Lost in the aftermath of the helmet-swinging brawl that left the NFL world reeling was the continued struggles of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense in the 21-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
Before Mason Rudolph got whacked in the head with his own helmet, the Pittsburgh O was offensive for all the wrong reasons. The QB threw four INTs. The Steelers generated a measly 236 total yards on 14 drives. Their only scoring drive of the game went for 87 yards, 53 of which came from Browns' penalties. On none of the 14 drives throughout the game did the Steelers gain more than 40 non-penalty yards. Think about that: 14 drives and the most they gained on their own was 38 yards, and eight times they gained fewer than 15 yards.
"It's been the story of the whole season, us not being good enough on offense," left tackle Alejandro Villanueva said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It's frustrating, for sure. There's no excuses that we can make. Obviously, the team needs the offense to pick it up."
The Steelers offensive line got worked by the Cleveland defensive front, giving up four sacks, 11 QB hits and a smorgasbord of other pressures. For a group that came into the week ranked No. 1 in Football Outsiders' metrics for pass protection, the O-line struggles were stark.
The offensive struggles aren't new for the Steelers, who have had problems moving the ball all season. Rudolph again missed receivers badly, and when he did make a good throw his wideouts rarely made a play. The second-year signal-caller's pocket navigation remains shoddy at this stage, and he's displayed little growth into his seventh start.
"I'm concerned, but we didn't get it done tonight, and that's my level of concern," coach Mike Tomlin said of his offense's struggles. "It doesn't carry over into the upcoming weeks and things of that nature. We'll evaluate this. We'll assess who's available to us and plot a course to move forward."
Injuries certainly played a role in the Steelers' offensive woes Thursday. Running back James Conner exited early with a shoulder injury. Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster left not long after due to a concussion. And rookie WR Diontae Johnson also left with a concussion following an illegal hit to the helmet.
The missing pieces hindered the offense, putting Johnny Holton and Tevin Jones as primary receivers alongside James Washington. Rudolph, however, didn't blame the lack of weapons for his struggles.
"I think with the guys we had in there, they stepped up and made plays," he said. "We keep them in tune with the game plan a lot. (WR) Tevin (Jones) stepped up. (WR Johnny) Holton stepped up. We had shots and we pushed the ball down the field but didn't connect sometimes. Obviously turning the ball over four times does not help so that's on me. We had guys in the right spot. I just have to put the ball there."
After the initial reaction to Thursday's game passes, which assuredly come with suspensions, the Steelers still have big offensive issues to work through if they hope of making a playoff push in the final six games of the season.