These Members of the Steelers Need to Step Up After the Bye, and It's Not Big Ben

Gracey Evans/Pittsburgh Post Gazette

The Steelers are coming out of their bye week with a 3-3 record, good for last in the AFC North.  Luckily, nobody in the AFC looks like they want to emerge as conference favorites, with every AFC team having at least two losses.  Also, this is the first season, under the new collective bargaining agreement, that will feature a seventeen-game regular season and fourteen teams in the playoffs.  That gives the Steelers an extra playoff berth to vie for. 

However, if the Steelers want to have any shot at the playoffs, they have several key personnel that need to step up.  Many probably would say Ben Roethlisberger should be included on this list.  I disagree. 

Roethlisberger is what he is and we knew what we were getting out of him at this point in his career.  He is nothing more than a facilitator of the offense and the team was built to succeed around him, not because of him.  In fact, Roethlisberger is the same age that Peyton Manning was in his last year in the league, when he won the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos.  Roethlisberger has a 65.1 completion percentage this season, while Manning had just a 59.8 completion percentage in that final year.

All Roethlisberger was supposed to be this season was a future Hall of Fame facilitator, like Manning was, with a dominant defense and competent run game around him.  Unfortunately, it is those players and staff specific to those attributes who have not lived up to the hype to this point and need to step up.

Devin Bush

Devin Bush has been a major disappointment this season.  Bush was drafted 10th overall after the Steelers traded up to acquire him in 2019.  That is the highest a Steeler has been drafted since Plaxico Burress in the year 2000.  Future Hall of famer, Ben Roethlisberger was taken at eleventh overall while superstar, and fellow linebacker, T.J. Watt was taken at 30th overall.

When a player is selected this high they bring with them a certain level of expectation.  In now his third season, Bush appears to be digressing.  When trying to find Bush on any of the defensive stat leaderboards, you have to scroll quite a ways down before finding him. 

We have also been told that he was drafted to replace Robert Spillane to better defend the pass.  The problem is, Spillane has been getting playing time in the dime over Bush and Joe Schobert.  This could be because Bush is non-existent on the Passes Defended leaderboard with zero this season. 

Defensive Coordinator, Keith Butler, attempted to explain why Bush and Schobert have been coming out in dime formations by saying, “He (Spillane) is better than them at some things.  They’re better than him at others.”  With all due respect to Spillane, the 10th overall pick should be better than Spillane at every single aspect of football at this point in both of their careers, but especially an aspect of the game Bush was drafted specifically to replace.

Zach Banner

Zach Banner has yet to return from his ACL injury that he sustained in Game 1 of the 2020 season.  Prior to that season, Banner was sort of a folk hero, being announced as “eligible” on goal line stands for the Steelers.  To this point in Banner’s career he has started just two games and has yet to appear in 2021.  That is why his $9.5 million, two-year contract that the Steelers agreed to this offseason is so odd to fans.

However, if the Steelers truly felt Banner was worth this new contract, it is time for him to prove it.  The Steelers gave Banner extra time off so he could heal up over the bye week.  Over a year later, Banner should be ready to go.  And if there is a unit as a whole that needs help, it is the offensive line. 

Aside from the Week 5 game against the Broncos, the Steelers have not been able to get the run-game going.  Najee Harris is averaging 3.8 yards per attempt, but the Steelers have the second lowest rushing attempts in the league due to a lack of trust in the O-line and the inability to extend drives on offense.  They desperately need some experience on the line with two rookies and one sophomore currently starting.  I’m not sure Banner, with his two career starts, really has that experience, but he must justify his contract starting now.

Keith Butler

The design of this team coming into the season was to have a Hall of Fame facilitator of the offense get just enough points with a star rookie running back to win games on the backs of the defense.  It’s nearly a spitting image of the, aforementioned Super Bowl winning, Denver Broncos team with Peyton Manning.  Part of this design was taking as much money as the Steelers could afford under the cap and investing it into the defense.  This made it so signing top-tier offensive lineman would be impossible, but that’s okay because the defense would carry the team.

Unfortunately, to this point, it hasn’t.  The defense has been good, but in 4 of 7 games so far they have given up 20+ points and that includes 20 points to backup QB Geno Smith and the Seahawks in Week 6.  Those same Seahawks that scored just 10 points against the New Orleans Saints last night in what was one of the more boring Monday Night Football games I can remember. 

With the resources put toward the defense, and the personnel they have, they should be top five in at least one defensive category and top 10 in all of them.  Unfortunately, they are not in the Top 10 in any of passing yards per game, rushing yards per game, total yards per game, or points per game.  This, to me, is partly a fault of the players, but mostly a fault of the defensive coordinator. 

The Steelers have the best overall linebacker in T.J. Watt, the best overall defender, according to Pro Football Focus, in Cam Heyward, and one of the best cornerbacks in Tre Norwood so far this season.  Also scattered in there are pro bowlers Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden.  With all of these assets, the defense needs to become the primary unit of this football team and carry the Steelers to victories.  Aside from the Buffalo game, they have not.  They actually nearly blew the Seattle game letting up two late scores from the Seahawks.  

Any competent defensive coordinator would salivate at having this many assets at his disposal.  Of course, part of the struggle is Devin Bush among others not playing to their full potential, but sometimes that is due to the game plan and the different schemes drawn up by the coordinator.  Butler needs to dial up the correct schemes fit for his personnel at the correct times during the course of a game.  He has the assets to do so.  It's time he steps up his prep work and game plans for this football team.