This is definitely unfamiliar territory for the Pittsburgh Steelers faithful. The Steelers are a bad football team, one of the worst in the NFL at the moment. When was the last time any of us could say that? The 2022 season is shaping up to be the low point for the Steelers since the merger, considered to be the birth of the modern era.
Steelers Nation didn't exist prior to the merger, before the Steel Curtain dynasty began. Chuck Noll drafted a relative unknown prospect with generational talent and a surly disposition named “Mean” Joe Greene, and the foundation of a dynasty was born. As the foundation grew, the franchise that was once the laughingstock of the league evolved into the franchise with the best winning percentage of the past half century.
The 2022 Steelers are a 2-6 football team. They are far more pretender than contender. They have proven incapable of being competitive with the true contending teams on their schedule, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
So where do you start rebuilding when you have more questions than answers up and down the roster, both with personnel and the coaching staff? The legendary Coach Noll fully embraced the reality of the moment, absolutely refused to pull any punches with the team and the media, and built a dynasty from the foundation up.
The Steelers have the blueprint, and a proven track record of success. It remains to be seen if the Steelers hierarchy currently possesses the self awareness to do what has to be done. The Steelers have to start somewhere. Change nothing, and nothing changes.
Stock Up: Pat Freiermuth
Freiermuth is a joy to behold with the football in his hands. He is a breath of fresh air on a Steelers offense that is beyond frustrating to watch. Freiermuth is one of the few reliable contributors on offense for the Steelers, and seems to be developing some impressive chemistry with the rookie Kenny Pickett. His ability to work the seams, and the middle of the field effectively, gives me hope for the future of the Steelers offense.
Stock Down: Najee Harris
Let me start by saying that the Steelers offense as a whole is atrocious and anemic. The Steelers have no idea how to play complimentary football. The offensive line lacks any sort of consistency, and it negatively impacts every aspect of the game plan. It's difficult to point out subpar performances on offense when the whole unit is not meeting acceptable standards. That being said, Najee Harris continues to stand out for all the wrong reasons.
At times it's difficult to decipher if Najee's continued struggles is due to a lack of NFL caliber attributes, or decisiveness. Once again on Sunday against the Eagles, he failed to comprehend his own limitations. Harris tried to stutter step, make juke moves, and even another unnecessary hurdle attempt. Harris needs to quickly accelerate and utilize his impressive power to run through and over defenders for positive yardage. His career trajectory depends on it.
Stock Up: Jaylen Warren
Warren definitely knows who he is. He instantly and aggressively propels himself forward the moment he touches the football. Already blessed with a low center of gravity and excellent contact balance, he violently attacks defenders consistently and effectively. Blitzers have learned the hard way to be wary of Warren in pass protection, as he attacks every assignment enthusiastically. On one memorable two yard gain in the second half, Warren was met in the hole by an enormous defensive tackle for the Eagles. Warren exploded into the defender full speed, without hesitation. He bounced off the tackle and fell forward for the two yard gain. The tackle slowly got to his feet, after sustaining the worst of the impact. Warren gave up at least 100 lbs. in that collision. That says all you need to know about the mentality of the young man. The Steelers offense is atrocious as presently constructed. A decisive and aggressive running back can assist the struggling offensive line.
Stock Down: Ahkello Witherspoon
Witherspoon produced the type of performance against the Eagles Sunday that has plagued him throughout his NFL career. The type of game that I have been warning the BTSC community about since the Steelers traded for Witherspoon's services last season, especially when the enthusiastic faithful were desperate for the Steelers to re-sign him. ‘Spoon is an extremely streaky performer. The highest of highs, but the lowest of lows. I was mostly concerned about Witherspoon's lack of physicality against the running game, but he has improved in that regard this season. However, he seems to suffer some sort of mental disconnect far to often, even when he appears to have good coverage positioning. His lack of ball awareness has been noteworthy on multiple occasions this season. That has been the common trend in his career. When he's good, his good. When he's bad, he's terrible.
Stock Down: Franchise leadership
The buck stops here. The criticism has to start at the top on this one. Art Rooney ll, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin. All three are responsible, and deserve their fair share of the blame. The stubborn refusal to acknowledge the rebuilding situation facing the franchise borders on pure arrogance. Why does it matter, you may ask, if the Steelers call it reload instead of rebuild? Because it dramatically effects how they approach free agency and the draft.
A team that blindly believes they are a contender will also believe that they are a player or two away from playing for a title, and that belief will be revealed in their offseason actions. Instead of rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines, the delusional will try to strike fools gold with flashy skill position players. The rebuilding process is seldom sexy, but neither is getting blown out every time you play a true Super Bowl contending team.
I would like to thank the Steelers for going out of their way to prove the relevancy of my tough decisions article last week.