A lot has been made of the Pittsburgh Steelers starting 11-0 only to drop two games in a row. The fans say it’s no big deal; no team is expected to go 16-0. Their critics say that it was so obviously bound to happen, and they are the third best team in their own division. In reality, the truth probably lies between the two sides, as is typically the case with anything. One thing that hasn’t been talked about much, though, are the injuries the Steelers have had to deal with. The Washington Football Team and Buffalo Bills are good teams so as it is; taking them on shorthanded on short weeks only made matters worse.
Steelers Injuries Adding Up
Their multiple schedule changes this season have not helped the Steelers and their injuries. Most recently, they had to play the Baltimore Ravens on a Wednesday. When Steven Nelson got injured in that game, there was no chance he’d play five days later against Washington. Robert Spillane was placed on IR with a knee injury, though he is expected to return either in Week 17 or in the playoffs. To make matters worse, though not technically an injury, Vince Williams was placed on the COVID list and missed the Bills game. So, the Steelers played against a great offense with a mobile quarterback without either of their starting linebackers. Joe Haden missed that Bills game as well, due to a concussion suffered against Washington. He is expected back in Week 15.
Though the Steelers went into the Buffalo game dealing with numerous injuries, they came out of the game even worse for wear. Matt Feiler went out early in the game with a pectoral injury and was quickly ruled out. It has since been announced that Feiler was placed on IR and will miss at least the rest of the regular season. His replacement, rookie Kevin Dotson, also went down with an injury in the game. Thankfully, Mike Tomlin seemed optimistic that Dotson will be able to play against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night. Right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor missed some time in the game with an ankle injury, too; the team was down to just five linemen at one point.
Other injuries from the game included James Conner (quad) and Terrell Edmunds (shoulder). Thankfully, Tomlin seems optimistic that both of these players will be able to play as well. For a team who hasn’t had a legitimate bye week this year, one extra day of rest couldn’t come at a better time.
Unfortunately, the Steelers current definition of “fully healthy” is different from what it was early in the season. Devin Bush has been out since their fifth game with a torn ACL. So, when they were without Williams and Spillane, they were down their top three linebackers from the start of the season. Bud Dupree‘s season ended with a torn ACL as well, a big loss considering Dupree was one of the best players on a stacked defense. Finally, we shouldn’t forget about Zach Banner, who tore his ACL way back in Week 1. While Okorafor, his replacement, has played fine this year, he has been shaky at times, especially as a run blocker. After all, there was a reason the team chose Banner to be the starter. They trusted him more.
So, when you combine the three starters out for the season with injuries to both cornerbacks, linebackers, the kicker, and multiple offensive linemen at different times, it’s no wonder the Steelers lost a couple games. They weren’t ever going 16-0 anyway, the injuries just made that more obvious. And, even though they won’t return to fully healthy from Week 1, they will get healthier. And they are still a very good team capable of going all the way when they have all their key pieces.