The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers season has been considered a work-in-progress. Regardless of who won the quarterback job in training camp, the transition in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era was going to be challenging.
While navigating unchartered waters, the Steelers have seen a tremendous amount of adjusting as the new, and young, offense starts to find their way. Obviously, the most obvious transition hasn’t been from Roethlisberger to Mitch Trubisky, but the organization throwing Kenny Pickett into the fire at halftime of the Week 4 game vs. the New York Jets.
Since Pickett took over, the results have been mixed, but the long term results have been what most fans have kept an eye on throughout the rookie quarterback’s young tenure at the position. After the team’s Week 9 bye, there has been a major shift in the offense in many ways. The team hasn’t turned the ball over as much, has committed to running the football and has been more productive in the process.
It’s easy to look at the season rankings and get discouraged, because they aren’t pretty, but the improvement on offense has been evident for anyone who has been watching.
Take a look at those season totals heading into Week 17:
Yards Per Game: 320 (23rd)
Rush Yards Per Game: 115.4 (18th)
Pass Yards Per Game: 204.6 (24th)
Points Per Game: 17.6 (29th)
As the offense comes off a very hard fought win vs. the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Eve, many are wondering where the focus for the young unit will reside in the final two weeks of the regular season. According to Pickett, it will be in finishing drives.
“I think just consistency and finishing drives is going to be the focus.” Pickett told media during his availability Wednesday. “We’ve got to finish in the red zone and be better there. So, like we’ve been preaching pretty much this back half of the season, that’s the main emphasis that we’ve got to continue to try and become a lot better at.”
When Diontae Johnson spoke to the media this week, he suggested the offense needs to improve not just in the red-zone, but also when facing zone defenses. Pickett didn’t disagree with Johnson, but did acknowledge this was an area the team could see improvement as the regular season comes to a close.
“I mean, there’s all areas of the pass game that we can just always try to improve on. That’s definitely one aspect of it.” said Pickett. “Guys knowing when to sit routes down, and I have to read it out. There’s a lot of things that go into it, but that’s definitely one.”
For fans, when they see the success of the offense during the two-minute drill, they immediately think this is the answer to what ails the group. It isn’t just since Pickett has been at the helm, the same was said in 2021 when Ben Roethlisberger would orchestrate successful two-minute scoring drives with Matt Canada at offensive coordinator.
But, as Pickett told the media, that isn’t always the answer.
“It’s two-minute drill. So, I mean, it’s a completely different game from that standpoint, and with time, and kind of where you’re at in the game, and pressing to go down there and score a touchdown.” Pickett said. “They call things differently; we prepare differently for two-minute. You really can’t, I would say, compare that to the rest of the game, just because of the situation.”
Moving the football hasn’t been the issue with the Steelers offense. They’ve been able to move the ball successfully in between the 20s, but when the field shortens is when the team struggles. So, what exactly goes on, and why the struggles?
“The field changes, right? Obviously, when you’re at midfield, or you’re in minus 50 territory you have the whole field at your disposal. When you get down there, the field shrinks. You’ve got to continue to be balanced and do some different things. So that’s one thing that we’re going to continue to work on.”
Despite the lack of scoring, there has been improvement up and down the offensive roster. The offensive line has improved as they build continuity, the running game has stepped up their game and the passing attacks becomes more diverse by the week. This is something Mike Tomlin eluded to when he spoke Tuesday about how there has been growth from the young offense. Pickett sees the way the offense finished the game in Week 16 as a step in the right direction.
“I think he [Mike Tomlin] means the young guys growing up and stepping up and being A players, as he likes to say.” Pickett said of the offense’s ability to close out the game vs. the Raiders. “It was a big moment. I think you saw a lot of guys stand up. After that two-minute drill, we had Connor [Heyward] ice the game with that jet sweep, another young guy stepping up in a big moment and closing it out.
“So, I think that’s where the positive is in the growth of going down there and finishing the game where early in the season, the Miami game didn’t go that way. But I think we all used that experience to help us out here in the end.”
They finished the game strong, but does the rookie quarterback feel the improvement of the unit overall?
“Absolutely. It’s a step in the right direction, but I’m not going to overdo it.” Pickett said. “We did what we were supposed to do, we got there, we won the game in that situation. It’s a huge positive for us, but now we have to obviously turn the page and get ready for this week.”
This week poses a different kind of threat for the Steelers, as they now have to prepare for the playoff-bound Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 17. The Steelers could be eliminated from the playoff race before kickoff on Sunday Night Football, but the Steelers’ offense continuing to grow and develop will be something to watch regardless of the postseason fortunes of the team.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the remaining two weeks of the 2022 regular season.