Jordan Dajani of CPSSports.com recently published an article highlighting five teams that could be better than most NFL fans would expect heading into the 2022 season. Along with the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings, and Las Vegas Raiders, Dajani included the Pittsburgh Steelers among the teams looking to surprise this upcoming season.
“Mike Tomlin has never registered a losing record in 15 seasons as head coach of the Steelers, but apparently Vegas is expecting that in 2022,” said Dajani regarding Pittsburgh’s current Over/Under win total of 7.5.
Dajani goes on to analyze the state of the offense and the expectations in the post-Roethlisberger era:
“The Steelers made the playoffs after going 3-1 to close out the regular season in 2021, which was a shock,” said Dajani. “It felt like at times this team was winning without much help from Ben Roethlisberger, which leads some to believe that Mitchell Trubisky and/or Kenny Pickett could actually be an upgrade in 2022.”
While Pittsburgh will miss Ben’s leadership and experience leading the offense, Dajani wouldn’t be wrong when saying that it felt as if Roethlisberger was holding back the offense in recent seasons. Given his age and lack of mobility as a passer as well as coming off the elbow surgery that caused him to miss most of the 2019 campaign, Roethlisberger tends to struggle attacking downfield as well with his deep ball accuracy while also failing to utilize the middle of the field in the passing game. The offense became more dink-and-dunk in nature, allowing Ben to get the snap and throw the ball quick on short passes and screens rather than having to hold on to the ball.
Here is #Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger's passing chart through the first six weeks.
Seems like a pretty conscious decision by him and the coaching staff to try to avoid the middle of the field. pic.twitter.com/yfjGJpXlXe
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) October 18, 2020
This style of play may have produced a lot of schemed-up yardage and easy completions for Ben, but it also handicapped the offense, allowing defenses to play close to the LOS and jump passes underneath without respecting the deep ball or worry about covering the deep middle of the field. It remains to be seen whether Trubisky or Pickett will be able to capably command the offense in Pittsburgh, but their youth and superior athleticism and arm talent at this juncture in their careers will likely be an upgrade over Roethlisberger, who was playing in the twilight of his illustrious career.
Mike Tomlin spoke about QB mobility countless times during his press conferences this season.
While mobile QB ≠ running QB, Mitch Trubisky was able to put together 421 rushing yards in '18. That would be the most by a #Steelers QB since Kordell Stewart ran for 537 yards in '01. pic.twitter.com/FSdnBxPvvc
— Tyler Wise (@TriggeredWise) March 14, 2022
When it comes to the defense, Dajani appears to be high on a couple of the outside additions Pittsburgh made during the offseason:
“Defensively, you would hope this unit improves in 2022. Myles Jack and Levi Wallace are two of the more underrated additions this offseason,” says Dajani regarding the defensive side of the football. “There’s reason to be cautiously optimistic about this Steelers team in 2022 even though it resides in a tough division.”
Pittsburgh was uncharacteristically active in the early stages of free agency this offseason in what would be Kevin Colbert’s final offseason as GM. They spent legitimate cap dollars on several outside free agents including Jack, Wallace, James Daniels, and Mason Cole. Jack figures to slide right in next to Devin Bush as the starting inside linebackers, hoping to have a bigger impact than his predecessor and former Jaguars teammate Joe Schobert did in his lone season in Pittsburgh. Wallace may not be a phenomenal athlete, but he is smart, dependable, and a willing tackler that should fit right in as Pittsburgh’s #2 CB on the perimeter.
These additions make Dajani believe that the Steelers are currently being slept on in the national media, but doesn’t necessarily see them pushing for the game’s ultimate prize just yet.
“I don’t see Pittsburgh as a dark-horse Super Bowl contender this year, but I do see the Steelers potentially being better than people expect.”
Overall, I find Dajani’s assessment of the Steelers fair and objective. While many are expecting the offense to take a nosedive with either Trubisky or rookie Kenny Pickett at the helm, they likely failed to see how limited the offense was last season with Roethlisberger playing seemingly on fumes at times along with a disaster up front with the offensive line, which the team added to this offseason. Throw in the fact that players like Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth are entering Year Two as well as the additions of WRs George Pickens and Calvin Austin III via the 2022 NFL Draft, it’s hard to argue that this unit could be any worse than the one that took the field last season.
There's been 76 instances in NFL history where a QB completed 380+ passes in a season. Among that group, the two lowest passing yards seasons:
Ben Roethlisberger – 3740 (2021)
Ben Roethlisberger – 3803 (2020)
Dink & dunk offense, unable to push the ball downfield last 2 years.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) January 20, 2022
Defensively, Pittsburgh lost the likes of Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu for the year while also seeing Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, Steven Nelson, and Vince Williams all leave the team via free agency or retirement. Losing six starters from last season while also having to roll out practice squad level players in the front seven led to Pittsburgh ranking dead last in the NFL in rush defense. Given the fact that Alualu has already returned to the lineup and the team has added Myles Jack, Levi Wallace, Damontae Kazee, Genard Avery, and DeMarvin Leal this offseason, one would have to expect that the unit will have better results than the historically bad performance that occurred last season.
This time last year, wasn't sure how the Steelers would replace Javon Hargrave. Tyson Alualu came through in a big way.
– Stack/shed in run game
– Flow vs perimeter runs
– Run stunts
– Effort to the ball/finishing the play pic.twitter.com/yqhifErRE3
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) March 16, 2021
Pittsburgh may not be there in terms of being considered title contenders, but to think that this team can’t make a playoff push seems like overkill. Pittsburgh limped into a playoff berth last season and given their notable additions to the roster over the last several months, they should have just as good of a chance, if not better, to make the playoffs in 2022 than they did last season.