The 2022 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers is fairly unique. For the 20+ years I’ve been following the team, the Steelers have always been led by experienced veterans on their way to yearly playoff contention, and, in some situations, Super Bowl contention.
This Steelers team has a core group of veterans in place as well, mostly on defense, which has played like a top unit in recent weeks. But the driving force behind their success in the second half of the 2022 season has been the young bucks on offense. Their growth and development together has been fun to watch, and gives Steelers fans reason for hope in the future.
But what about the now? As of this writing, the Steelers are still in the thick of the AFC Playoff hunt after a 6-2 record since their Week 9 bye. We’re all familiar with the situation. Win against Cleveland on Sunday, and get some help from the Bills and the Jets and they’re in. And for this young team, a playoff appearance could really expedite the growth of their important young players.
For 2nd year players like Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth, a return to the postseason helps establish a culture where playing for a Championship is the only goal. For the rookies, an opportunity to experience the pressure of a playoff atmosphere in their first year is a rare one, and offers each one a chance to show their true colors when the stakes are highest.
We’re already seeing impressive things from rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett, who continues to be clutch when his team needs it most. George Pickens also seems to take his game to greater heights when the spotlight is brightest. We haven’t even mentioned the offensive line, which has led the way for an efficient, productive ground game which has helped turn the fortunes of what felt like a lost season just eight weeks ago.
As Mike Tomlin has pointed out on numerous occasions, the Defense is the more senior group and is obviously the catalyst for what the Steelers are trying to accomplish this year. But Tomlin knows as well as anyone how the youth movement on the offensive side of the ball is as big a factor in the team’s impressive turnaround this season, and the reason they still have a chance at a playoff berth.
If the stars align and the Steelers do indeed reach the dance this year, it will have massive implications for a group of youngsters who will be key to realizing the organization’s ultimate goal:
Bringing a 7th Lombardi trophy back to the city of Pittsburgh.