The Pittsburgh Steelers' recent struggles are a team-wide issue. After a 5-3 start, the Steelers are 5-5-1 following last Sunday's 41-10 blowout loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Pittsburgh needs a win on Sunday against the rival Baltimore Ravens in order to help keep their playoff hopes alive.
James Lofton, a Hall of Fame receiver and current CBS Sports NFL analyst, recently weighed in on the state of the Steelers, who have struggled on both sides of the ball during the team's slide.
"The Steelers had a dominant line. David DeCastro, [Maurkice] Pouncey. Those guys are gone," Lofton said. "Four new offensive linemen this year and a new running back, an aging quarterback, and a wide receiving corps that were advertised as being able to carry the team when they weren't able to carry the team. When the running game faltered a little bit, I think we've just seen some cracks in the Steelers offensively."
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The Steelers' receiving corps has at times picked up the slack. Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool combined to catch 12 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh's Week 11 loss to the Chargers that saw the Steelers' offense score 37 points. But in last Sunday's loss in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh's receivers failed to make enough critical plays during key points in the game.
It was particularly a rough game for Claypool, whose miscommunication with Ben Roethlisberger on the Pittsburgh's first possession led to an interception that the Bengals converted into a field goal. Trailing 24-3 late in the second quarter, Claypool dropped a third-down pass that thwarted Pittsburgh's second-to-last drive of the half. A pick-six on Pittsburgh's next possession ultimately ended the game.
It's safe to say that the Steelers will need bigger contributions from their receivers during the season's final six games, especially if Pittsburgh's offensive line continues to struggle to create running room for rookie running back Najee Harris. That will mean more production from Claypool, James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud, who will play on Sunday after missing last week's game after being placed on the team's reserve/COVID-19 list.
"When I look at their team, it's hard not to look at them historically and to think about how good they've been in the past," Lofton said. "They just are not that dominant team on Sundays. Does that mean they can't win? We've seen that not to be the case around the league. … Once it starts to slide in one direction or the other, I think it's hard to turn it around. So if you're winning, it's hard to go on a losing streak, and if you're losing, its hard to really get back to winning.
"I think for the Steelers, it's just that uncertainty of who those playmakers are offensively and defensively and if they can put it together for a stretch run."