The Weekly Reed: Can the Steelers defense continue to carry their offense? 

Fans of football know that defense wins championships… but with no offense? The Weekly Reed breaks down just what the Steelers need to do in order to stay hot this season. Photo by Dhia Eddine: Pexels

Three weeks into the season, the Pittsburgh Steelers sit at 2-1 following their Sunday night victory against the Las Vegas Raiders. It was yet another game where the defense was disruptive, causing three turnovers and sacking quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo four times. While the offense looked much better than their first two games, they still only managed to score two touchdowns, and their inability to run the clock allowed the Raiders to make a two-score game a three-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Cornerback Levi Wallace came to the team’s rescue, catching his second interception of the game with just five seconds left to secure the win for Pittsburgh. Though their record looks good, the offense will need to improve if they have any hopes of a playoff spot. 

This is not an issue that Steelers fans are unaware of. In week one against the 49ers, a game in which the Steelers managed to put up just seven points, fans were chanting for the team to fire Matt Canada. Even after their win last Monday night against the Cleveland Browns on primetime, the offensive coordinator was the main topic reporters asked head coach Mike Tomlin about. That was the biggest headline in Pittsburgh: despite the defense scoring 14 of the Steelers’ 26 points against Cleveland, the offense still looked lost. A 71-yard touchdown to George Pickens was all that the offense had to show for and they caused their defense to be on the field for the majority of the game. 

If Pittsburgh is to continue to win games, they need their offense to stay on the field and keep their defense fresh. They’ve already lost key defender Cam Heyward for a few weeks of the season due to an injury against San Francisco and can’t afford to have any more players go down. Time of possession has been a real issue to start the season for Pittsburgh, showing their inability to move the chains and gain yards. In week one, it was the 49ers who had the ball for 37 minutes, while the Steelers only had it for 23. Then, in week two, Cleveland had the ball for 35 minutes, and the Steelers had it for 25. Even this Sunday, Las Vegas and Pittsburgh split the possession time down the middle with roughly 30 minutes each. Four of their first five drives against the 49ers were three-and-outs, with the fifth being an interception thrown by Pickett. Against Cleveland, Pickett threw a first-possession interception to start the game. This Sunday against the Raiders, Pittsburgh started with two three-and-outs against Vegas before a third down 72-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Austin III prevented their third consecutive one. The offense is averaging around 12 first downs a game in their first three games, ranking them in the lower third of the league.  

The underlying issue is that Pittsburgh has yet to earn over 400 yards on offense since Matt Canada took over the coordinator position in 2021. No other team has a streak remotely close to this, and it is pretty glaring to think that a franchise like the Steelers is struggling this much. Something else that might sound shocking to some is that this was Kenny Pickett’s first game with multiple passing touchdowns in his NFL career. It’s even more surprising when you see that Pickett played in 13 games last season, and it took 16 total NFL games to achieve this. While this is Pickett’s first season as an NFL starter for an entire season, hopefully, we’ll see more improvement on his end because there were plenty of questionable throws coming from the sophomore quarterback. However, the blame should not be entirely on Pickett as he is still young and has time to grow, plus the team’s running game isn’t really helping him out. Najee Harris only has 139 yards rushing in the team’s three games, with no touchdowns and the Steelers are 30th in the NFL with 67 rushing yards per game. The offense has just four touchdowns through three weeks, while the defense scored two, ranks first in sacks (13) and is tied for third in picks (4).  

Pittsburgh’s offense has done the bare minimum to start the season, and the defense has picked them up. All it would take for the Steelers to remain a playoff contender would be for them to gain first downs, so the defense isn’t always on the field. Against the Raiders, the offense looked better at times, but failing to get first downs late in the fourth made the game closer than it needed to be if the offense had just converted. The defense will always be there for the offense, but to maintain their health and stamina, they must produce offensively both on the ground and through the air.  

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