The Pittsburgh Steelers are reeling after an embarrassing 41-10 beatdown at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. Mike Tomlin’s squad is not the same in 2021, without one particular factor to point at for blame. Former Steelers star Ryan Shazier believes part of the problem is a lack of hunger by the players. The retired linebacker recently called the team out amid its recent struggles.
Ryan Shazier questions the Steelers’ fight
NFL players who have walked the halls at Pittsburgh Steelers facilities understand what it means to don that uniform. There’s a certain standard they hold themselves to. However, former linebacker Ryan Shazier doesn’t think that exists with the 2021 team.
Shazier recently joined The Rich Eisen Show to discuss the current state of the Steelers. He suggests this team doesn’t possess the characteristics of previous Pittsburgh teams.
“You’re trying to hurt my heart today,” Shazier said when asked about the 2021 Steelers. “Sometimes it doesn’t seem like the team plays with that much want to or that much effort.”
The 2-time Pro Bowler highlighted the latest blowout loss to Cincinnati as a prime example. Bengals wideout Tyler Boyd claimed Pittsburgh gave up in the first matchup between the two teams. The rematch looked like more of the same.
“The Bengals wanted it more than the Steelers,” Shazier said. “You can see it on the field. Football’s a game about will and a game about want to.”
The former Ohio State standout also criticized wide receiver Chase Claypool’s recent comments regarding having more fun at practice.
“You have to focus on what’s important,” said the retired defensive star. “Now you’re not playing well as a team. When somebody asks what you can do better, talking about dancing and music, that’s not the focus of what you need be.”
Mike Tomlin usually fields a mentally tough football team
Chase Claypool’s postgame comments are telling of somewhat of a culture shift in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won the AFC North in 2020, posting a 12-4 record. However, cracks started to show as the season progressed.
Pittsburgh rattled off an impressive 11-game winning streak to open the 2020 season. Some of the players started to get cocky, though. Claypool and fellow receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster seemed more interested in making Tik Tok videos than playing good football. Loss of focus plagued the Steelers and ended their season before they’d hoped.
Mike Tomlin has built up a reputation as a tough-minded football coach. In his 15 seasons as the Steelers’ head coach, the 49-year-old has never coached a team like this.
Tomlin’s squad is not on the same page right now, and it spells trouble for the rest of the 2021 season. The Steelers are currently 5-5-1, heading into an all-important rivalry game against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13. However, the loss to the Bengals does little to inspire confidence in Pittsburgh’s chances.
Ryan Shazier played under Tomlin for four seasons and still believes in his former coach’s ability to turn things around.
“I believe in Coach Tomlin so much,” he said. “I feel like he’s going to figure out a way to probably finish out 8-8-1.”
The former linebacker provides a suggestion to win more games
Ryan Shazier specialized on the defensive side of the football. Still, he sees a way that the Pittsburgh Steelers can get back into the win column.
The ex-linebacker thinks the offense has underutilized rookie running back Najee Harris.
“I looked at the stats,” said Shazier. “Every time Najee has over 20 carries, I think they have one game that they tied, but every other game, they won. So I think they need to just figure out a way to give him over 20 carries. That keeps us in the game. But if we get behind, it gets really difficult.”
Harris was the best running back prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft, and his presence was a welcomed sight for the Steelers’ offense. However, inconsistent offensive line play has hindered the rookie’s production.
The Alabama product has rushed for 708 yards and five touchdowns. While not awful numbers, the offense should be running through him, especially given Ben Roethlisberger’s decline.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the offense has been up and down. The Steelers have commonly abandoned the run game after getting down early. However, the coaches need to put more of an emphasis on establishing the physical rushing attack.
Ryan Shazier thinks the Steelers need an injection of toughness, and heavy doses of Najee Harris could be what the doctor ordered.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference