The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers are a lot of things, but predictable isn't one of them. The rebuilding Steelers are consistently inconsistent, which is a common refrain often utilized when attempting to describe a young developing roster. Well, at least it is for me.
Thankfully, I haven't been forced to endure this type of season for quite some time. Inconsistent efforts on occasions, but not maddening fluctuations of sweet success and bitter failure on an almost weekly bias perpetrated mostly due to the aforementioned youth dominating the roster.
Sunday's almost dominating road victory over the Carolina Panthers had a touch of holiday magic permeating throughout the festivities. It was a homecoming of sorts for embattled starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who played his collegiate career in the Tar Heel state. Trubisky did a much better job protecting the football in Carolina, one week after doing his worst Grinch routine against the arch rival Baltimore Ravens and stealing the Steelers victory in the process. The only individual he disappointed Sunday afternoon was Mason Rudolph, as Trubisky's bounce-back performance didn't allow Rudolph to play in any reindeer, I mean Steelers, game.
Please forgive the hapless Christmas pun, as I truthfully couldn't help myself. Hopefully that doesn't land me on the naughty list.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Offensive line play
It's better to give than to receive. Although I feel certain there are plenty of children willing to argue that point on Christmas morning, the statement definitely rings true for the Steelers chances of winning games this season, particularly when it comes to running the football. Just like Santa's reindeer, the Steelers offensive line is entrusted with making the magic happen, and they handled their responsibilities admirably on Sunday.
It was a particularly impressive performance for the left side of the Steelers offensive line, meaning left guard Kevin Dotson and left tackle Dan Moore. Early in the game, Najee Harris repeatedly found open weak-side cutback lanes to exploit with those two leading the way. It was an encouraging performance by the two individuals with the most left to prove on the Steelers offensive line. Now the duo needs to build off this success and find some consistency to finish out the season.
The Steelers offensive line continues to trend in the right direction this season, showing slow-but-steady improvement in the process. Hats off to Offensive Line Coach Pat Meyer for a job well done as there will be no coal in his stocking this Christmas.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Discipline
Google the word Passion. It is defined as a strong and barely controllable emotion. On a couple of occasions Sunday, Steelers players were unable to contain or control their passion.
Passion is important, as it is akin to a fire that burns inside each individual, fueling the desire for success. While passion is vitally important, so is self control. Without it, you can burn too hot and explode, potentially hurting your team efforts.
Mike Tomlin was fired up and focused on victory Sunday. He even double flexed on the field after the Steelers scored a touchdown on their first possession against the Panthers. I don't recall ever seeing a NFL head coach do that, especially that early in a ballgame. Talk about setting the tone for your team. I'm actually surprised it didn't make Sportscenter, but the backward lateral heard round the world kind of captivated the national spotlight I'm sure.
Flash forward to the third quarter of an surprisingly chippy game. Diontae Johnson catches a pass just shy of the first down maker and, maybe for the first time this season, fights through contact enough to move the sticks. In his enthusiasm, he jumps up and flexes similarly to how his head coach did earlier in the game. The problem is, Johnson lacked the awareness to realize that a Panthers defender was on the ground directly in front of him. Even worse, he glared down at the defender when he finally did. That will undoubtedly draw a 15-yard taunting penalty every time, and it could have killed the Steelers most impressive drive of the season. Thankfully it did not.
Passion is warranted in the heat of battle, but so is self control and situational awareness. I imagine it would be difficult for a head coach to discipline a player for mimicking his own behavior, so that should make for an interesting conversation behind closed doors. The Johnson incident was bad, but the next example of Steelers stupidity was infuriating.
During the commercial break between the third and fourth quarters, Steelers special teams contributor Marcus Allen decided to take stupidity to the next level. Allen inexplicably wondered all the way across the field into the Panthers huddle, where he was unsurprisingly unwelcome, resulting in some heated discussions and another well deserved penalty. Allen's inexcusable actions gave the preparing-to-punt Panthers an automatic first down. The Panthers drive continued, and ended with a field goal, keeping their hopes alive.
The lack of discipline and ultimate stupidity shown by the Steelers in those second half situations can and will cost the Steelers a victory somewhere down the rebuilding road if they are not addressed and alleviated immediately.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Defensive Humility
Mike Tomlin said that the NFL is a humble man's business during his weekly press conference, and he spoke the truth. If you play long enough, even a proud man will be humbled. Even elite players can be neutralized on occasion, whether by personnel or scheme.
Humility is a sign of wisdom and true greatest. As my beloved father used to say, "Never forget your raising, and keep all things in perspective." Those who don't respect the pedestal can just as easily fall off.
The Steelers defense was humbled and humiliated against the Ravens just a week prior. The Steelers defense was manhandled by the Ravens offensive line. To make matters worse, the Steelers defensive standouts, Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt, appeared downtrodden and defeated in recent weeks. They rebounded nicely against the Panthers.
The Steelers defense entered the contest with a renewed focus and passion. There's that word again. The Steelers defense aggressively attacked the line of scrimmage relentlessly right from the start. On the first Panthers offensive play from scrimmage, Larry Ogunjobi burst through the line for a tackle for loss, effectively setting the tone for the afternoon.
I suggested in a pregame article that the Steelers aggressively attack the Panthers running game and force uninspiring quarterback Sam Darnold to beat them throwing the football. The Steelers did just that, and as expected, Darnold was willing but unable.
Terrell Edmunds, Robert Spillane, Devin Bush, and never-before-utilized rookie Mark Robinson took turns attacking the line of scrimmage and filling running lanes. After taking away the Panthers running game and gaining the early lead, the Steelers defense was able to unleash their until recently missing-in-action pass rush.
Cameron Heyward suddenly awoke from his recent slumber to post multiple quarterback pressures, plus 1.5 sacks, even with a smaller percentage of the snap count. T.J. Watt looked more like his old self in accumulating 1.5 sacks of his own. Alex Highsmith was explosive throughout, picking up another sack and another forced fumble on a terrific tackle for loss play at a critical juncture of the game. Mike Tomlin, Teryl Austin, and company deserve credit for leaving their comfort zone and effectively making the necessary changes in personnel usage and scheme needed to inspire a successful outcome on Sunday against the Panthers.
This qualifies as another positive building block in the Steelers rebuilding process.