The days of a dominant defense are over for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it's time for the offense to assert itself and carry the team.
No longer do the Steelers have excellent play from their front seven on defense. They can no longer generate pressure on the quarterback, and they are no longer forcing turnovers.
The results have not been pretty—especially on the road where the Steelers have had three terrible fourth quarter performances from their defense.
In their three road losses, the Steelers have been outscored 40-16 in the fourth quarter.
Not only is the defense failing in the fourth quarter, but so is the offense.
This is one of the biggest areas in which the offense must improve.
It's not as though Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t performed better than last year. Besides the rushing attack—or lack thereof—the offense has shown signs of improvement.
They are scoring three more points per game than last season, and Ben Roethlisberger is on pace to have the best season of his career.
Through five games, Roethlisberger ranks fourth in the league in quarterback rating at 99.9 and has 10 touchdown passes to only two interceptions.
However, the offense can do better and needs to do better to make up for the defensive shortcomings.
While Roethlisberger has been on his game, his top receivers Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown have struggled, dropping catchable balls and not putting up the eye-popping stats that many were hoping they would.
The lack of big plays from Wallace has been particularly striking. Roethlisberger is throwing short passes more often, but that does not mean the big play has to be ignored.
The few shots the Steelers have taken downfield have not been successful other than the 82-yard touchdown reception by Wallace last Thursday against the Tennessee Titans.
One more touchdown per game would put the Steelers into the elite category and take the burden off of a struggling defense. According to Max Starks, the offense can still do much better (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
I think, for us, it’s time to realize as an offense the potential we do have. We can talk about it, you guys can speculate about it, we can break it down individually, but, for us, we just need to come together as one cohesive unit and realize our true potential.
“We can score a lot of points if we’re all on the same page and we do our job,” Starks added.
Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette they recognized the major issue so far, and it's not the lack of a ground game.
“We are not scoring enough points or making the play when we need to,” Roethlisberger said.
The reason they aren’t scoring enough points is because they're not making the plays when they need to—in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger has failed to lead his team to a victory in three fourth-quarter opportunities on the road, though they all haven’t been his fault.
The lack of a ground game has contributed to the failures, but injuries to the offensive line and missing opportunities in the passing game have added to the problems as well.
Then there are the coaching decisions, including Mike Tomlin’s choice to send Shaun Suisham out to kick what would have been a career long 54-yard field goal against the Titans.
Whether it is establishing a rushing attack to open up the deep passing game or capitalizing on opportunities in the red zone, the Steelers need to do more on offense.
It's easier said than done, but more points will mean more wins for the Steelers.
They have put themselves in a hole early in the year, but they are not out of the race yet in what has been a down year for the AFC.
If this offense begins to click and play like an elite offense, not only will the Steelers be back in the playoff race, but they can re-establish themselves as a title contender.