Watching the Pittsburgh Steelers drop to 2-5 in a frustrating loss to the Miami Dolphins, there’s no denying this team has significant deficiencies on both sides of the ball — issues that might preclude the possibility of a winning record in 2022. But at the same time, it’s far too early to judge the Steelers’ fledgling transition as a failed project or to demand wholesale changes in players or coaching staff. The increasing likelihood that Pittsburgh will miss the playoffs this season doesn’t mean 2022 cannot still be a productive and formative year for the Black-and-gold.
Here are five reasons why fans should exercise more patience as the Steelers suffer through their current growing pains:
1) Rookie Kenny Pickett is only beginning to learn how to play quarterback at the pro level. While he hasn’t yet produced the dynamic offense many expect, we’ve definitely seen evidence that Kenny possesses all of the physical tools necessary to become the franchise QB Pittsburgh needs. Despite the offense’s overall lack of scoring, Kenny already has made a number of impressive throws that suggest he will improve and grow into his position. That’s why it’s far too early to conclude the Steelers whiffed on their 2022 first-round draft pick.
2) The OL is improving but still needs an infusion of talent which likely won’t happen before the 2023 NFL Draft. We’ve definitely seen improved pass protection since the debacles of last season, but run-blocking continues to be nearly non-existent.
Until this issue is substantially fixed, it’s also premature to judge that Najee Harris isn’t worthy of his credentials as a 2021 first-rounder. As the OL continues to improve, it will not only benefit Pickett’s development but also the Harris-and-Warren duo has the potential to be as productive as any RB combo in the league.
3) The Steelers’ injury woes are likely to improve as the season progresses. The need to break Kenny Pickett into the pro game during the same period when the team is missing the services of the league’s most dominant linebacker has been an especially unfortunate situation which probably represents a bridge too far for the Steelers this season.
T.J. Watt is a player who often has changed the outcomes of closely-fought games like the one in Miami. During November and December football, it’s likely Steelers Nation will get a far better idea of the direction this team is trending as we look forward to 2023 and beyond. We’ll also have better assessments of the player upgrades needed during the offseason.
4) The Steelers’ overall picture likely isn’t as dismal as it might appear these days. When a team is missing significant components for success, there’s a spillover effect which makes everyone in the organization less effective than they otherwise might be. Because many fans focus primarily on where the proverbial buck stops, critics complain more often nowadays about those holding the team’s reins (i.e. coaching and front office). But how much does it matter who’s in the driver’s seat when some of the main wheels have fallen off of the Steelers wagon since last season?
Criticism also has been falling on the shoulders of Najee Harris despite his nagging foot injury, the Steelers’ petrified offensive scheme and inadequate run-blocking. Many fans are equally ready to show the team’s wide receivers the door, principally because they haven’t quite gotten in sync with the rookie Pickett, with whom they’ve been working for a grand total of two full games. Whatever problems currently afflict the Steelers’ offense, surely the solution cannot be to trade away several of the team’s most talented, offensive players.
5) Head Coach Mike Tomlin certainly deserves a reasonable opportunity to rebuild a serious contender led by a QB that he played a central role in recruiting. Firing the head coach and his entire staff, as the team’s most insatiable critics suggest, would accomplish nothing except short-circuiting this transition and taking the Steelers organization back to the drawing board.
This clearly is not the time for hasty or arbitrary moves by the Steelers’ front office. Critics who continually demand accountability from Tomlin not only ignore his previous accomplishments, but also fail to realize his capabilities as a head coach are being sternly tested right now and perhaps more so than at any time during his tenure in Pittsburgh. That’s why the notion seems absurd that the Steelers’ front office somehow might continue to stand pat with Tomlin indefinitely regardless of whether he succeeds in navigating the team’s current transition.
Popular with a segment of the fanbase, this view sounds more like a conspiracy theory than anything the Rooneys might ever be inclined to do. But it’s certainly reasonable for fans to expect tangible progress during the second half of this season, as well as to expect that progress will extend into the 2023 season with the benefits of another NFL Draft and free-agency market. To suggest cleaning house in the Steelers’ coaching ranks at this early stage of the team’s transition, though, seems akin to pressing the panic button.
As a rule, it’s a serious mistake to allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good. While Steelers Nation obviously would love to see Kenny Pickett having the same kind of rookie season that Big Ben did in 2004, Roethlisberger’s NFL debut was quite a rarity and certainly isn’t at all where we stand today. It’s also important to keep in mind that many excellent NFL quarterbacks, including Terry Bradshaw, didn’t exactly begin their careers like gangbusters. Furthermore, NFL franchises that clean house every time their team takes an extended nosedive (e.g. Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Chargers) also are distinguished by never coming anywhere close to a Super Bowl berth.
We’re only at the start of a new chapter in the annals of Steelers football and we’ll need to turn a lot more pages before judging whether this story is leading to the promised land. Based on what we’ve seen so far this season, the fan in search of instant gratification is bound to be disappointed. But disappointment with the arc of this season shouldn’t blind fans to the potential of this Steelers team which clearly today remains a work in progress.