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Steelers Stock Report ahead of Week 5: Recent history tells us the Steelers win this weekend

This week we’ll cover Lamar Jackson, Kenny Pickett’s plans to play, and pessimism

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of very good and very cool things happening around the NFL. The formerly woebegone Baker Mayfield is enjoying something of a career resurgence with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are 3-1 and genuinely well-positioned to win their division. Christian McCaffrey is building a legitimate MVP portfolio in San Francisco; he’d be the first non-quarterback since 2012 to win that honor. Many of the teams who held first round picks in the 2023 NFL Draft appear to have nailed their selections, and four of the top five players drafted look like franchise cornerstones. Justin Jefferson is on pace for a million yards, and so is Puka Nacua.

Sean Payton, for whom the Broncos traded actual draft capital (lol), talked outrageous trash about the former coaching regime in Denver and then watched his team surrender 300+ passing yards to Justin Fields just one week after getting 70-pieced in Miami and avoiding the worst loss in the entire history of the NFL solely because the opposing head coach showed mercy that Payton himself would never exercise in a million years. Chase Claypool is trying in vain to play the Diva Receiver role but he’s such a nonentity that his team is like just stay home, man, we do not care. The Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce thing is fun.

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, things are neither good nor cool. To be a fan of the Steelers is not about appreciating gritty, hard-nosed football, stifling defense, and organizational stability, but rather being stuck in a constant feedback loop oscillating between cloying optimism and abrasive cynicism. It is an extremely normal and healthy way to feel about a thing in which your rooting interest was determined by heredity, geographic proximity to team headquarters, or thinking the color scheme was neat when you were, like, 11. Stock report!

Stock down: The birds in your ears

They’re 2-2! In the hunt!

I still believe!

We’re only four games into the season. They turned it around last year, let’s just see how it goes.

We just need the weather to turn. 7-2 record in November and December last year, baby. We’re a late-season team.

Mike Tomlin always finds a way to figure things out.

The team is still young; they need some time to get further acclimated.

Kenny Pickett made that one good throw that one time, remember? If he can just figure out how to do that all the time, we’ll be set.

One of the dressers in Art II’s bedroom will transmute into his father and they’ll go on a Christmas Carol-style adventure to right this team’s wrongs.

Stock up: The devil on your shoulder

Take a look at who the Steelers beat to get those seven post-bye week wins last season. And, while you’re at it, look at who played quarterback for each of those teams. I’ll wait.

What evidence have you seen this season that compels you to believe any sort of turnaround is even a remote possibility? Both losses were blowouts, and both wins resulted from the opposition melting down at the most inopportune moment. Their offense is a national disgrace, their defense is composed of two stud pass rushers and a bunch of defensive backs who couldn’t cover a sneeze, and the coaching staff shows no interest in remedying any of this. They also have five games remaining against AFC North opponents, all of whom are better teams on paper.

The team is indeed young, but youth and promise are not necessarily compatible attributes. And to hinge your future on the assumption that youth reflects promise and that promise assures success is why millennials attended college en masse and now we’re all in therapy.

Kenny Pickett also has a negative touchdown/interception ratio and routinely abandons the script the moment he senses a modicum of pressure in the pocket. Pickett is indeed young and inexperienced in a macro perspective, but he has 17 professional games under his belt, he played in a pro-style offense in college, and he’s the same age as Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, and Tua Tagovailoa. He’s far from a baby.

Mike Tomlin probably will spur some sort of turnaround because that is what tends to happen with teams Mike Tomlin coaches. But at what point does that actually become a disservice? 9-8 is a fine record to strive for if you’re confident about the future you’re building toward, but it represents organizational purgatory in any other context.

Stock up: Recency bias

Bad news: The Steelers play the Ravens this weekend. This is a quintessential Ravens outfit: fourth in the league in rushing (this despite having just two rushes of 20 or more yards for the entire season; they are simply drowning teams in a relentless churn of five-yard runs), third in pass defense, seventh against the run, you get it. Same kind of team they usually are. Probably foremost among the second tier of contenders. They’re road favorites against the Steelers and their four-point spread looks like a mortal lock.

The Steelers offense is 25th in scoring and 29th in yardage and the perceived efficacy of the defense is largely inflated by the pass rush, which ranks first in the league in sacks, but the rest of the unit ranks 23rd in scoring and 30th in yardage. Overall, the Steelers have the league’s worst yardage differential. Their 2-2 record is more a statistical anomaly than a true reflection of their actual quality.

Good news: Miraculously, the Steelers are 5-1 against the Ravens in their past six meetings. They won four of those games scoring 20 or fewer points. Dan, how many of those games did Lamar Jackson play in? We’re moving on!

Stock up: Effusive praise

(Lamar Jackson has suited up just once in the Ravens last six meetings against Pittsburgh, by the way.) Barring some sort of unexpected run-in with an undiscovered Omega variant of the coronavirus, Jackson will play this Sunday. Lamar Jackson is preposterously good. Any discussions about whether Jackson is somehow deficient as a pocket passer a) are patently untrue (Jackson is completing nearly three-quarters of his passes this season, his career touchdown/interception ratio is nearly 3-to-1, and—brace yourself for a thermonuclear take—his career passer rating is the same as Tom Brady’s) and b) entirely miss the point about what modern quarterbacking entails. Quarterbacks are not awarded bonus points for sitting in the pocket, and a first down gained through the air counts just the same as one gained via a quarterback scramble. Did the scoring drives engineered by your quarterback contribute to an aggregate point total that surpassed the opposition’s aggregate point total? If so, congratulations, your quarterback has succeeded in quarterbacking.

The Ravens, as smart, enterprising organizations are wont to do, designed the framework of their offense around Jackson, leveraging his athletic profile and arm talent. What resulted was (and is) a multifaceted, efficient system that has anchored four playoff teams in the past five seasons and has the Ravens sitting at 3-1 this season. The caveat here is that the Ravens haven’t found particular success in the playoffs, having won just one playoff game since 2014, but to discredit everything Jackson is and has been based on his team’s playoff record and some antiquated view that quarterbacks should exist on a sort of mobile quarterback/pocket passer binary is a loser’s perspective. All this isn’t to say that Jackson is infallible—he fumbles with alarming regularity, and he’s dealt with injuries in each of the past two seasons—but he is without question among the league’s elite quarterbacks.

Stock down: Foresight

Kenny Pickett wants to give it a go this weekend. That’s admirable in the sense that you want to see your quarterback exhibit the leadership capabilities to put aside his own lingering ailments and willingly Lead His Guys Into Battle. But, buddy, maybe you wanna sit this one out? I don’t want to get into attributing a percentage to the health of Pickett’s knee, but if that number is less than 100%, it’s not a terrible idea to focus on recovery and aim to return at full capacity following the bye week. Watching from the sidelines may also permit Pickett to view the game through a different lens and inform his perspective moving forward. Maybe seeing another dude in his spot will reignite his competitive spirit, or whatever. Reminder: it is Week 5 and I am speculating about the perceived benefits of soft-benching the presumed franchise quarterback. Things are going very well! Go Steelers.

Week 5 picks

(2023 record: 3-2; as always, please gamble responsibly)

Bears vs. Commanders – Call your state’s gambling hotline immediately if you wager on this game

Bills vs. Jaguars (London) – O/48

Panthers vs. Lions – Lions -10

Ravens vs. Steelers – Ravens -4

Chiefs vs. Vikings – Vikings +4.5

Bengals vs. Cardinals – Bengals -3