In watching the Pittsburgh Steelers the last two seasons a few things stand out — most notably how inconsistent the Steelers' offense is.
Going back one more season to Big Ben’s last, the team operated in the exact same fashion. The only consistency was the inconsistency and the only time the offense played what looked like professional football was in the fourth quarter. Here we are today.
A win is a win at any level of competition. It comes through hard work and sometimes a little luck. Pittsburgh has made a knack out of winning games they ultimately lost for the better part of the game. Looking inferior at times even. This past weekend, the Rams offense had its way with the defense for the better part of the day but it was the playmaking the Steelers have come accustomed to that was the difference in the game. This and the fact that the 2017 Steelers offense showed up in the fourth quarter. But it wasn’t, it was the same team that only garnered 100 yards in three quarters.
With two scoring drives and closing out the game with the ball in their hands, the Steelers offense looked, well, good. They looked the part. Does this give the team and it’s fans some hope for a natural progression moving forward? Only time will tell but if history is an indicator, it’s just how Pittsburgh has learned to play offense these last 4-5 seasons. “Dink and dunk” (this current team wishes it could do that consistently) became the mantra. Every so often a player pops a big one. Unless it’s the fourth quarter. Big plays, third-down conversions, even fourth-down conversions seem to happen when everything is on the line.
So what’s the difference between the first three quarters and the last?
Kenny Pickett seems to thrive off of it. Pickett isn’t Joe Cool; he’s not Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. He hasn’t shown that he can take a team down the field consistently until the fourth quarter. Something ignites in him when the urgency is at its highest. He drives the ball downfield, he, masterfully if you will, communicates and makes good decisions. He allows the players to make plays putting the ball where it’s up to them to make a play. He seems to trust the team more; to do their job.
He doesn’t think. He plays the game.
How can Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada get that almost elite play out of him for the other three quarters? Hand him the keys.
Lengthen the leash, and let him make his mistakes. Set a goal for him of at least scoring in the first half (laughable, but a worthy goal) — something that has not happened for the Steelers consistently for years.
Even with holes in the Steelers secondary, they’ve got championship-caliber defense due to its playmaking abilities — especially in those “must-have” moments. If the offense would stop putting the defense in those situations except for those that come organically, maybe just maybe, this Pittsburgh team can make a run.
Getting WR Dionte Johnson back from injury does open the offense up, and that showed as the game progressed. A healthy Pat Freirmuth, one would think, would have the same impact as the team looks ready to establish itself. Coaches and fans have seen this team dig deep to come out with the wins they do.
Keep in mind that this Pittsburgh team had to dig deep to pull out Sunday’s victory against a solid Rams team. This same Rams team had only lost to the elite in the league until Sunday. But they did not lose in the same fashion. They were in their games against Philadelphia and San Francisco. Both teams still have work to do but the Rams seem to look the part of a contender more so than Pittsburgh yet there they are below .500 while Pittsburgh hangs on in the fight for the division lead, just half a game back.
The Steelers coaches have seemingly done everything in their power to not put pressure on Pickett and the offense when it has become increasingly obvious that he responds to the pressure with urgency and fire.
So hand him the keys.
Step aside and allow Pickett the freedom to make mistakes. Make the on-field changes from the opening kickoff. Scheme the games appropriately but allow him to play his game.
What does Pittsburgh have to lose at this point? Another non-losing season?