I think we have a pretty clear answer to the question we were pondering last week. Sure, the defense has tragically begun to play at a top-level with most of their playmakers healthy and rounding into shape. But the offense has struggled mightily and looks lost except for the occasional big play. They can’t run the ball effectively at all and commit critical mistakes at the most inopportune times. They haven’t looked in rhythm for months.
And Ben Roethlisberger is at the top of the list of examples. Without a running game he is frequently running for his life and then tries too hard to be a hero and ends up costing the Steelers the game. In critical losses against the Chargers, Cowboys and Bengals Ben’s turnovers led either directly into points or led to scores that cost the Steelers the game. In fairness, Ben was knocked out for three weeks but upon his return he looked rusty and the last two weeks turned the ball over when he had a chance to win the game.
Time after time, game after game, when the Steelers had a chance to win either the defense or the offense (and often both) blew it. It is hard to find a signature win on the schedule but a number of loses or close wins to very bad teams. I admit I was in denial for some time about this team (heck, even last week) but there is no evidence that this is a good football team. Talent? Sure, there are playmakers on offense and defense. But they have been unable to put it together outside of a four game stretch in the middle of the season.
Losing your start QB for three critical games hurts. Losing key defenders for long stretches hurts too. And having a patchwork offensive line (one that is often mediocre when healthy) is a recipe for trouble. But the fact of the matter is that against beatable teams the Steelers had multiple chances to win games and simply didn’t. Ben Roethlisberger had chances to win games and instead lost them. Special team mistakes cost them critical points and opportunities. They never played together as a quality team outside of a few games.
It doesn’t matter if your defense seems ready to a dominant unit again if you will be sitting at home for the playoffs. The Steelers simply couldn’t make plays when it mattered. And that is the signature of a bad football team.