By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been a major disappointment in 2017.
Pittsburgh came into the season feeling very good about the potential production of the offense as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger committed to returning for his 14th consecutive season and Le’Veon Bell was once again going to be the featured back. The receiving group was expected to be the team’s most dangerous since 2010, as Eli Rogers was coming off a solid rookie campaign and Martavis Bryant was going to be available for the start of the season for the first time in his career. Pittsburgh also added second-round draft pick JuJu Smith-Schuster along with veteran free agent Justin Hunter to go with veterans Darius Heyward-Bey and Antonio Brown. Brown has caught 100 passes in each of the last four seasons.
However, the Steelers have yet to get much going on the offensive side of the football. The Steelers, who are averaging 21.3 points a game (16th most), have totaled just six offensive touchdowns. Pittsburgh ranks 22nd with 302.3 yards a game, 19th in yards per play (5.0), and tied for 17th in first downs. They have punted the ball 16 times out of their 33 possessions, which includes six three and outs.
From 2014-to-2016, the Steelers averaged no fewer than 372 yards a game. They also finished in the top-10 in each of the three years during this span.
There are a couple of reasons that Pittsburgh’s offense has struggled. They have yet to establish a running game and several drives have stalled as a result of penalties.
Bell is on pace for his worst season since his rookie campaign in 2013. He has run the ball 52 times for 180 yards or 3.5 yards per carry. He has one rushing touchdown and is coming off a 15 attempt, 61-yard effort against Chicago. Bell’s longest run of the season has been 15 yards.
The Steelers also have not connected on that many big throwing plays. Roethlisberger has connected on only 4-of-20 passes of 20-plus yards with one interception. In fact, the Steelers have eight pass plays of 20 yards or more and two of 40-plus yards. In comparison, New England has accumulated 25 plays of 20 yards or more, including five that have gone for at least 40 yards.
Brown has hauled in three of Roethlisberger’s long passes and has five plays of 20 or more yards. Bryant, who has just seven receptions, has two catches of 20-plus yards and Smith-Schuster’s longest play of the season has been for 25 yards.
Roethlisberger has yet to throw for more than 265 yards in a game this season. He is currently averaging 233.3 passing yards a game, though he has been pretty accurate with the lone exception being against Chicago where he completed 22-of-39 attempts. He has thrown five touchdowns and one interception. Roethlisberger’s 6.9 yards per pass attempt is his lowest through the first three weeks since 2006.
Pittsburgh’s offense has been flagged 29 times, which is the second most in the league, for 205 yards this season. The Steelers offensive line has permitted six sacks—they gave up three sacks against Chicago as the Steelers were without starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert.
Safety Sean Davis dealing with a low ankle sprain
Starting strong safety Sean Davis left the game against Chicago in the third quarter with a sprained ankle. Davis, the Steelers 2016 second round draft choice, has started all three games this year and nine last season. He is said to be hopeful to play this coming week against Baltimore, but that will be determined later this week. Davis has recorded 12 tackles this season.
Davis was not the only Steeler to leave the game against Chicago early as left guard Ramon Foster left in the first half with a hand injury and did not return. B.J. Finney replaced Foster in the lineup.
Those two starters, along with the three starters that missed the Chicago game with injury, give the Steelers five potential major injury concerns heading into Week 4’s game at Baltimore. DE Stephon Tuitt, LB TJ Watt and Gilbert missed last week’s game against the Bears.