The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t been a real threat for a deep playoff run since Ryan Shazier went down in 2017. To many, it may feel like the team has been treading water since then. There were glimpses of hope, the 2020 defense was good enough to make a run, but the Steelers offense fell apart in the long run. 2021 saw the defensive line struggle after the loss of Stephon Tuitt, and another first round playoff exit. 2022 saw a rebuilt offense struggle mightily while a T.J. Watt-less defense lacked teeth for the first half of the season, before a much healthier roster and an improved offensive line led the Steelers to a 7-2 record in the second half, many of the games low-scoring, close wins against not-great teams.
The Steelers responded with an offseason that has been largely lauded, adding quality players to an already improving offensive line and revamping the secondary and inside linebacker positions while adding key depth pieces to several positions. The Steelers turned their 2022 season around with a lot of young players in key roles and then were ranked with the winners in both free agency and the draft. . .
So why are so many people predicting the Pittsburgh Steelers to be worse than they were in 2022?
It isn’t the schedule. The Steelers look to be facing a much easier schedule than in 2022, when they faced seven out of division teams that had winning records the year before and only two that had fewer than 7 wins. This season the Steelers only face 3 out of division teams that had winning records in 2022 and 5 that had fewer than 7 wins. While previous year’s records don’t mean too much, even looking at the offseason teams have had, on paper, the Steelers schedule should be easier in 2023.
The losses in free agency were mostly minor, the highest paid players leaving the Steelers (that actually played) are Cameron Sutton, Myles Jack, Chris Wormley, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Robert Spillane. Only Sutton and Spillane are even on an NFL roster right now. The most important players to leave the Steelers this offseason are Cameron Sutton and Terrell Edmunds, and the Steelers signed and drafted a number of defensive backs to counter the losses.
The inside linebacker room is reconstructed and is considered a weakness on the roster right now, but looking at what Jack, Spillane and Devin Bush Jr. brought in 2022, it’s hard to even view that position as a real downgrade. The Steelers personnel changes seem to be a net positive across the board, and that makes it hard to believe the team will be worse than they were last season.
Age of the team is another place where the Steelers look more likely to improve in 2023 than regress. The entire offense is young and has several key positions poised to improve, like 2022 rookies quarterback Kenny Pickett and receiver George Pickens. If the offense was the same as 2022, you would expect some improvement just based on those two players already putting the mistake-filled first half of their rookie seasons behind them.
There is some concern with a few players that are going to be 30 or older in 2023. Cameron Heyward is 34 and not getting younger, and he is incredibly important to the Steelers defense. He hasn’t slowed down yet though, so banking on 2023 being the year isn’t a great bet. Patrick Peterson is 32 and isn’t the same player he was in his youth, but he still offers roughly the same level of play as Cameron Sutton did, and should be fine holding the #1 corner spot until Joey Porter Jr. is ready to step into it. Of course there is always risk that the rookies don’t work out, but I can’t justify much of a drop off even if Porter Jr. doesn’t offer anything good in his rookie season. The Steelers cornerback room wasn’t exactly great in 2022, and had a lot of injuries in the first half of the season.
The only way this Steelers team should drop to the bottom of the AFC North in 2023 is if major injuries plague the team or if the other AFC North teams have great seasons and dominate the head to head matchups with the Steelers. That could potentially happen, but in my opinion, the Steelers are a much better team heading into an easier schedule in 2023, and I expect they will show it.
How do you think the 2023 Steelers will compare with 2022?
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