Don't look now, but the rebuilding Steelers have gone and won back-to-back games on the road in under a week's time. That represents the first winning streak of the 2022 season for the good guys wearing black and gold.
I can only assume that the team somehow failed to receive the memo from an enthusiastic segment of the fan base stressing the importance of draft positioning. Win or lose, somebody is always unhappy.
The Steelers are starting to formulate an identity.
Keep it simple, stupid.
The Steelers are stressing on the fundamentals by focusing on the small details. This has enabled them to be competitive since their offensive epiphany during their bye week, and they have won three of their past four contests.
The results speak for themselves. The Steelers offense has been playing clean, competitive, and more consistent football. They have often been cautious, but occasionally opportunistic. The Steelers time of possession has increased substantially as they continue to covert third downs and generate long drives. Sadly, the Steelers have far more field goals than touchdowns to show for it.
Repeatedly settling for field goals, even when they have dominated the time of possession, has resulted in plenty of close games. Some have chosen to call this winning ugly.
News Flash: Young, rebuilding teams have to learn how to play and win games together, ugly or not.
Winning games is never a bad thing. Just win, baby!
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Kenny Pickett
It's difficult to find similarities between Ben Roethlisberger's and Kenny Pickett's rookie seasons. Pickett has assumed leadership of a rebuilding franchise, whereas Roethlisberger was the final missing piece for a championship caliber roster. Ben enjoyed instant success, and was worshipped for it. Pickett, not so much.
Rookie Pickett, and latter years Roethlisberger, do share one rather unfortunate similarity: they are the most polarizing figures in recent memory for the Steelers fan base. Maybe it's a contractual requirement to play starting quarterback for the Steelers.
As a fan base, we apparently are only given two options to choose from: Love ‘em or Hate ‘em, and it's mandatory we vote accordingly.
Sadly, the narrative for either player apparently can never be changed or impacted by actual performances, on or off the field. They are judged as much or more for who they are not, as for who they actually are. Ben was never Brady, and Pickett will never be Malik Willis, or any of the can't-miss prospects in the 2023 draft class. All the draft gurus know who they are, the can't miss guys, until they do.
Pickett received clear instruction during the bye week. Protect the football and manage the offense efficiently. Make the safe throws, and utilize his legs when the opportunity presents itself. Focus on creating favorable third down and distances. That's the formula for success with a rookie signal caller.
Pickett has done an excellent job on all accounts. Four straight games without a turnover. That's extremely rare for any rookie quarterback. His steady demeanor and strong leadership have made the Steelers post-bye week success possible.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Rushing attack
The Steelers offensive line continued their recent successful tendencies against the Falcons. Outside of a couple of penalties and missed assignments, the Steelers offensive line controlled the trenches throughout the game.
The Steelers effectively utilized three running backs on the day, with Najee Harris leading the way. His productivity has increased in conjunction with the return of his powerful north/south running style. Jaylen Warren continues to provide a spark as a third down specialist, and Benny Snell seems to be carving out a role of short yardage go-to-guy. Derek Watt remains perfect on the season in converting "and one" situations.
It sure has been enjoyable to watch the Steelers offensive line consistently generate enough push for a successful rushing attack, and create and covert short yardage situations. A man could get used to this.
Steelers Stock Trending Down: Wide receiver awareness
The old saying states there’s no ‘I’ in team, but there is am ‘m’ and an ‘e’. The Steelers wide receivers have been focusing too much on the me part, and it has negatively impacted their performances at times this season.
Diontae Johnson is the veteran leader of the Steelers young receiving crew, and that's not good. Johnson has been guilty of showing up his quarterbacks with exaggerated outbursts of frustration on the field, and direct confrontations off the field. He has openly voiced his frustration with the quantity and quality of his targets this season.
That is not ideal behavior from a veteran performer being paid WR1 type money. His misplaced focus has resulted in numerous mistakes on the football field ranging from pre-snap penalties, running the wrong direction, and dropped passes. Perfectly exemplified by the fact he has yet to catch a single touchdown pass this season.
It shouldn't shock anyone that we are starting to see similar behavior from the younger receivers on the roster. George Pickens has Pro Bowl caliber talent, but lacks maturity. His outbursts and behavior on Sunday against the Falcons was unacceptable.
Steven Sims appeared to lose his focus after his apparent first quarter catch was overturned by replay, resulting in a muffed punt he fortunately recovered, and when he nullified his own excellent sideline toe-tapping catch by accidentally stepping out of bounds earlier in his route. That is simply a lack of self awareness.
Selflessness is an often present but unforeseen quality of a champion. Team first is optimal, me first can be a problem.
Steelers Stock Trending Up: Kicking game
All Wright, All Wright, All Wright, All Wright!
No, I am not referencing Matthew McConaughey's famous catchphrase from the movie Dazed and Confused. Instead, I am applauding Steelers replacement place kicker Matthew Wright’s perfect field goal kicking performance against the Falcons. 4-for-4 on field goals, plus connecting on his only extra point attempt. Achieved on a day that the Steelers desperately needed a perfect performance from their kickers.
Wright also did an excellent job of directional kickoffs throughout the game, definitely needed to limit the potential impact of the Falcons all time great kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson.
Steelers punter Pressley Harvin III was seldom needed on the day, as the Steelers offense had several sustained drives throughout the game, resulting in only two punts for the game. Thankfully, Harvin saved the best punt of his NFL career for the biggest moment of the game. Harvin rewarded the Steelers faith in him by perfectly placing a punt at the two yard line, forcing the Falcons to begin their final drive standing just outside their own goal line, needing a field goal to tie the game, but all out of timeouts.
As expected, the Falcons mediocre passing attack wasn't up to the task, as Minkah Fitzpatrick sealed the Steelers victory by intercepting the Falcons first play from scrimmage.
The Steelers kickers played an integral part in the victory.