Roller coasters are fun if you’re riding the Jack Rabbit at Kennywood. They’re a lot less fun when it’s how you’d describe your football team. But that’s the right word to describe the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season. And it’s a word Kevin Colbert would like the team to shed next year.
Colbert spoke with the media Monday and summed up the Steelers’ 2021 campaign.
“Looking at the 2021 season, obviously 9-7-1 was good enough to make the playoffs but the thing we were disappointed with was the lack of consistency within that season,” he said via a transcript provided by the team. “I mean we had some huge wins. We had some disappointing losses. Ultimately it was good enough to get us into the playoffs, but a first-round elimination will never be acceptable, never be good enough. So obviously we got work to do to get that corrected.”
Pittsburgh rarely gained great traction during the year, digging themselves a big hole to start the season. After beating the Buffalo Bills in Week 1, they lost their next three games, including their first two at home, putting themselves in a 1-3 ditch. They rebounded with four straight wins though they were often bumpy victories over the likes of the Seattle Seahawks (without Russell Wilson) and the Chicago Bears. That put them at 5-3 on the year heading into a winnable matchup against the winless Detroit Lions. But Ben Roethlisberger was shelved on the COVID list 24 hours before kickoff, thrusting Mason Rudolph into the starting role. Couple that with key overtime fumbles by Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth and the Steelers settled for a tie. They lost their next two games to drop to 5-5-1.
Pittsburgh went 2-2 over their next four games before putting together a brief winning streak to close out the year with victories against the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, doing just enough – and getting lots of help – to squeak into the playoffs, where they were quickly bounced by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Even with a winning record, the Steelers rarely won comfortable and seemingly limped their way to victories. Only one of their wins, Week 17 against the Cleveland Browns, was a two-possession victory, and that game was a nail-biter with Najee Harris providing the game-sealing touchdown less than a minute to go. All other of their eight wins were eight points or fewer.
To be fair, winning in the NFL is hard enough, let alone winning convincingly. But it was an unusually low number for the Steelers. Here’s how that stacks up in recent years (which were only 16 game seasons, keep in mind).
Two-Possession Victories (2015-2021)
The only season that compares is 2019, a year without Ben Roethlisberger for all but two games. And the Steelers still had more 9+ point victories than they did in 2021 with Roethlisberger starting 16 of the 17 games.
Consistency only comes with better talent and more consistent play. The Steelers’ defense will have to clean things up, Colbert citing a terribly inconsistent defense that was only consistently bad, along with an offense that will have more new faces and moving parts.