The (2-1) Pittsburgh Steelers may stand at the top of the AFC North, but with each passing week we’ve been left with more doubts about the state of Ben Roethlisberger’s much-hyped offense. Through three weeks of football, the Steelers’ jekyll-and-hyde act, which became a motif of their 2016 season, has continued unabated. In short, Pittsburgh look solid at home, but disjointed and anemic on the road.
A string of unconvincing offensive performances — including car crash display against Chicago last week — has left the Steelers ranked 22nd in total offense, and 30th in rushing yards. For a unit containing Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown, the Steelers’ offense has fallen far short of expectations. The type of explosive offensive production that had become almost routine in previous years has been largely absent this season. Instead, the rushing attack has faltered to an alarming degree, and Roethlisberger hasn’t been able to fully compensate for Bell’s woes. All told, to describe Pittsburgh’s offense as underwhelming would be an act of unreasonable generosity.
Refreshingly, however, Roethlisberger has pinned Pittsburgh’s early struggles on his own poor play. Following the surprise Week Three loss to Chicago, the veteran signal-caller pointed to his own inefficiencies when explaining the Steelers’ offensive ineptitude. “I didn’t play well enough to win”, he told ESPN last week, “We lost the game because of me, because I didn’t play well enough”. If Pittsburgh’s primary problem is indeed the quarterback position, then we shouldn’t be too quick to push the panic button. Roethlisberger has the experience and self-awareness to remedy any mechanical issues.
But if the Steelers are to find rhythm on offense going forward, Roethlisberger will need to put more trust in his elite coterie of weapons. At times this season, he has been caught forcing throws to Brown — irrespective of whether his No.1 receiver has been the best available option. Although AB has put up a pair of 10-catch games, he has often been targeted in heavy coverage, leading to a number of missed opportunities for crucial pick-ups in critical situations. Roethlisberger, it should be said, is keenly aware that he has exhibited an unhelpful hastiness in selecting his targets. Involving more of his top-tier weapons will be a priority for the All-Pro quarterback on this afternoon.
Ordinarily, a trip to face the Baltimore Ravens would be a tricky spot for a team looking to reignite a lackluster offense. Not since 2012 have the Steelers picked up a win at M&T Bank Stadium, and the Ravens’ defense has typically had success in neutralizing Pittsburgh’s offense. Indeed, the Ravens are 4-1 straight up against the Steelers in their last five meetings and 3-2 against the spread. If history is anything to go by, then this has the feel of a match-up Pittsburgh could, frankly, do without.
The Steelers might, however, be arriving in Baltimore at an opportune time. The Ravens’ re-designed defense was exposed last weekend in London when it gave up 44 against a Jacksonville offense that is far from fear-inducing. Their outing at Wembley was an exercise in humiliation on both sides of the ball. It will take a strong resolve for the Ravens to put the game behind them when they return to more familiar surroundings today.
If it was the travel that affected Baltimore last week then the Ravens could be in for another long afternoon. Despite having the coaching advantage, John Harbaugh’s team is coming off not just a disrupted-week, but a game in which the defense gave up an alarming 410 yards. Although we know that Baltimore is much stronger of defense than was demonstrated last week, they will be without key defensive personnel in Brandon Williams and Brent Urban, and in Pittsburgh they will find a level of competition far surpassing anything they have encountered so far this year. If the Steelers are to take the edge in the AFC North race, and address their concerning offensive struggles, then a strong-outing in Baltimore will be essential. Roethlisberger & co. know what adjustments need to be made, and solid display against a tired and depleted Ravens defense would do a lot to help the offensive unit find its groove once again.
A win — coupled with a strong offensive display — in Baltimore today is precisely what the Steelers need to put last week’s fiasco behind them. They might just be arriving in Baltimore at exactly the right time.