Najee Harris was the first 100-yard rusher in 16 games. Ben Roethlisberger had his first multiple touchdown game with no interceptions since Week 15 last season. And the Steelers had more runs than passes for the first time since Week 5 in 2020, a sign that some semblance of balance might be returning.
Those were the ingredients that allowed the offense to finally show some signs of life and the Steelers to end their three-game losing streak on Sunday against the Denver Broncos. But it was just one game and Roethlisberger said nobody should be feeling satisfied.
"We're not by any means going to sit here and say we're fixed, we're this great offense," Roethlisberger said. "We're not there yet. We still have a long way to go."
The offense might have a tougher time getting there after the season-ending shoulder injury to Roethlisberger's favorite and most dependable receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster. But the road might be a little easier in Sunday night's game against the Seattle Seahawks, who rank last in the league in total defense, allowing an average of 450.8 yards per game.
Roethlisberger said the Steelers will miss the intangibles Smith-Schuster brought to the team beyond his reliability and production.
"I'll speak selfishly — I'm hurt because I miss that guy, what he brings to this team, his energy, his excitement, his leadership," Roethlisberger said on Wednesday. "It sucks, it really does. I spoke to him on Sunday night and I felt his pain through the phone."
While saying the injury will create a big opportunity for receivers James Washington and Ray-Ray McCloud, he also said "I think you'll see the utilization" of a tight end or running back to replace Smith-Schuster's role as an inside receiver. The most logical option is tight end Eric Ebron, who plays more like a big wide receiver, anyway.
Smith-Schuster was expected to have surgery on Wednesday after having an initial surgery to reduce inflammation on Sunday. To help replace him and add depth, the Steelers signed receiver Anthony Miller to the practice squad. Miller was released last week by the Houston Texans.
But Roethlisberger said, "You can't replace JuJu."
Granted, Smith-Schuster's numbers through five games were as modest as just about every other player on offense. He had just 15 catches for 129 yards and no touchdowns.
The Steelers do not have a wide receiver among the top 28 in receptions or the top 33 in receiving yards. Roethlisberger is 16th in the league in passing yards and 21st in touchdowns. Harris, though, has moved up to 14th in rush yards after totaling 185 yards rushing in the past two games.
"I don't think anybody on the skill side of the offense is having a season we hoped for yet," Roethlisberger said. "It really comes down to not winning football games. Nobody has had a really huge game. Once the offense starts to click a little bit, hopefully everybody will start to reap the rewards of that."(c)2021 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.