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6 overreactions from the Steelers’ 30-23 win over the Seattle Seahawks

The Steelers make it two-straight games with 30+ points.

Najee Harris #22 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs for a first down against the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at Lumen Field on December 31, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. Photo by Conor Courtney/Getty Images

The Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks 30-23 on Sunday in quarterback Mason Rudolph’s second start of the season. The win keeps Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes alive and ends 2023 on a high note for Steelers Nation. As always, there are plenty of takeaways to be had following the win.

1. Mike Tomlin’s non-losing season streak means something

The Steelers have a 9-7 record following their victory over Seattle, meaning that no matter what happens against the Ravens in Week 18, Mike Tomlin’s streak of non-losing seasons as a head coach will remain secure. Tomlin has faced his fair share of deserved criticism this year — much of which is still valid despite the team’s two-game winning streak — but I’m tired of how often that streak comes up as a negative when talking about Tomlin.

It’s absurd how consistently high the ceiling has been for Tomlin’s Steelers teams, as no matter how many times they’ve seemed to completely collapse over the past few seasons, they’ve always found a way to crawl back into playoff contention. We don’t realize how good even the most infuriating Steelers’ seasons are. I’m not saying one statistic absolves Tomlin from all criticism like some in the national media seem to think — but just like his playoff record matters, so does his non-losing season streak when it comes to analyzing him as a coach.

2. Kenny Pickett shouldn’t be the Steelers’ QB1 next season

I hate the idea of players losing their job to injury. In an ideal world, I wanted Kenny Pickett to finish out the 2023 season to give him a fair shot at living up to his first-round billing. But at the same time, sometimes the answer is so obvious that there’s no reason to prolong an inevitable decision. I was a little hesitant last week, but now I’m fully onboard with letting Mason Rudolph start the rest of the season.

Rudolph has led the Steelers to their best two offensive games of the season in his first two starts, showing his success against the Bengals last week wasn’t a one hit wonder. And those starts haven’t just been marginally better. They’re a head and shoulders above anything the Steelers’ offense has looked like with Pickett or Mitch Trubisky, with Rudolph leading Pittsburgh to their only 30+ point performances all year in back-to-back games. Rudoph’s play has shown the Steelers what this team can look like with a competent passer under center, and while he hasn’t looked like the second coming of Tom Brady, he’s done enough to get the Pittsburgh offense looking like an NFL-caliber one for the first time all season.

This isn’t fan chatter, either. The Steelers coaches know it; just look at how they’ve been calling plays with Rudolph under center. Pittsburgh is more aggressive than ever with a third-string Rudolph starting — more confident than they ever were with Pickett, a franchise quarterback candidate in his second season. The night-and-day difference of Rudolph’s play has been more indicative of why the Steelers should move on from Kenny Pickett than any bad performance Pickett himself has had. It couldn’t be clearer. The Steelers need to try to find a new franchise quarterback next season.

3. Angry runs

The Steelers’ offensive line, running back room, and tight ends showed up to play on Sunday, with some of the best effort I've seen all year. It was textbook tape for everything coaches repeat ad nauseam: playing to the whistle, keeping your legs churning, and so on. The entire team bought in as well, with a group mentality of repeatedly punching Seattle in the mouth. It worked, with Pittsburgh’s powerful run game bullying the Seahawk front all afternoon to the tune of 202 rushing yards. The effort helped control the clock, keep Pittsburgh’s thin defense rested, and take the pressure off of Mason Rudolph and the Steeler passing attack.

Kyle Brandt of Good Morning Football will have a tough time choosing his top “Angry Run” of Week 17 from the list of options the Steelers provided on Sunday. I mean, just look at these:

There are plenty more, too. Check out the Steelers’ feed here so I don't end up filling this entire article with embeds of awesome runs (although I want to).

This Steelers running back room might really be special, and with some upgrades on the offensive line next season, it could take the next step to elite.

4. Nick Herbig is a draft steal

I was ecstatic with Pittsburgh’s 2023 draft class back in April, but the only pick I was skeptical about was fourth-rounder Nick Herbig, an undersized edge rusher who seemed unlikely to succeed at the NFL level. I thought he’d be one of those somewhat over-drafted mid-round selections who would fade into oblivion after a few seasons.

Thankfully, my gut reaction was very wrong. Herbig has already developed into an excellent rotational pass-rusher who is becoming an important piece of the Steelers’ defensive depth. Similarly to Jaylen Warren last year, he’s made the most out of every opportunity sent his way, seemingly always available for one big play per game on defense or special teams in the limited snaps he’s on the field. That was exemplified on Sunday, when Herbig’s fourth quarter strip sack of Seattle quarterback Geno Smith all but sealed the game for Pittsburgh. Whenever he’s on the field, Herbig finds a way to make a play. The rookie is one of the unsung heroes on the Pittsburgh defense this season.

5. The Steelers could be dangerous

Stupid optimism time. If the Steelers make the playoffs this season (which is still a bit of a long shot), could they actually make some noise? The AFC is incredibly wide open, with every team except Baltimore having some glaring issues regardless of record. The Ravens aren’t invincible either, with the Steelers always playing them close regardless of the surrounding circumstances. I’m not saying it will happen, but it’s not completely unrealistic that the Steelers could any-given-Sunday themselves into a playoff win this season.

A large part of that optimism is due to the sudden infusion of competence into the Pittsburgh offense, which is coming off a two-game streak of 30+ points with no signs of slowing down. Against Seattle, the Steelers were balanced, largely error-free, and capable of both slow, methodical drives and big, explosive plays. On defense, the team is trending in the wrong direction, but there’s a chance that Minkah Fitzpatrick, Elandon Roberts, and Trenton Thompson all return in the next few weeks, presenting a massive boost to the team’s weakest units. If the Steelers can remain healthy and stay on their upward trajectory, this team could be surprisingly good in January.

Yes, this is an overreaction, but read the title of the article! It’s okay to have some fun.

6. Odds and ends

  • Trying to keep the optimism going here, but I am simultaneously prepared for the Steelers to implode against a Ravens team fielding all backups next week. I’m not sure why, it just feels perfectly Steelers-y.
  • I want to make one thing very clear here: I have nothing against Devin Bush as a person. That being said, it was oddly cathartic to watch him play a terrible game against the Steelers on Sunday. I have far too many memories of watching him get washed downfield when defending the run when he was with Pittsburgh, making it a great experience to finally be on the other side of that.
  • The Steelers’ bad habit of wasting timeouts doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon.
  • Mason Rudolph’s fourth-quarter deep ball to George Pickens is one of the best throws I’ve seen from a Steelers’ quarterback in a while. It wasn’t perfect, but Rudolph’s poise in a collapsing pocket and arm strength to throw a bomb downfield without stepping into it was nothing short of impressive.
  • Geno Smith’s pocket mobility made life difficult for the Steelers’ pass-rush on Sunday. There were a number of sacks left on the field. It’ll be interesting to see how they rebound next week against the Ravens, where they’ll face another mobile quarterback in Tyler Huntley if Lamar Jackson doesn’t play. And if Jackson does play... expect life to get even harder.
  • I know I’ve been critiquing Kenny Pickett a lot lately, but if he’s healthy against the Ravens, the Steelers need to drop the injury facade and make him Rudolph’s backup. If everyone can agree on one thing, it’s that the Steelers are doomed with Mitch Trubisky at quarterback.
  • Pat Freiermuth has seemingly taken the criticism of his run blocking to heart. He’s been a changed man in the run game these past two weeks.
  • Hindsight is 20/20, but where would the Steelers be if Rudolph had played earlier this season?

Over the course of two weeks, the Steelers have transformed from the NFL’s most depressing and boring team to one that’s actually fun to watch. They’ll next take the field on Saturday of Week 18 as they prepare to face the Baltimore Ravens on the road.