The Pittsburgh Steelers have finished nine consecutive seasons without a losing record and haven't had an 0-3 start since the 1986 season. After consecutive losses to the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers are on the verge of snapping that 27-year streak, and it's largely due to an offense that has struggled to move the ball.
In fact, only the Jacksonville Jaguars have accumulated less yardage through two games than the Steelers. The New York Giants are the only team to have accumulated less rushing yardage, although their top-ranked pass attack has allowed New York to deflect concern.
There's been no such deflection available for the Steelers, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has already had to shoulder blame for the team's inability to score points. "The quarterback's got to play better. And he will," Roethlisberger told reporters following Monday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in which he completed 21-of-33 passes for 191 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Despite all the struggles for the Steelers, the score never got out of hand during their Monday Night Football loss. While handily defeated by the Bengals in every statistical category, the two teams were tied at halftime, 10-10, and a fourth-quarter drive by the Steelers had the team in position to cut the score to 20-17. However, Roethlisberger threw an interception that essentially clinched the team's fate with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
As is the case with every team that struggles to score points, the blame is instantly directed at the quarterback and offensive coordinator, but in the case of the Steelers that might be misplaced. Nothing has been more ineffective than the team's rushing attack which is tough to blame on Roethlisberger or Todd Haley.
To place the team's rushing struggles in perspective, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith has rushed for 82 yards on 12 attempts in 2013, while the Steelers have accumulated 75 rushing yards as a team (h/t NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal). The 57 yards rushing gained by Smith are more than any Steelers player has a tallied in a game since a 24-20 defeat of the Giants in Week 10 of the 2012 season.
Will second-round pick, Le'Veon Bell, rescue the Steelers' rushing game when he returns from a foot injury? It's tough to say after the rookie carried the ball just four times in preseason for nine yards. If he does find success it would be behind an offensive line that hasn't given Felix Jones, Isaac Redman or even Roethlisberger much room to work with.
The Steelers have time to right the ship and lean on their top-10 defense for wins. The top priority has to be avoiding turnovers that have buried the team. Already at -4 on the turnover differential, the Steelers can't continue to put more pressure on their defense than already exists.
Things won't get any easier either. The Steelers will host the Chicago Bears in Week 3, a team that has already managed to force six turnovers in two games.