The Pittsburgh Steelers desperately need to improve their time of possession ranking in 2022, as it could make or break the season.
Having a strong time of possession ranking doesn't ensure a successful season, but it comes pretty close. Only three of the Top 10 teams in time of possession (TOP) during the 2021 season failed to make the playoffs. The unlikely trio was the Baltimore Ravens, Indianapolis Colts, and the Arizona Cardinals. Each had extenuating circumstances contribute to their lack of playoff participation.
The Ravens finished #2 in the NFL in time of possession with their run-heavy offense, but were absolutely decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball. The Colts finished #4 behind the explosive talents of Jonathan Taylor and their offensive line, but a late season collapse by Carson Wentz destroyed their playoff aspirations. The Arizona Cardinals finished #7 on the season behind the all-around talents of Kyler Murray and company, but some late season injuries proved to be too much to overcome for the young team.
There were a couple of glaring exceptions that seemingly defied all the rules, the biggest being the defending World Champion Los Angeles Rams, who incredibly finished #26 in time of possession on the season. There are always exceptions to any rule, but that is a shocker.
The other trend-bucking team was the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers anemic offense; which somehow, someway, managed to sneak into the playoffs, finished the season #22 in time of possession. That's actually higher than I expected when I started researching this article. That ranking is a testimony to the relentless determination of Najee Harris, and the clutch-till-the-end ability of Ben Roethlisberger.
The lasting memories from the 2021 offense for the majority of Steelers fans would be a seemingly endless series of three and outs. The Steelers struggled mightily to successfully possess and move the football. I can't remember the last time the Steelers were successful enough on offense to dominate the time of possession.
Steelers HOF legend Troy Polamalu reportedly wasn't too happy when the Steelers started to venture away from their run-heavy ways by leaning more towards the elite arm talent of Ben Roethlisberger. Not because he didn't recognize the talent and potential of Roethlisberger and company to put points on the scoreboard, but because of the inevitable impact the shift in philosophy would have on the defense. Long, sustained drives by the offense gives the defense invaluable time to rest and regroup. This is a underappreciated and often overlooked aspect of playing winning football.
I actually watched a couple of occasions in recent seasons where the explosive Kansas City Chiefs offense scored so easily and quickly in the first half that their defense appeared to be winded by halftime. As Steelers fans know, that sure would be a wonderful problem to have to deal with.
The 2022 Steelers offense appears to have all the necessary components to markedly improve their time of possession this season, at least on paper. It will all come down to their ability to execute, and turn potential into production.
It all starts with the improved interior offensive line. If the additions of James Daniels and Mason Cole, plus the continued improvement of Kevin Dotson, strengthens the interior of the line as expected, then the Steelers should be able to utilize the powerful running style of Najee Harris to it's full potential.
The added mobility at the quarterback position, regardless of who ends up starting, will open up the full Matt Canada playbook, and make the offense far more versatile, thus less predictable. Taking snaps from center, roll-outs, moving the pocket, and the long absent play action game should return with a vengeance.
Lest we forget, quarterback sneaks and running for positive yardage are now possible even to covert first downs. Those off schedule scrambles to convert third downs sustain drives. I always hate when the opposing quarterback does that to the Steelers. Now the Steelers should be able to return the favor on occasion. Last year, Roethlisberger's mind was willing, but the body wasn't able.
Finally, with the additions of George Pickens and Calvin Austin lll, the Steelers have the speed and big play potential to back off defenses and make them pay the price if defensive coordinators fail to respect their abilities. Those aforementioned abilities, plus the added creativity, should open up the middle of the field and all the possibilities that it entails, for the likes of Pat Freiermuth, Diontae Johnson, and possible slot monster Chase Claypool.
All of these probable improvements at each level of the offense should positively impact the Steelers time of possession big time. If that happens, you can expect a well-rested and highly motivated Steelers defense to reap the benefits.
It really is exciting to think about, even if the new stadium name is disappointing.