The Steelers and their fans endured another nail-biter of a game this year against the Packers on Sunday. But as it’s happened time and time again this season, the Steelers emerged from the close game with the victory, defeating the Green Bay Packers with a score of 23-19. And as always, there are plenty of takeaways to be had:
1. The Steelers aren’t bad
This probably shouldn’t seem like an overreaction to most, but given the shroud of negativity surrounding the Steelers this season, it’s an important point to bring up. ESPN’s Mike Greenberg had a hot take last week when he claimed that the Steelers “might be the worst team in the NFL” — it was a bad take when the Steelers were 5-3 and now it looks even worse at 6-3.
With their win over the Packers on Sunday, the Steelers solidified the fact that they’re on a level above the league’s worst teams. You can’t be 6-3 and in the running for the title of the worst team in football. We can argue all day over whether the Steelers are “good” or not, or what their ceiling may be (both of which are worthwhile conversations), but it couldn’t be clearer that the Steelers — at the very least — are not bad. In fact, they’ll probably make the playoffs. Will they win anything when they get there? Probably not. But let’s enjoy the win for now. Look around the rest of league. The Steelers may be disappointing this season, but it could be much, much worse.
2. A revitalized ground game
It may have just been a disciplinary measure of sorts for George Pickens, but the Steelers removed the second-year receiver from their announced starters before the game against Green Bay, deciding instead to announce second-string running back Jaylen Warren as a starter alongside Najee Harris. It was a sign of things to come, as the duo would form an effective one-two punch against the Packers, combining for 183 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries. Warren recorded 101 yards on the ground while Harris had 96 all-purpose yards.
Both running backs played extremely well, but it was the Steeler offensive line that was the biggest difference maker against the Packers. Rookie offensive tackle Broderick Jones has energized the Steelers’ run game ever since he was inserted into the starting lineup, while guards James Daniels and Isaac Seumalo are starting to play like the talented linemen they are. They opened some sizable holes all game for the Pittsburgh rushing attack, showing just how good Warren, and Harris especially, can look with competent run-blocking in front of them.
If it’s a trend that continues throughout the rest of the season, the Steelers may have more offensive success than expected heading into their next stretch of games.
3. The Steelers’ passing game is dead
You know what would’ve made the Steelers’ running game even better? A capable passing game. The Steelers managed only 126 yards through the air against a Packers defense missing Jaire Alexander.
Love or hate the guy, it’s hard to deny that Kenny Pickett has yet to have a true statement game to silence his doubters this season. It was no different against Green Bay, as the Steelers’ passing game was anemic against a secondary they should’ve dominated. Yes, Pickett’s turnover-less streak is a big part of why the Steelers are playing winning football right now, but let’s not forget that although the NFL is neither horseshoes nor hand-grenades, he had two throws against the Packers that were close to turnovers. Beyond that, he’s just not supplying the splash plays needed to open up the Steelers offense.
But not all the blame falls on Pickett. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has conjured up some dark sideline magic ever since he moved down from the coaches’ box to call the plays, but it seemingly runs out after the first few drives of the game. He’s still not scheming receivers open well, making life no easier for his struggling quarterback. The Steelers need to improve their passing game on many levels, but it’s hard to count on that happening this season. Given Pittsburgh’s rushing performance on Sunday, it’s hard not to see that this team could be a decent passing game away from having a good offense.
4. A disappearing act
I’ve sung the praises of TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, and the Steelers pass rush all year, but they’re not above the occasional critique, either. Against the Packers’ injury-decimated offensive line, the Steelers only managed one sack. The entire pass-rush disappeared during many moments in the game, allowing Green Bay’s quarterback Jordan Love ample time to sit back in the pocket and burn Pittsburgh for big plays through the air. For the amount of money the Steelers have spent on their defensive line and outside linebackers, they need more from that group, especially in games where they’re set up to succeed.
With the team’s linebacker core and secondary suffering numerous injuries this season, the Steelers pass-rush needs to step up and be the motor of the defense. The good news is, despite a disappearing act against the Packers, there’s little doubt that TJ Watt and the Steelers’ defensive line will be able to bounce back next game and beyond.
5. Missing pieces
The Steelers were without starting safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and starting linebacker Cole Holcomb entering Sunday’s game against the Packers, and then they lost another starting linebacker in Kwon Alexander. While those losses hurt the Steelers in a number of ways, the most obvious was the glaring lack of athleticism on the back end of the Pittsburgh defense. Opposing receivers and tight ends were running wide open all game, and the Steeler defense simply couldn’t keep up.
The bad news gets worse as both Holcomb and Alexander are done for the season while Fitzpatrick’s return timetable is unknown. Although Elandon Roberts has played well this year and Mark Robinson looked solid coming off the bench, the Steelers will likely need to look for outside help to reload the middle of their defense. But with the trade deadline in the past, it’ll be hard to find names that can fill the shoes of Holcomb and Alexander. It’s a shame as it looked like the Steelers had finally built a quality outside linebacker room after years of subpar play at the position.
6. Chris Boswell is very good
The heading says it all. Steelers’ kicker Chris Boswell was a perfect 3/3 on field goals and 2/2 on extra points against the Packers. He remains the most consistent scorer the Steelers have on their roster this season. What’s more impressive is how Boswell has remained automatic in a kicking environment as tough as Acrisure Stadium. Don’t let his incredible season go unnoticed in a forgettable year for the Steelers’ offense as a whole. Boswell should be in the running for team MVP this season.
7. Patrick Peterson deserves the game ball
Veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson has been a popular scapegoat for the Steelers’ defense all season. Despite a Hall of Fame-worthy career, Peterson has clearly lost a step or two since his prime, and he hasn’t looked great this year for Pittsburgh. However, he had two of the game’s most important plays against the Packers, blocking and extra point in the first half and then causing an end zone pass deflection in the fourth quarter that resulted in a game-changing interception.
His blocked extra point was especially important as it caused Green Bay to trail by four points instead of three late, forcing them to have to play for a touchdown instead of a field goal. Peterson certainly hasn’t looked like the star he was with the Cardinals now that he’s on the Steelers, but he’s still been a good overall addition to this defense. He will still get burnt in coverage every now and then, but his veteran savvy and help with the development of Joey Porter Jr. seems to be staring to pay off.
8. Odds and ends
- Defensive lineman Keeanu Benton may be the best player so far in the Steelers’ 2023 rookie class, and that’s really saying something.
- Long snapper Christian Kuntz deserves credit for playing though an injury against the Packers. The Steelers relied on special teams, both kicks and punts, late in that game, and without Kuntz it would’ve been a mess. Long snappers are a far more important part of a team than many realize.
- Kenny Pickett’s weird backwards-looking pass to Jaylen Warren that was dropped probably should’ve been ruled a lateral and a turnover. It certainly shouldn’t have been called dead as early as it was. As fans, it’s fun to say that the referees are always out to get the Steelers, but in this case, it definitely looks like they were the ones who bailed Pittsburgh out.
- Darnell Washington is a lot of fun to watch as a blocker, and it was also entertaining to watch defenders try to tackle him on his lone catch against the Packers. He’s a lumbering mover, so he needs to be schemed open more than he can get open — but with the ball in his hands, he can be an effective offensive weapon.
- Calvin Austin had one catch against Green Bay. Allen Robinson had none. The Steelers need to be using them in the passing game more... or maybe they’re just not as good as we thought?
- The Steelers ran a toss play on fourth and one. It worked. I still don’t like it.
- If the Steelers can manage a .500 record through the rest of their season, they’ll be sitting at 10-7 and a very possible playoff spot. It’s a highly likely scenario.
- Pittsburgh sat at 3-6 through nine games last year. The Steelers haven’t lived up to expectations this year, but is it fair to say they’ve improved from last year?
Up next for the Steelers is a pivotal two-game stretch of divisional matchups. Pittsburgh faces the Cleveland Browns on November 19 and the Cincinnati Bengals on November 26. Even one win over the next two weeks would keep the Steelers right in the AFC North title race. It should be another fun few weeks of Steelers football.