Every week, fans keep asking the same question: where is the Pittsburgh Steelers offense that's supposed to score 30 points per game?
Why aren't the Steelers putting up video game numbers with their superstar players? And is Ben Roethlisberger past his prime and truly ready to retire?
What if I told you that a simple old adage held the answer to all of your questions?
That adage is: practice makes perfect.
Let's rewind to where these offensive problems really started: training camp and the preseason.
First, Martavis Bryant wasn't fully reinstated for either camp or the preseason. He missed valuable time there, but even more valuable time being out of football for well over a year. He's still making his way back, and it shows by the amount of playing time he has received.
His backup plan? Originally, I believe it was Sammie Coates. Since he's no longer with the team, Justin Hunter has crept into some playing time the last two weeks, but he too is relatively new to the Steelers system.
That bodes the same for JuJu Smith-Schuster, the second-round draft pick who is in his first season. JuJu also missed time in camp, starting late and then entering the league's concussion protocol after the first preseason game.
Tight end Vance McDonald was with the 49ers in August and shall I even mention the All-Pro running back who didn't show up to camp at all?
This all amounts to hiccups in the offensive flow of things: less time together means less rapport. Less rapport means, well, mistimed throws, running wrong routes, and all sorts of other miscues.
And all of that is before you get to the offensive line, who has seen Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, and Marcus Gilbert miss time this year. The guys upfront dictate the run game and give Roethlisberger time to pass. When they're out of rhythm, that can be all the more disruptive as a rusty running back or inexperienced receiver.
That's why I believe that Ben Roethlisberger had, in fact, a bad game.
I've been challenged on his throwing short or high to his receivers. He has done that, but it could be more than "Ben is getting older". It's hard to believe that a quarterback with a pedigree such as his mysteriously falls off of a cliff when it comes to production. Yes, I understand that Peyton Manning was poor in his final season, but we're comparing a quarterback who could barely throw a ball past the line of scrimmage to one who is overthrowing a speedster like Martavis 40-50 yards downfield!
For the "Fire Todd Haley" crowd, let's almost pump the brakes on that for a second. Players play and coach. It's up to the guys on the field to execute what is given to them. Even so, if Roethlisberger checks out of a play at the line of scrimmage, is that the offensive coordinator's fault? If a pass is tipped and intercepted, is that a coaching problem, or an execution issue?
Could playcalling work to a team's strengths while minimizing their weaknesses? Yes, sure it can. But we're only five weeks young into a 16-game season. Those are the adjustments which will be made as you learn those strengths and weaknesses.
And the only way to learn those weaknesses is by practicing and playing the games. They could be (and have been) in worse situations five weeks into a season. As it stands, Pittsburgh is currently 3-2 on the season, the leader of their division via a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Ravens.
As the players mentioned above put in more work, the timing is going to get there. Provided Big Ben hasn't truly lost a step in his game, there's no reason to believe the Steelers won't find that balance soon.