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Why the Pittsburgh Steelers aren't the best team in the NFL

Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) attempts a pass against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Everything is rosy in Pittsburgh right now. The Steelers just beat their divisional rival from Baltimore in a very important game, and at 7-0, they are the only remaining undefeated team in the NFL. Consequently, they are the front-runner in the AFC North and even have a legit shot at earning home-field advantage and a crucial playoff bye.

The Steelers are now rising to the top of power rankings nationwide, including Peter King’s FMIA rankings, ESPN’s weekly power rankings and ProFootballTalk’s weekly power rankings. This seems only logical, as the only undefeated team is surely the best team, right?

In this article, I will argue why the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t close to being the best team in the NFL, because they have one major flaw.

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First of all, while the win against the Ravens was a crucial one, it’s hard to argue that the Steelers were the better team in this game. The Ravens outgained the Steelers in total offensive yards with 457 to 221; they also earned six more first downs and gained 1.4 more yards per play.

Additionally, Ben Roethlisberger and the passing offense struggled and gained 5.1 net yards per attempt, even less than the 6 net yards per attempt Lamar Jackson gained on his passing plays. How could the Steelers still win this game? The answer is, of course, turnovers. The Steelers took the ball away four times, as Lamar Jackson got intercepted twice and lost two fumbles.

While all of these takeaways were great individual plays by members of the Steelers defense, we know that turnovers are highly volatile and are not something a team can bank on. Consequently, winning a game with a defensive stand on the very last play while winning the turnover battle 4-1 is good for your record but not necessarily a positive indictment of the overall team strength.

The offensive issues that were present against the Ravens have been present throughout the entire season, which is why I make the point that, while surely a top-10 team, the Steelers shouldn’t be considered to be the best team in the NFL.

The defensive line is elite…

Oct 25, 2020; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) celebrates the missed field goal by Tennessee Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski (3) during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s quickly start with what makes the Steelers a good team — the defensive line. As a team, the Steelers rank second league-wide in pass-rush grade and sit fifth in run-defense grade. And when that is paired with a solid coverage unit that has graded out as the fifth-best so far, you get one of the best defenses in the league. Entering Week 9, the Steelers rank fourth in expected points added (EPA) allowed per pass play, eighth in EPA allowed per run play and third in EPA allowed per play overall.

…The rest of the team is not

Pittsburgh would have the makings of the best team in the league if they also had an explosive and efficient offense. But unfortunately, that’s not exactly the case.

The biggest issue with the Steelers offense is the lack of explosiveness. Roethlisberger’s 7.9-yard average depth of target (aDot) ranks 25th among quarterbacks, and he has attempted only 54 throws that have traveled 15 or more yards in the air — 19 teams have attempted more. Even worse, he has completed only 17 of these passes for a total of 481 yards, the sixth-lowest total in the league. There also isn’t a single full-time starter who has thrown fewer big-time throws than the longtime Steelers gunslinger (9).

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