It goes without saying that things looked rather bleak for the Pittsburgh Steelers following a three-game losing streak to begin the season. But they have since gone 5-1, albeit largely against inferior competition, and the perception of the unit and what it is capable of achieving in 2019 has been gradually shifting.
Midway through the season, at 4-4, they have even positioned themselves to being within one game of a Wildcard spot, which is pretty remarkable given where they started. Even head coach Mike Tomlin bemusedly acknowledged that he was relieved to be at .500 at the turn, given where they were a month ago.
Much of the turnaround has been thanks to the defense, which, even with the loss of Stephon Tuitt, has been among the best in the league in bringing the quarterback down—29 sacks through eight games—and taking the ball away—22 takeaways.
That was the main reason that Pro Football Focus has the Steelers ranked 12th in their power rankings for Week Nine, although it should be noted that that is actually a one-spot drop from last week. That is due to the rise of the Houston Texans, who jumped up from that 12 spot all the way to eighth. The article reads:
Pittsburgh’s offense isn’t the same without Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the Killer Bs. A combination of Mason Rudolph and world champion duck caller (Devlin Hodges) have the Steelers entering Week 10 ranked just 27th in EPA per play and 20th in yards per play. It’s improved play from Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt and the rest of Steelers’ defense that has the team ranked 12th in ELO through Week 9. Pittsburgh currently ranks fifth in EPA per play allowed and second in pressure percentage on defense.
There’s no doubt that the play of the Steelers’ pass rushers has been a critical element in their success over the course of the past five games. But that also pairs with a new-look secondary featuring significant contributions from Steven Nelson and, especially, Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has four interceptions and a forced fumble in six games.
The offense will soon have to take its turn raising its game, however, if the Steelers hope to rise up much further. Rudolph has largely done okay, but there are certainly areas in which he must improve, including making better decisions and pulling the trigger on more challenging pass attempts.
A run game would help, as well, but that likely will not be much of an option until at least James Conner gets back, or even Benny Snell. The backfield is a triage center at the moment.