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Football Outsiders predicts a step back for T.J. Watt in 2022

We asked Football Outsiders five questions about the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers. See what they had to say.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers OTA Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The fine folks at Football Outsiders agreed to answer some questions about the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers as they team gets into the thick of things with training camp. There were a lot of questions, and Rivers McCown was nice enough to answer all of them in the Q&A below.

With T.J. Watt seeing an increase in sacks every season of his career, when should Steelers fans expect him to top out?

So empirically speaking, the odds are very much tilted in favor of Watt never topping last season’s sack total. That’s not to say he’s not a superstar, the most-impactful non-Aaron Donald defender in the NFL, and so on. But injury attrition is something that constantly ruins NFL peaks, and any kind of regression-based model is going to take that and the potential for decline into account. Watt could very well notch like 24 sacks next year and make a fool of a weaker projection – wouldn’t shock me one bit. But predicting improvement from somebody who is already impossibly good is rough.

Will the choice of the Steelers starting QB in 2022 greatly impact their offensive style in 2022?

I kind of doubt it. I think we see more of Matt Canada’s influence on the offense in 2022 and that both quarterbacks are athletic enough to run option plays and get the Steelers more credibility with horizontal spacing. My best guess based on researching the chapter is that the offense would look different with Kenny Pickett in, but that’s because I think he’s more of an out-of-structure player who will face a real NFL learning curve in his first season. With Mitch Trubisky you buy more steadiness, for whatever that’s worth. Ultimately I’m sure both of them will see plenty of snaps in 2022.

The Steelers rush defense was historically bad last season. How can they improve outside of getting healthy players back in the lineup in 2022?

So we had the Steelers finishing 27th in run defense DVOA in 2021 – not good, but not historically bad. Perhaps historically bad for this particular franchise! (They were fifth in rush defense DVOA in 2020.) We actually like Pittsburgh’s defense to bounce back in a real way in 2022 because of how good they were in the years before 2021. Healthy players will be a big factor, and the late signing of Larry Ogunjobi should be at least a real step towards replacing Stephon Tuitt. The biggest thing will just be: Can Devin Bush not be an utter sieve? That kind of counts as a return from injury, but he did play last season – he just was really poor.

Ben Roethlisberger is retired. How bad was he in 2021, and how difficult will it be for the Steelers to replace his production last year?

In my opinion, not very difficult, and that’s kind of the draw to any argument for this team to win more in 2022. I understand that dumping on Ben Roethlisberger on a Steelers blog isn’t going to go over very well, but it was almost impossible for this team to do anything resembling functional downfield passing in their base offense last year. I don’t harbor high hopes for Trubisky or the year one version of Pickett, but I think you can credibly argue that they should at least be able to get defenses to play them more honestly.

The Steelers win total is set at 7.5 games currently. Tell the fans why it is safe to hammer the OVER on this bet.

Well, our in-book projection has the Steelers finishing with an average of 8.2 wins in our simulations. I would not call that safe at all, but I do think the defense will bounce back and give the Steelers some more upside. (I also love the idea of Brian Flores’ best third-down looks getting brought in to diversify some of the defensive play calls.) You know Mike Tomlin will get the most out of a squad. If I really had faith in Pittsburgh’s offense I’d be more excited about hitting the over, but I think there are credible reasons to believe that side of the ball can get better. I just lose them in the offensive line and quarterback situations.

A big thanks to Rivers McCown for taking the time to answer those questions. If you’d like to purchase the Football Outsiders 2022 almanac, click HERE. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of camp and the preseason.