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What can Steelers fans expect moving forward after the bye?

The Steelers are set to regroup during the bye. What can fans expect when they return?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers won a pivotal Week 5 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens.

In a game where the Ravens receiving corps dropped almost as many passes as they completed, the Steelers once again played complementary football and came up with the win. It wasn’t pretty, but it was exciting. With blocked punts and some huge stands on fourth down, Pittsburgh played clean football and held on long enough to outlast its biggest rival.

A win is a win, but if anybody saw what the San Francisco 49ers accomplished Sunday night to the Dallas Cowboys, they are officially the standard of the NFL. If a team wants to compete for the Lombardi Trophy this year, going through San Francisco is almost a given.

With an earlier bye (which for Pittsburgh, is probably a blessing), Pittsburgh stands at 3-2 to lead the AFC North. A better result couldn’t have been asked of this team at this point of the season as well as the younger players' careers, even for how messy things have been to this point.

So what can Steelers fans expect moving forward? History suggests Pittsburgh will build upon what they have done, which isn’t much statistically except for the regular, game-changing sacks.

Former Steelers lineman Chris Hoke stated after the game, “Send Kenny [Pickett] to the Bahamas,” to let him breathe. Although a trip to the Carribean over the bye is not likely, there’s some truth in that statement. Pickett just needs to slow down. Feeling the weight of the world currently, when Pickett has a little time and allows the play to develop, he’s able to drive the ball downfield. His touchdown-winning throw might just be another signal that Pickett is taking the first steps to being that field general.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Time for Kenny to establish himself
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It did not look as though the Steelers offensive coordinator was very happy as the touchdown took place. The camera firmly placed on him, it wasn’t until another coach tapped him on the shoulder that his face went from stoic to not-so-stoic. He wasn’t happy, and it could be seen. There could be changes coming but the team has two weeks to prepare for the rest of the season. Throw away what doesn’t work and hit the drawing board.

Schematically the team needs to look at both sides of the ball. If not for all the Ravens drops, there is most likely a different outcome in this game. Zay Flowers was open — a lot! However, it was the Steelers that made the plays that counted. Two fourth-down stops are slightly overlooked as the D made plays all game. However, there are holes in the secondary that need to be cleaned up if Pittsburgh wants to contend.

What can fans expect moving forward?

Obviously, Pittsburgh isn’t going to try and reinvent the wheel over the next two weeks.

There will be slight schematic changes on both sides of the ball. Offensive play calling obviously needs work, and Pickett is at a point where he needs to have the freedom to try and do what he did to win the game versus the Ravens. He’s in the game, on the field, and he’s smart. Will he make mistakes? Most likely. But will he make some plays? As evidenced by a game-winning deep throw — yes! The game needs to be called by Canada and Pickett. If you ask fans, they’d implore the team to let Kenny call the entire game.

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joey Porter Jr. (24) intercepts a pass in the end-zone intended for Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (3) during the fourth quarter at Acrisure Stadium.
JP Jr’s time is now.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Expect an influx of youth.

Rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. did in Week 5 what the great Steelers players of the past have always done. If someone makes a mistake, as a team, get it back. Porter’s interception in the end zone following WR Gunner Olszewski’s fumble on a late punt return was exactly what the team needed to stay in the game.

After playing just five snaps in the first half, Porter Jr. made his impact felt in the second, playing 20 total snaps, including that key interception. Expect this to continue. Coming off the break, expect to see a little different back end of the defense to start games. Porter was drafted to shut down half of the field, and based on his play so far, fans should expect to see him build upon what he has done to start the year, which is simply to get acclimated to the NFL game of football.

Rookie LT Broderick Jones will be the blindside protector on the offensive line moving forward. Though the Steelers were probably waiting until the bye to make any significant changes concerning some of the younger players, injury forced Jones into his first start. From what was seen, he held his own, not having allowed a single pressure from the left side in Week 5, Jones’ name wasn’t often heard — which is a good thing for a first-time starter on the offensive line. He did his job.

Second-year RB Jaylen Warren has earned more carries and it showed in the game. Although it’s unlikely to hear of any real depth chart changes at the position, look for Warren to be featured more regularly. Both running backs have had their moments and it will be up to the coaching staff to get the player more suited to whatever defense they are playing.

Rookie DT Keanu Benton is now being seen all over the field. Although the opportunity to start may have come by way of injury, Benton is starting to build a solid resume for a rookie. With a sack and a forced fumble on the season, No. 95 is going to be a good one as his number is always around the football.

On both sides of the ball, the fanbase can expect the youth movement to continue after the bye.

NFL: JAN 09 Steelers at Ravens
Johnson due to return.
Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Was Dionte Johnson’s injury a blessing in disguise for Kenny Pickett and the rest of the offense?

WR Diontae Johnson had quickly become second-year QB Kenny Pickett’s go-to receiver. He’s always open. As one of the better route runners in the league, Pickett knew Diontae was safe, so he looked his way often. Not having him for the last few weeks has forced Pickett and the rest of the offense to grow. Johnson’s injury forced WR George Pickens was pressed into that number-one role, and after a few games, it is starting to look as though it’s helped him get a better feel for the game at the professional level.

Getting Johnson back will change the entire offense, but it’s possible that Pickett’s previous favorite target could now be Pickett’s second option after having been forced to look at different options in his absence. It’s been mediocre success at best during Johnson’s absence but this is a team that is a work in progress. Steelers fans patience is wearing thin but look for a similar change as was seen after the bye last season.

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers
Season starts now.
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Pittsburgh is a tough team to gauge as far as future success. The mundane offensive play calling is the number one weakness so far. The second is what the secondary can manage in coverage, the pass rush can’t get to the opposing quarterback, and there always seems to be a receiver completely wide open down the field. Whether that be schematic flaws or missed assignments, the defense needs to try and shrink the passing lane windows that have seen receivers have huge days. Had the Ravens not dropped combined for seven drops on the day, it would have been a longer outing for this secondary despite their propensity for splash plays.

If the special teams can secure a return man, it looks as though Danny Smith’s unit is one of the league’s better overall units. The only reason I mention this is when special teams units accel, it typically means there is a solid core of depth on the team. Yes, there are a couple of players on the team because of their special teams prowess but overall, it’s the secondary players that make up the unit and Pittsburgh has had solid play out of special teams so far this season.

For Pittsburgh, as it stands, the season starts now. At the top of the AFC North, with two division wins, they actually have a head start on the competition. For as ugly as it’s been, that’s a good place to be as the team settles into the push toward the playoffs.

Now, fans now have a full two weeks to settle, relax, and once again put on their optimism hats.