Without a doubt, the Steelers offense struggled immensely in 2021, ranking bottom five in passing and rushing offense. The quick release time of Ben Roethlisberger, as well as the lack of big-time plays and inconsistent O-line play proved to be a fatal combination for the Steelers offense. In a recent NFL.com interview, NFL Analyst and Senior Producer Greg Cosell delved into some of the Steelers offensive deficiencies, citing key improvements that must be made in 2022.
“Well, one thing they absolutely need to look like, which they did not have last year. Even with big Ben is a meaningful intermediate passing game,” Cosell noted in the interview. “This was a team that could not really throw the ball effectively. It was either vertical shots, fades, go balls or very short passes. There was no real meaningful intermediate pass game.”
According to PFF QB annual’s data, only 18% of Ben Roethelisberger in 2021 came 10-19 yards from the line of scrimmage for a passer rating of 80.9, both of which are well below the NFL averages of 94.2 and 22%, respectively. A lack of a fundamental portion of the passing game in the intermediate range also provides opposing defenses a great degree of schematic flexibility, allowing them to focus on nullifying the vertical shots and very short passes that Cosell went on to mention. Ben Roethlisberger also notably had the quickest release time in the NFL.
“You need to find a way to create explosive pass plays.”
If one change is certain to take the Steelers out of the bottom five in passing offense, it’s an improvement in explosive passing plays. With new weapons in Calvin Austin and George Pickens, as well as a new quarterback, Matt Canada has an opportunity to incorporate new deep passing concepts for explosive plays.
“The issue with Najee Harris, he’s a really good back, but he’s a certain kind of back. He’s not really a big playback. That’s the thing with him is he’s an inside runner,” Cosell described the Steelers running back.” So that gets back to the passing game. You can use him to create some things and set some things up. And then you get into use of personnel and formations that you can dictate.”
Indeed, a key indicator of the Steelers offensive success in 2022 will be how they use second year back Najee Harris. In 2021, it often appeared that he was force fed carries that the defense all but expected. A more efficient passing game benefits Harris and the Steelers run game immensely, as it allows flexibility with personnel and more variety in playcalling.
All in all, while it’s always hard to move on from a long-time quarterback, it is a chance for a fresh offensive start. Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada has an opportunity to incorporate new passing concepts with a younger arm in order to revamp the intermediate passing game and the running game while also attempting more explosive plays and less quick passes.