The Fall of the Pittsburgh Steelers

Connor Easterday

The Pittsburgh Steelers are off to their worst start of the season since 2013. Ben Roethlisberger is out for the year with an elbow injury, and they don’t have their first round draft pick. Things could not be worse for fans of the black and yellow. This season could very well mark the end of an era for the Steelers. For a team with six Super Bowl wins, one of the best all time records, and a countless amount of Hall of Famers, this would strike as devastating news. The only glimmer of hope for teams with such a dreadful record is the off-season. However, for Pittsburgh, neither the Draft or Free Agency seem too promising. They traded away their first round pick to Miami for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and have only a mere $2.4 Million in cap space, according to Over The Cap. There is no silver lining for this team. There is no upside. There is no hope.

When you look at the roster, things don’t seem to be too bad. They have an offensive line that remains one of the most talented in football. Their Wide Receiver core is led by JuJu Smith-Schuster, one of the most beloved players in the league. James Conner is a bruiser at running back. The defensive line is possibly the most physically dominating group in football. Young stars like T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick are at linebacker and safety. The talent is all around. However it isn’t the individual skill of each player that bogs down the potential of this team: it’s the execution. For example, Mike Munchak was the Offensive Line coach of the Steelers for five years. During those five years, the Steelers had quite possibly the best offensive line in football. Munchak was regarded as one of the best in t at what he does. However, this past off-season, Munchak left the Steelers to coach for the Denver Broncos. Guess what happened? The Steelers offensive line dropped off enormously and is now a mediocre group that struggles to create gaps in the run game. With Munchak, the Steelers execute perfectly and always know where to be and what to do. Without him, they are forced to use their raw strength, power, and speed, rather than executing the perfect play.

Getty Images
(Photo: Jason Miller / Getty Images)

The struggles that Pittbsurgh has been through this season is not just on the players. In fact, the majority of the blame has to be placed on the coaches. After the devastating loss to the 49ers in week three, Mike Tomlin, Head Coach since 2007, said, “We must get ready for next week. It’s as simple as that. That’s life in the National Football League. It’d be the same had we won”. The problem, however, is that they didn’t win. Tomlin is saving face, but it isn’t working. He must take control of his team. He is a defensive guru who may have been the last hope to patch together a promising start to the season. Rather, he decides to delegate his powers to the offensive and defensive coordinators, Randy Fichtner and Keith Butler. Therein lies the fatal weakness of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Think about the worst offensive and defensive minds in football. Then dig a ten foot ditch. That’s where Fichtner and Butler are. Keith Butler, defensive coordinator and play caller, has turned the zone-heavy defense to primarily being a man defense. This results in once promising cornerbacks, Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton, becoming tragic defenders who should never start. Butler has made the Mark Barron signing from last offseason look like a disappointing move. His lack of knowledge for pass rushing and blitzing has taken away any chance for Bud Dupree to succeed, and has turned T.J. Watt into a one-dimensional player. Butler has no clue about who to match his defensive backs up with. You will often see a bulky, stiff Middle Linebacker lined up one-on-one with the opponent’s number one receiving threat. This is a problem. Teams have learned to exploit the Steelers’ newly acquired man defense, and Keith Butler, along with other coaches, choose to not do anything about it.

(Photo: Peter Diana / Post-Gazette)

This takes us to what the end of the road may look like, and where the Steelers will go from here. Ownership, along with the Front Office, seems to think that a bounce back season is in the cards for next year. They believe Ben Roethlisberger will return to form, and the Steelers will be back on track. Unfortunately, that is just not the truth. Roethlisberger was mediocre at best before his injury, as it seems time has caught up with the future Hall of Famer. Even if Ben is as good as he was before the injury, that is not enough. The lack of an efficient run game, and zero depth at the Wide Receiver position most likely would offset any juice that Ben has left in him. Unless the defense makes a miraculous turnaround, there won’t be many favors on that side of the ball either. The end of the Steelers is here, and the ownership, the fans, the coaches, and players must come to grips with it.