The Steelers' Winning Formula: Is it sustainable for the long run?

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are miraculously in first place atop the AFC North as they enter their Week 6 bye. They sit at 3-2 and 2-0 in the division after a wild victory over the Ravens in Week 5. They have accomplished that despite a dreadful -31 point differential so far, putting them on pace to be outscored by over 100 points this season. No team has won eight or more games with a point differential that bad this century and very few even won seven. There is no way this team can keep this up, right?

Five games are obviously a small sample, but it isn’t new for the Steelers to be outscored while staying above .500. In fact, they have done so each of the past two seasons and are on their way to doing it again of course this year. I know Steelers fans have already made the connection, but who has been at the helm of the offense for this entire depressing stretch? That’s right, everyone’s favorite name to boo at Steelers and Penguins games.

Matt Canada has stooped to a new low this season

Amazingly, Matt Canada has taken things to a new low this year. The Steelers are averaging just 15.8 points per game this season, and even that is being propped up by two defensive scores and a safety. They are near the bottom of the league in basically every offensive category.

They have just five offensive touchdowns through five games, including a disgraceful zero scores on the ground. To put it simply, they do nothing well on offense besides giving fans trying to watch them indigestion.

Outside of handing over playcalling to another offensive coach mid-season, I really don’t know what can be done to significantly improve the offense. The offensive line should improve as new starter Broderick Jones gets more comfortable, and the receiving core should get a boost with Diontae Johnson returning from injured reserve after the bye. Still, the playcalling will continue to kill drives unless Canada starts making changes to his game plan.

The defense is fun, but flawed

The bulk of the blame for the Steelers awful point differential is on the offense, but the defense is not blameless here. They have been much more of a playmaking defense than a lockdown one through five games. They are 30th in yards allowed and 17th in points allowed so far after finishing 13th and 10th in those categories last season. It’s still early, and they have faced good offenses like the 49ers and Texans, but the sample so far has been underwhelming, to say the least.

Where they have made up for it has been the multitude of splash plays. Five interceptions, 11 forced fumbles (six recovered), 17 sacks, and two defensive touchdowns. Throw in a blocked punt by special teams ace Miles Killebrew, and they have been one of the best playmaking defenses to start the season. It’s great that the defense is making all these plays, but can we expect them to keep it up all year?

The pass rush should remain a huge problem for offenses thanks to the dynamic duo of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. The pass coverage is bad as it is, but the secondary has been bailed out multiple times by the pass rush and mistakes by opposing offenses. Add in a run defense that allows 4.8 yards per attempt, and it’s hard to have confidence that the defense can carry the Steelers to a winning season. Maybe they can hit another gear when Cam Heyward returns, but it will be an uphill battle.

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