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What needs to happen for the 2022 Steelers to go from competitive to contenders?

Looking at the Steelers roster before the draft, what needs to happen in Pittsburgh for the team to go from Competitive to true Contender?


Many fans and experts alike agree the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers are not ready to truly compete with the powerhouse teams of the AFC.

Out is the franchise quarterback (QB) of 18 years, replaced by a former first round draft pick widely labeled a bust in Mitch Trubisky. Surrounding him is a young, inexperienced offensive line and a talented, but equally young, skill position group.

On the other side of the ball, questions linger about the health of Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu along the defensive line, while the secondary has a lot of new faces, especially at cornerback. Not to mention the struggles at linebacker where Devin Bush will be expected to have a strong bounce back season another year removed from a torn ACL.

With so many questions across the board, I got to thinking about what could change the perspective of this team from “Wanna be” to serious contender in a strong AFC. The following statements are in no particular order, but in my opinion each one needs to happen for this team to come together and make that leap. So without further ado...

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be contenders in 2022 if

...Mitchell Trubisky becomes the Steelers’ version of Ryan Tannehill.

Tannehill wasn’t a terrible QB during his Miami tenure. Many of the issues which led to his unassuming 42-46-0 record as a Dolphin had nothing to do with him. Bad coaching and a talent-poor roster didn’t provide the former 1st Round pick a great environment for proper development. Sound familiar?

Enter Trubisky, the Chicago Bears castoff, ready to prove he can be more than an over-drafted career backup. Believers will point to a steady organization and talented, young cast of skill position players as reasons to believe he can become a solid starting talent. Doubters will bring up poor accuracy and decision-making skills as an indicator that maybe he can’t get to that level.

For the Steelers to really take the next step on Offense from the largely ineffective units of the last couple years, “Mitchburgh” will need to show he can be an efficient game manager with the ability to make plays in critical situations. If he can do that, this team takes on a whole new identity.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be contenders in 2022 if

...Chase Claypool becomes a dominant force at wide receiver.

This scenario, when combined with the first, could make the offense a Top 10 unit. Hear me out. Najee Harris will be the engine driving the offensive train for Pittsburgh, opening up the passing game with teams committed to limiting the young stud back. If “Mapletron” truly breaks out in 2022, his athleticism and physical dominance could trigger a massive upgrade across the board for Matt Canada’s attack.

Imagine Claypool dominating defenders in the intermediate portion of the field and creating tons of open space for Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth to feast underneath. It’s definitely a plausible outcome and would change the way we feel about this team.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be contenders in 2022 if

...Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu return to full strength.

Lets’ face it, we missed these guys a lot in 2021, with the defense being a virtual sieve for opposing rushing attacks. Mike Tomlin has been vague on Tuitt’s status, but I am under the impression they expect him to be a part of this team in ‘22. His return could ignite the whole front seven, joining Cam Heyward as the best 1-2 punch at defensive tackle in the league.

For Alualu, it has been highly encouraging to see him working out with teammates and prepping for a healthy return to the field. His run-stuffing ability was sorely missed last year. He’s a little older and probably a little out of football shape, but as the offseason progresses, his availability brings viability back to a front seven which prides itself on dominating in the trenches.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be contenders in 2022 if

...the defense returns to a Top 5 unit in points allowed.

This is absolutely key. The lynchpin of the entire 2022 season. For all the talk about Trubisky and Claypool above, the Steelers best method of contention would be to have a truly dominant defense which takes the pressure off of a young offense to carry the load.

2019 was the last time the Steelers defense placed in the Top 5 in points allowed per game. They almost made the playoffs that year, despite only scoring an average of 18.1 points per game on offense. That defense was game-changing. 2022’s version needs to be the same. The 2022 version of the Steelers offense should be a good deal better than that moribund 2019 unit, and combining that with a top scoring Defense would make this team a true contender in an offensive-driven conference.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be contenders in 2022 if

...Najee Harris averages 4.5 yds/carry behind an improved offensive line.

My final piece to the puzzle to take Pittsburgh to the next level is a sizable jump in efficiency from the young superstar running back. This is really a two-part “if” because it was apparent to any knowledgeable fan the bulk of the problem lay with the ineffectiveness of the offensive line (OL). That group just could not create any consistent openings for Harris and was constantly getting pushed around by even average defensive lines.

Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada’s system will ultimately be judged on how efficient the running game becomes, and how that affects the other aspects of the offense. I’ve already mentioned how Harris could impact the passing game with defenses keying on him, giving more space for Trubisky and company to attack. If the OL can create a more consistent push, Harris will do the rest. An increase in efficiency in this area will absolutely change the offense, thus changing the trajectory of the whole team.

It’s going to be an uphill climb to contention for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2022, but they don’t have to be the same as everybody else to be a true contender. I believe they can win with elite Defense that shuts down the potent attacks of their conference rivals. Pair that with a more efficient offense, and this group could make some noise come fall.

As always, let us know your comments and critiques in the comment section below. I am excited to see what this team can do in 2022. Can they be a legit title contender? It all boils down to a few ifs.