The Pittsburgh Steelers finished the 2021 season 9-7-1, just a game over .500, but good enough to make it into the postseason—even if not for long. It was a season in which everybody understood going in that there would be glaring warts; where not rapidly aging, they would have significant growing pains as rookies break themselves in.
So what about 2022? Who are this year’s Steelers? Are they better? Are they worse? Given how much has changed, they are certainly not the same, but what are the outside expectations for what they will accomplish?
Well, at least for NFL.com writer Adam Rank, it’s not a high bar. In his ‘State of the Franchise’ status report on the Steelers that ran on the league’s platform yesterday, he wrote that their 2022 season would be deemed a success if they simply finish .500 or better:
OK, so as I mentioned in my discussion of Tomlin above, finishing exactly at .500 is a little tricky in this world of 17-game schedules. But I’m confident they can get that tie if need be to preserve Tomlin’s non-losing steak. The point is, even though the Steelers are, long-term, one of the top organizations in the NFL, this is a good bar to set at this point. It would be foolish to expect them to compete for a Super Bowl title in 2022. I mean, they probably still will, but it’d be foolish to expect it.
Is it, though? For me, it hinges dramatically upon your opinion on two things: the state of their quarterback position in comparison to last season, and their prospects within the division. The odds of their going 4-0 against the Ravens and Browns are not great this year, though perhaps they can manage better than an 0-2 against the Bengals. And of course the question of the Browns depends on their quarterback position, as well.
But setting aside the quarterback position, this is, by and large, a better team on paper. You have key young starters maturing like Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth, as well as Alex Highsmith and Chase Claypool. You’ve upgraded the offensive line with James Daniels and Mason Cole. And you have a healthier and deeper defensive line, as well, with the promise of better at the inside linebacker position.
And one can only hope that the edge rushers won’t be plagued by groin injuries like they were for pretty much the entirety of the 2021 season.
Yet what about that quarterback position? 39-year-old Ben Roethlisberger had his major limitations, and that put major limitations on what Matt Canada could do with his offense, but he was still Ben Roethlisberger, the kind of quarterback who was among only a handful who could make certain throws, and you had that clutch instinct exemplified by his league-leading seven game-winning drives.
We go from Roethlisberger, even in his beaten-up twilight stage to a failed first-round pick in Mitch Trubisky and a fresh first-round pick regarded as having a low ceiling in Kenny Pickett—and who doesn’t even look like he will start.
So who is this team? Is this a .500 squad? A game or two ahead? A game or two behind? A few weeks out from training camp, where do you see the 2022 Steelers in the standings come the conclusion of Week 18?