The Steelers struggle, Big Ben's hurt
Last season, the Steelers just wanted to get to 2019. Running back Le'Veon Bell started the Steelers' season with drama by holding out for a bigger contract, and when he did not receive it, he didn't return to the team. This contributed to a losing streak that saw the Steelers go from a 7-2-1 start to finish at 9-6-1. Their record wasn't good enough to make the playoffs. To make matters worse, superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown had vocal, public disagreements with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and eventually requested a trade to leave the Steelers.
A year later, the Steelers are free of the Brown and Bell drama, and it seemed they would not miss them much with their new star running back, James Conner, and a wide receiver core that still includes Pro Bowler Juju Smith-Schuster. The expectations were not high after a tough campaign in 2018, but the Steelers wanted to bounce back.
Six games in, the team is far from any playoff chance. After six games, they're well under .500 at 2-4.
The season started with a 33-3 shellacking at the hands of the New England Patriots. However, the Steelers can't carry too much blame for the loss. New England has continued on to a 7-0 record, and they have one of the best defenses in the NFL with 18 interceptions and an average of 4.0 yards allowed per play. Still, it was a troubling sign that the Steelers could not keep up with good competition.
The next game against the Seattle Seahawks was much more competitive, and the Steelers looked to build some momentum. However, Roethlisberger went down with an elbow injury, and the Steelers could not get the win with backup quarterback Mason Rudolph. Rudolph performed passably, but the Steelers lost 28-26. To make matters worse, Roethlisberger was ruled out for the season.
Roethlisberger's injury dealt a crushing blow to the Steelers. Rudolph performed well with a 67 percent completion rate and seven touchdowns to two interceptions, but he struggled in a Steelers loss against the San Francisco 49ers. Also, the injury bug struck the Steelers again when Rudolph left a game against the Baltimore Ravens with a concussion, and the team had to turn to third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges. Now, the Steelers are just 2-4 with their only victories against the winless Cincinnati Bengals and the struggling Los Angeles Chargers.
Now, the Steelers are hoping to recover from injuries and subpar play to make a playoff push before it is too late. This week, Rudolph and others like linebacker T.J. Watt will return from injury, and they hope to ease into things with a game on Monday against the 0-6 Miami Dolphins. At the least, the team's goal will certainly be to improve their play. Rudolph has performed serviceably, but his season high in attempts is 28 in today's pass happy NFL. This has put pressure on the running game, and it has sputtered with 3.5 yards per attempt despite having Conner, their star hopeful running back.
We won't know if the Steelers are back on the right track until they play better competition, but a win against the Dolphins would be a good start. If they want to turn their season around and return to the playoffs, they will have to start their push on Monday.