player in the Steelers’ locker room who wouldn’t say that they shouldn’t be 3-1 or better, or that they must do better than they have been. Still, others, such as veterans who have been around the block, try to put it in perspective: there is still time.
“We front week to week, like every week is the Super Bowl. Some weeks are admittedly bigger than others, but we still have some time”, veteran guard Trai Turner told reporters on Monday following Pittsburgh’s third consecutive loss. “I believe in everybody and all the staff, and I believe in the players that we have on the field. I feel like it’s only a matter of time”.
There have been small improvements, such as in the running game this past week, which deserves to be noted. They are starting to play more as a team, as collective units, though individual losses are still an issue. Turner himself was responsible for allowing a very costly strip sack on Sunday that led to a Green Bay Packers touchdown on a drive that began on the Steelers’ 23.
But this is an offense that as four rookies starting. Next to Turner is third-round center Kendrick Green, and at left tackle starts Dan Moore Jr., the fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M. They are blocking for first-round running back Najee Harris, with second-round tight end Pat Freiermuth very much in the mix of all things.
Of course, it’s not just the rookies. Turner is also new to the team along the offensive line, and left guard Kevin Dotson is only in his second season. The Steelers parted ways with their offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, promoting second- and third-year assistant coaches to those respective roles.
They also hired a new quarterbacks coach and a new tight ends coach, as well as a new assistant offensive line coach, so there have been way more moving parts on offense than there normally are. And let’s not forget that Chase Claypool is also a second-year player.
Defensively, you’re waiting on Stephon Tuitt to get healthy, and Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt have been dogged by early-season groin injuries. Devin Bush is playing his way back from a torn ACL, and Joe Schobert is week by week acclimating himself to the team to which he was traded in August, while a shakeup in the secondary, including a rookie seventh-round pick, continues to solidify itself.
There are a lot of elements to the Steelers’ 2021 roster, especially their starting lineup, that suggest a clear growth projection over time. The question is how long that growth will take, and whether or not they can win while they grow. So far, the answer to the latter question has been mostly no.