What number did the oddsmakers set the Steelers predicted win total at for the 2022 regular season? 7.5? Obviously, the Steelers can't win .5 of a game (unless they’re playing the Lions in the regular season), but I believe the sentiment is spot on.
These 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers look pretty average.
That’s my conclusion after watching the Steelers defeat the Lions, 19-9, in their preseason finale at Acrisure Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The win improved Pittsburgh’s preseason mark to 3-0, but since win/loss totals are a meaningless metric in August football to anyone not named John Harbaugh, this begs the question: So what?
Yes, the Steelers showed a lot of heart and guts to pull out these games—especially the first two victories which came in the final minutes—but that’s only going to get you so far.
What can get you far in today’s NFL is an offensive line that keeps its quarterback and running back clean. Despite some more additions to the already-revamped unit during the offseason, the offensive line continued having a hard time doing just that in all three preseason games.
Pittsburgh’s starting offense looked just plain ordinary while going up against the Lions' starting defense on Sunday. Yes, there was that six-play, 92-yard touchdown drive in the final two minutes of the first half that occurred after the unit decided on more of an up-tempo approach. But while that was nice and encouraging, I’m more concerned about the offense’s inability to take advantage of prime real estate after huge plays by the defense earlier in the half.
The first opportunity came about early in the second quarter thanks to an interception by Cam Sutton that was returned to the Detroit 19. The result? A four-play, three-yard drive that ended with a Chris Boswell 34-yard field goal.
The offense got the ball back just four plays later after linebacker Devin Bush stuffed running back Justin Jackson on fourth and one at the Lions’ 25. The result? A four-play, five-yard drive that ended with a Boswell 38-yard field goal.
I am confident that the Steelers' defense will be opportunistic in 2022, but what will it matter if it mostly leads to field goals and not touchdowns?
That's not winning football.
Speaking of the defense, can it be dominant provided everyone stays healthy? I suppose, but there is the matter of Bush and the one play he made during the preseason—the stuffing of Jackson on fourth and one—vs. all of the other plays that he didn’t make through three games.
As for Pittsburgh’s cornerbacks, I like them, but I’m still not convinced any of them are better than what Joe Haden provided through the 2021 campaign.
And what the heck happens to this pass rush if T.J. Watt gets hurt in a more serious fashion than what could have been the result of a chop block by tight end T.J. Hockenson on Sunday? Yikes.
I was hoping to see flashes of brilliance from this team over the course of three preseason games, but while rookie receiver George Pickens had his moments and the quarterbacks took turns flashing—especially rookie Kenny Pickett—the overall product looked mediocre.
Is it hard to truly glean anything from the preseason, especially when each team seems to have its own agenda for every game? Yes, but I still think it’s pretty easy to separate the contenders from the pretenders while watching August football.
You could certainly tell that the Steelers were a damn-good football team while watching preseason games during the Super Bowl era of the 2000s, especially when the starters played in those all-important dress-rehearsal affairs.
Even the pretty good Steelers teams of the mid-2010s looked really strong in the preseason, at least the offense did when the Killer B’s played a few series in Game 3 and then called it a night.
Speaking of Ben Roethlisberger, he may have been the only thing that kept the Steelers and their wretched offense from finishing with six or seven wins a season ago.
To quote the late, great Sam Wyche: “While watching film of every team before the start of the season, it’s easy to spot the handful of squads that will win 13 or 14 games and the handful of teams that will lose that many. As for the rest? They’re all a few plays over the course of the season away from finishing anywhere between 10-6 and 6-10.”
I don’t think they’re horrible, but the 2022 Steelers head into the regular season as one of many teams whose record will likely be determined by the outcome of a few plays, calls and bounces over the course of 17 weeks.
Roethlisberger and his mystique may have been enough to pull a few games out in 2021, but does Mitch Trubisky possess that kind of magic in his right arm? I have yet to see any real evidence of that, nor do I think any defender is afraid of his mystique.
When asked about their prospects a year ago, I said that the Steelers would win anywhere between seven and 11 games depending on a handful of plays. If you’re asking me that same question right now, I’d say they’ll win anywhere between six and nine games.
A bit harsh? Maybe, but it’s up to them to prove me wrong.