The Pittsburgh Steelers are off to a 3-1 start, but with their offense struggling to get going, they’re far off the pace they need to be at if they hope to play for Super Bowl LII.
It’s difficult to say with any kind of certainty who is a legitimate Super Bowl contender after four weeks of NFL action. The Kansas City Chiefs, while 4-0, aren’t runaway favorites in the minds of anyone outside of KC. The defending champion New England Patriots are just 2-2 and feature the league’s worst defense, statistically.
After losing just two regular season games all of last season (to one team), the Dallas Cowboys have already dropped two of their first four games. Several other teams sit at 3-1, but it’s far too early to tell if they are legitimate contenders. The latter category is where the Steelers fit in.
All of the buzz surrounding Pittsburgh heading into the 2017-18 NFL season was focused on the team’s “Killer Bs”: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown. The trio was hyped as an offensive dream team with a Super Bowl MVP at QB and, in the minds of some, the top running back and receiver in all of football flanking him. The results so far, however, have been mediocre.
— Roland Lazzaro (@RLaz) January 21, 2017
After sitting out all of the pre-season, Bell looked limited and rusty in his first three games before finally breaking out last week (144 rushing yards, 42 receiving yards and two touchdowns) against the Baltimore Ravens. Roethlisberger has been far from his usual standards, posting the league’s 19th-best quarterback rating and just 239 passing yards per game. Brown has hauled in one touchdown pass and failed to hit the 100-yard mark in two of the Steelers’ four games. All total, Pittsburgh ranks 20th in total yards and 18th in points per game. Not exactly killer.
The disappointing results have frustrated everyone involved, but none more than Brown. The 29-year-old was caught on camera throwing a temper tantrum during Pittsburgh’s 26-9 victory over Baltimore after he believed Roethlisberger missed an opportunity to get him the ball on a failed third-down play. As expected, Roethlisberger was none too pleased and publicly called Brown out for “causing a distraction that none of us really need.” While the incident was a bit overblown to some, it’s an indication of a larger issue with Brown, according to his former teammate Ryan Clark.
“Antonio has done an extremely good job of tricking people,” Clark said during an appearance on ESPN Radio. “He has that smile and when he talks he seems extremely ‘team’, [and has other believing] oh this is a great team guy, he always shows up to play, he didn’t hold out last year to get his money, so he’s done a very good spin job of having us think or making people think who don’t know him that it’s all about the Pittsburgh Steelers, I’m just a hard worker who is here to win football games.
“Nah, Antonio Brown loves Antonio Brown. And Antonio Brown was upset, God forbid, that a guy that (averages) over 10 targets in the first three games of the season is missed one time…This is, you miss me one time on a play I could have scored a touchdown, that would have helped me. Not would have helped the team, it would have helped me. God forbid you check the ball down to Le’Veon Bell. Oh my goodness, that’s the worst thing in the world, Lev might get the ball, I can’t take it, I’m gonna pass out.”
While it’s unfair to categorize Brown as a diva receiver after one outburst, as Roethlisberger said, it’s a distraction Pittsburgh does not need. In the next two weeks, the Steelers will host the Jacksonville Jaguars, who rank first in the NFL in passing yards allowed, and hit the road to take on the 4-0 Chiefs.
While it’s still too soon to panic, as plenty of teams are ironing out the kinks right now, if the Steelers can not get into gear now, they could find themselves 3-3 and seriously frustrated. Pittsburgh’s young defense has been pretty stout thus far, but if the offense continues to flop, this team has no shot at making it to Minneapolis.