Following each game in the 2021 Steelers season, I will be highlighting the play or event in the game that is the turning point. These aren’t meant to be anything Earth-shattering, but meant to take a deeper look at how we arrived at the outcome of the game that may be hard to see during the first live watch.
The Steelers got trounced by the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. This team’s slow starts proved to be too much against the reigning AFC champion. In a game where the Steelers’ chances were dead on arrival, it’s hard to point specifically at what turned the tide. Therefore we’re going to get a little creative here, and highlight what I see as the difference for this Pittsburgh team.
For a team that is one of the slowest starters in the entire league this season, it comes in large part due to its inability to run the ball early in the game and protect its quarterback when it comes to trying to catch back up through the air.
Steelers have been outscored 114-19 in the first half of their last six games. #Steelers
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 26, 2021
In addition to the poor play calling from offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, it comes down to the play of this Pittsburgh offensive line. With a complete overhaul at the position group from last year to this year, in terms of opening day starters and multiple rookies, one would expect there to be some growing pains. However, we’ve gone from guys hitting the “rookie wall” to being straight up unplayable.
In case you missed it, Kendrick Green, who has shown up just about every week on film for the wrong reasons, had another highlight Sunday for SportsCenter’s Not Top 10.
— Steelers Depot 🎅🎄🎁 (@Steelersdepot) December 27, 2021
The Chiefs’ defensive lineman swims Green instantaneously with the snap and immediately is in Ben Roethlisberger’s lap as he tries to carry out a play-action screen pass. The effort causes a strip-sack, adding insult to injury to a game that was already well out of hand.
This wasn’t the difference of the game, but it was the exclamation point on the poor decisions that got the Steelers to this point.
So to get to our “turning point” of this week’s game we have to hit the rewind button back to day two of the 2021 NFL Draft.
After drafting Najee Harris out of Alabama 24th overall, the Steelers were destined to “fix the run” per owner, Art Rooney II’s orders.
As the team’s second-round pick came around, many perceived it was the time for the team to pick the replacement of long-time anchor of the Steelers’ offensive line, Maurkice Pouncey.
All but one of the top prospects at the center position were still available, and it looked like the Steelers would be able to hit a home run with their next replacement.
Top Centers Available At #55 Overall:
- Creed Humphrey – Oklahoma
- Josh Myers – Ohio State
- Quinn Meinerz – Wisconisn-Whitewater
Instead, the Steelers would choose to go in a different direction, going with a guy who we would all grow to learn as “MUUUTHHHHHH!”
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 1, 2021
While Freiermuth has been far from a bust (he’s looked like the best true TE in this rookie class), it’s easy to look at the choice in hindsight and question the positional value of the pick. It seemingly gets magnified every week while we continue to see Green struggle rep after rep, week after week.
Meanwhile, only seven picks after the Steelers, two teams got their new centers, one being, you guessed it, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Humphrey’s rookie season has been on the complete opposite end of the spectrum than Green, as he’s risen to the one of, if not arguably the best, centers in the entire NFL. Don’t believe me?
Take look a look at him pancaking Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward.
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) December 26, 2021
When’s the last time you’ve seen that?
You may say “it’s just one play,” but Humphrey has strung together great performances all season, grading out as PFF’s number one center through 16 weeks.
Creed Humphrey: 90.4 PFF Grade
— PFF (@PFF) December 23, 2021
Just how different would this Steelers offensive line look with a stud like Humphrey snapping to Roethlisberger instead of a project like Green? We’ll likely never know the answer to the question, but the swing and miss with Green likely has set this team back an extra year or two in terms of rebuilding this offensive line.
While I don’t want to make Green THE scapegoat for the Steelers’ offensive nightmare this season, it’s hard to ignore how difficult every other piece of the puzzle is when the player that starts every play cannot begin to do his job.
The scariest part of it all may be the fact that head coach, Mike Tomlin, viewed Green as a “game-ready” player, and yet it hasn’t remotely been seen yet this season.
Reminder Mike Tomlin viewed Kendrick Green as a "game ready" starter.
He is not. https://t.co/Z2tPSNmg9a
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 26, 2021
We will see if the Steelers can accept and remedy their mistakes this upcoming offseason, because without a serviceable offensive line, we’re going to be in danger of seeing a lot more 36-10 games.
What did you feel was the turning point of the game? Leave your thoughts and comments below!