The Pittsburgh Steelers have started their 2022 NFL season with a 1–2 record. While being below .500 is never desirable, even early in the season, it’s the losing two-straight games which is more concerning. But is the overall situation really as bad as it seems?
If nothing else, hopefully I can offer some perspective for Steelers fans going forward which may actually give a little bit of hope. With the negativity brought on as the Steelers stack losses, hope may be a dangerous word to speak of at this time. Perhaps I’ll be labeled too optimistic or a “homer” by bringing these things up, but it’s honestly how I feel about the Steelers season so far.
First, I wanted to give some general overall thoughts before getting into three specific details which may not be as bad as we think. Remember the Steelers are only three games into their season. There is still a lot of football to be played and things could turn things around at any time. Understandably, things could also go completely in the wrong direction.
Not only has the season just begun, the Steelers are already over-performing expectations beyond their own fan base. The Steelers were not expected to win any of their first three games. While Steelers’ Nation had an expectation of being 3–0, others around the NFL fully expected the Steelers to be 0–3 as they were underdogs in each game including their home opener. In fact, the Steelers are only favored to win one game before their bye week in Week 9. That’s right, the expectation outside of the fan base is 1–7.
But we are Steelers fans and we have higher standards. But by having higher standards, I also want to hold Steelers fans to a higher standard of actually basing things off of what is really happening on the field and not simply just a talking point or narrative.
With all this in mind, here are three things that are likely not as bad as what many in Steelers’ Nation believe at this time.
The Offensive Line
For those who don’t even watch the games as they happen, or care to look at every play as things go on, the narratives behind the Steelers which get put out there sometimes continue to be believed despite what is going on. Not everyone is a football connoisseur. When most people watch the game, including myself, we have a tendency to watch the football. And when it comes to the offensive line, the only time any of them touch the ball is when the center snaps it. Many times their play gets overlooked.
I admit, even someone who has played and coached the offensive line and absolutely loves scheming up blocks to run plays, when the action is happening I’m watching the ball. This is a big reason why I like to watch games by myself as many times I will watch a play live, and then in between plays rewind it to watch the blocking once again. It’s what I like to do.
But if you were someone watching the Steelers offensive line in 2022, you’re going to be surprised by what is going on. Honestly, they’re not that bad. Actually, they’ve been pretty good. In fact, they’ve been the best thing on the offense the last two games despite being losses, in my opinion. The pass blocking is in the top portion of the NFL and the run blocking is middle of the road. Additionally, they’ve been improving and gelling each week.
When things aren’t going well with the offense, some people who don’t know any better just assume the line is not playing well. But it’s really not the case. They’ve done a pretty nice job and have protected the quarterback well. Believe it or not, Mitch Trubisky had more time to throw than what it seems like the quarterback and coaches were prepared for coming into the early part of the season. Right now, they are not a group that the offense has to be scheming around their inadequacies like in previous seasons.
Just how good have they been in pass protection? This good…
How many sacks have the #Steelers offensive line surrendered in 3 games? Zero. Of the 5 sacks surrendered, 3 are on Trubisky (not credited to a blocker) and 2 are on Najee Harris on blitz pickup (per @PFF).— Dave Schofield (@STLRSuperFanDad) September 23, 2022
The Run Defense
After coming in last in the NFL in rushing yards surrendered in 2021, Steelers fans are already disappointed with the Steelers ability to stop the run this season. While I’m not saying the rush defense has been good, it’s not the NFL’s worst like last year.
Of course, part of being able to stop the run is getting those stops in the key moments of a game. At the end of the Steelers Week 2 loss to the New England Patriots, they couldn’t get the key stops in the final minutes in order to give their offense another chance. While it was not their fault they were put in the situation, you still want to expect the team to come through. So it’s not like the rush defense is all sunshine and rainbows either.
With the Steelers having played three games this season and 30 other teams yet to play in Week 3 at this time, I’ll be using per game numbers just to be fair. When it comes to the Steelers rush defense, they have surrendered 142.7 yards per game which has them ranked 24th in the NFL. As I said before, this is not the worst rushing defense in the league, but it’s not as if it’s great either.
Where things get interesting is looking at why the Steelers are giving up so many rushing yards. The reason for this is because they have seen the fourth most rushing attempts in the NFL (34.3 per game). Only the Houston Texans, Carolina Panthers, and Chicago Bears have faced more rushing attempts per game in 2022. Because of the high volume of rushing attempts the Steelers have seen, their yards per attempt given up is at 4.16 in 2022. This statistic actually has the Steelers ranked 13th in the NFL, so they are just above the middle of the league.
Yes, the numbers look bad when the Steelers have surrendered at least 124 yards each game. But even the most yardage they have surrendered, which was 170 yards against the Cleveland Browns, should be put into some perspective. In the game, the Browns ran the ball 38 times. Additionally, the 171 yards gained on the ground is the fewest that they have rushed for so far in 2022. In both of their previous games, the Browns rushed for more than 5.0 yards per carry. Against the Steelers, they averaged 4.5 yards per carry, which was less than what the Steelers averaged running the ball on the night with 4.7 yards per carry.
Obviously the rush defense can be better. But it isn’t the complete dumpster fire that some are making it out to be.
And this is where some people are going to get highly upset. Despite the Steelers being 1–2 and not scoring more than 17 offensive points in any game this season, Mitch Trubisky has not been that bad. Obviously he could be better. But the question I am often asking myself is if Steelers’ Nation would have the same attitude about him if Kenny Pickett was not waiting on the bench.
Here’s an even deeper thought: If Trubisky’s Thursday night performance of two touchdowns in the first half, where the Steelers never even reached a third down play on either drive but things just weren’t in sync for four-straight drives, would have been Pickett playing in the game, would there be outrage over his play? If every pass and every decision and every outcome of the Steelers offense for 2022 would have been done with #8 instead of #10, would the same judgment be given?
I want to see Kenny Pickett much like most Steelers fans. I want to know what the Steelers have going forward as well. But because he’s not on the field, there seems to be a belief that he would make every decision and every throw in every moment without ever taking a delay of game or making a bad read or throw. Right now, Kenny Pickett is benefiting from not playing because he’s not showing any weaknesses and is only what he is in the minds of the fans and not an actual product on the field.
I’m also not discounting the fact that Mitchell Trubisky is in his sixth NFL season and should have higher expectations. Perhaps fans would be completely fine with Pickett playing at the exact same level as Trubisky as he is learning the NFL system. But Trubisky went an entire season without being a starter and also was going to need time to grow in the system. But because he’s only under contract through next season and the Steelers have a first-round pick waiting in the wings, there is a large portion of the fan base that is not going to be satisfied with anything less than perfection.
There are three things that may not be the world-ending issues that some in Steelers’ Nation are making them out to be. While I’m sure some of you may share my optimism, I’m sure there will be a far-greater number who, with the Steelers at 1–2, are certain everything is wrong and nothing can be fixed.