3 Takeaways from Steelers' Week 16 Loss

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2021

3 Takeaways from Steelers' Week 16 Loss

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    It's been an up-and-down year for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021, and that trend has continued in the final month of the season. After beating a good Tennessee Titans team in Week 15, the Steelers went to Kansas City and received a thrashing.

    This suggests a gap between the top-seeded Chiefs and the No. 2 seed Titans. To be fair, though, Kansas City was playing without top receiving targets Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.

    The more accurate takeaway is that Pittsburgh simply isn't capable of consistently playing well right now. We've seen blowout losses to the Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals, wins against the Titans and Baltimore Ravens, and a tie with the lowly Detroit Lions.

    Through nearly four months of action, we still don't know quite what the Steelers are. Here's what we did learn during Pittsburgh's 36-10 loss in Week 16.

Slow Starts Continue to Be a Problem

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Steelers needed to start fast if they had any chance of besting the Chiefs in Kansas City. That didn't happen, and things got ugly quickly. Pittsburgh was held scoreless in the first half, and its first six drives ended like this: punt, interception, punt, missed field goal, turnover on downs, end of half.

    By halftime, the Chiefs were up 23-0, and the game was essentially over.

    Slow starts have been an issue all season for the Steelers. It cost them in losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and Minnesota Vikings, though the Steelers did rally in the second half to make things interesting in those games.

    Pittsburgh didn't rally against the Chiefs—or versus the Bengals in Week 12—which illustrates the danger of relying on second-half surges. Having seven losses and a tie on the record does that too.

    While the players on the field certainly deserve a fair share of the blame, part of the responsibility has to lie with offensive coordinator Matt Canada. He seems adept at making halftime adjustments but has struggled to script successful opening game plans.

    Pittsburgh faces an elimination game next week against the Cleveland Browns and must play better in the opening half to keep its playoff hopes alive.

Ben Roethlisberger Isn't Going out a Champion

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    When quarterback Ben Roethlisberger decided to return for the 2021 season, he likely did so with thoughts of walking off with the Lombardi Trophy above his head. Pittsburgh still has a chance to win the AFC North and make the playoffs—though it needs help—but a final championship run isn't going to happen.

    The Chiefs were without two of their best players on Sunday and still managed to dissect the Steelers defense. Big Ben isn't capable of carrying the team like he once did, and the Steelers aren't complete enough to carry him.

    Roethlisberger still has the desire to play, as evidenced by the fact that he didn't want to come out of the game following a fourth-quarter strip-sack and a double-digit deficit.

    "I said, 'I don't want to be done, I want to keep going,'" Roethlisberger told reporters after the game.

    However, his desire isn't going to offset Roethlisberger's declining mobility, inconsistent pass protection or a bad defense. The best Big Ben can hope for at this point is a miraculous division title and one final home playoff game.

An Offseason Overahul Will Be Necessary

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    Ed Zurga/Associated Press

    This is most likely going to be Roethlisberger's last season in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers are going to have to embark on a rebuild in 2022. In addition to identifying a new franchise quarterback, Pittsburgh is going to have to make several other significant changes.

    The Steelers' struggles this season aren't all on the 39-year-old shoulders. The offensive line has underwhelmed, the defense is just plain bad, and the mental errors have come far more frequently than in previous years.

    Heading into Monday night, the Steelers rank just 22nd in total offense, 26th in total defense, 22nd in scoring and 22nd in points allowed. There's good, young talent on this team—Minkah Fitzpatrick, Diontae Johnson and Najee Harris can be perennial Pro Bowlers—but the overall talent level and depth are lacking.

    Head coach Mike Tomlin may also want to take a long look at Canada and at defensive coordinator Keith Butler. Pittsburgh has disappointed on both sides of the ball, and patching a few roster holes won't be enough to turn things around next season.

    After years of reloading instead of rebuilding, it's finally time for the Steelers to revamp their foundation.