Before I go any farther, I want to give a disclaimer that I am ultimately not answering this question. Instead, the goal here is to actually seek the depth at which this simple question lies. Rather than offer an answer to one question, it ultimately leads to more questions being asked.
There are a lot of factors in regards to the Steelers 2022 offense versus how they finished in 2021. The question is, what have the Steelers done to improve for this coming season?
First, let’s look at some key statistical categories where the Steelers finished the 2021 season on offense and how they ranked against the rest of the NFL:
Total yards: 23rd (315.4 yards/game)
Total points: 21st (20.2 points/game)
Rushing yards: 29th (93.1 yards/game)
Passing yards: 15th (222.2 yards/game)
As most Steelers fans can see, this offense was not one that appeared to be ready to run away with the Super Bowl and it was a disappointment to come up short. The only major yardage category in which the Steelers finished in the top half of the NFL was passing yards, and this barely cracked being in the Top 16.
So, what do the Steelers need to do to improve in 2022, and have they made the steps necessary to show improvement? While there is still work to be done through the second wave a free agency and the NFL Draft, now is as good of a time as any to ponder the question.
When it comes to the additions to Steelers have made for 2022, I fall into the category of “cautiously optimistic.” I see how these additions could really help the Steelers improve, but I also understand there can be growing pains and chemistry conflicts. Although I’m hopeful the pieces the Steelers have added, and will add, fit well in the puzzle, there is no guarantee it will work out in this manner.
For me, it comes down to improving four different aspects of the offense: Blocking, running, passing, and receiving. Let’s break down these four categories and see where the Steelers are at this time.
I start with this category because without it, it makes everything else more difficult. Looking at the Steelers’ offense in 2021, I would say this aspect of the team affected everything and was most in need of an upgrade. So far this offseason, the Steelers have signed James Daniels and Mason Cole. Additionally, the Steelers retained the most veteran player on their offensive line in Chuks Okorafor, who started at right tackle for the last two seasons.
In order for the Steelers to make strides when it comes to blocking, they need to get the most out of their additions as well as see significant growth in the young players they had in 2021. It appears as if James Daniels will be taking over the position vacated by Trai Turner, with the exact placement on the line still to be determined. While Turner brought a résumé which included five Pro Bowls, Daniels does not have the impressive accolades but does appear to be a young, athletic upgrade. Additionally with Turner, he came to the Steelers off of a significantly down season despite all the Pro Bowl‘s in his past. Daniels, on the other hand, appears to be a player on the rise. Exactly if he can rise in Pittsburgh will be the ultimate question.
The way I see Mason Cole is he allows a higher standard of what the Steelers will put on the field with the interior offensive line. Whether he ends up at center, guard, or as a reserve player, it will be because of improved play of others if he does not find the field. The best way I have stated this previously is he has “increased the floor” of what can be expected in production on the line.
While I am hopeful that the Steelers offensive line will be improved in 2022, it would be difficult for any fan to say there is a guaranteed step coming. Exactly how it all works out for the Steelers will be a huge part of their offensive success in 2022.
This phase of the offense has a big potential to grow if the previous category is improved. Najee Harris showed in 2021 that he can bring a lot to the running game despite constantly having to deal with contact in the backfield. If the offensive line can open up things, the potential of what the Steelers running game could be is exciting.
But the basis where the Steelers are starting is 29th in the NFL as this was how it finished the 2021 season. So even if there is an improvement, how high can it go?
While an increase in production from Najee Harris in year two is what most are expecting, what they are also looking for is less dependency on him as the only option in the running game. As witnessed in Week 18 in 2021, when Harris missed a large portion of the middle of a game against the Baltimore Ravens, their offense simply wasn’t the same without their rookie running back. So when it comes to the Steelers rushing attack, it’s not just about the improvement of the blocking and Najee Harris, but having a sustainable option who can at least handle a small portion of the workload may be a bigger factor than what the Steelers are willing to admit.
This is a wildcard category more than many want to admit. With Ben Roethlisberger not penciled in as the Steelers starting quarterback for the first time since 2005, it really is uncharted territory. While some Steelers fans were ready to move on from Roethlisberger two seasons ago, there are still those out there who believe that a 40-year-old Roethlisberger is still a better option than what the Steelers have going into 2022. Can Trubisky/Rudolf/Haskins/whoever bring more of a threat with their feet and their arm to open up the Steelers passing attack? It will be difficult to surpass what Roethlisberger brought to the table in the decision-making department, but will the younger bodies create an improvement at the position or simply shift the problems into another category in regards to quarterback play?
While the Steelers have lost three wide receivers from the 2021 roster and have yet to replace them with anyone not already associated with the team, other than a kick returner with single-digit receptions in his three-year career, it’s not that the Steelers lost one of their top receiving options from 2021. In fact, the top four players in receiving yards from last season— Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth, and Najee Harris— are all still on the 2022 roster. Yes, JuJu Smith Schuster only appeared in five games during the regular season last year, so it’s not like the Steelers don’t know what it’s like to play without him.
The biggest question comes to how the Steelers will fill out the roster beyond these options. Whether it be farther along in free agency or the 2022 NFL draft, having another threat in the receiving game will help distribute the focus of the defense among more players. Since the Steelers have yet to address the rest of the receiving room, unless they believe the players from their 2021 practice squad are ready to jump in and fill the void, this is a question which is very difficult to answer at this time.
Now that a deeper dive has been taken into the question of the Steelers offense and any potential improvement from 2021, has it made a possible answer any easier? Is there really any way to know before this team takes the field in training camp and through the 2022 NFL preseason? Are you confident that the Steelers offense will be improved in 2022, or do you think there are still too many factors to put much faith into how they will perform? Is there one of these four categories you feel is more improved? Make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below.