Death, taxes, and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense this season underperforming. This offensive unit is on pace to be one of if not the worst offense in franchise history. The unit has only surpassed 20 points once in a Week 1 game that went to overtime. Last season, the team was able to get away with offensive ineptitude due to a mix of elite defensive play and the veteran experience of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. After investing in the offense heavily in the offseason, the team is not seeing any results. This begs the repetitive question of what the problem is with this offense. From poor play calling to poor execution among many position groups, the issues stem from a mix of factors. Using Pro Football Focus’ premium stats, this article will point out areas where the Steelers’ offense is particularly struggling at.
– Quarterback inflicted pressure: A PFF premium stat that both Steelers’ quarterbacks Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett rank poorly in is percentage of pressures that they are responsible for. That is, Trubisky is responsible for 29.4% of his pressures, which ranks second in the league. Meanwhile Pickett is responsible for 21.3% of his pressures, which ranks seventh. Interestingly, the top six in this ranking include Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Jalen Hurts, and Cleveland Browns’ quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
This goes to show that a quarterback can be successful while ranking poorly in this category granted top-tier athleticism and mobility, which Trubisky and Pickett do not have. This is a fundamental issue that Pickett can work to improve. The names closer to the bottom of those rankings list include pocket passers such as Los Angeles Rams’ Matthew Stafford and Minnesota Vikings’ Kirk Cousins, which Pickett can and should strive to be. For more context, this number in Pickett’s breakout senior year at Pitt was 25.6%, meaning that he improved marginally since. Simply put, this is a bad habit for Pickett that the coaching staff needs to work on to avoid unnecessary plays.
– Improve against man to man coverage: According to Pro Football Focus, the Steelers have faced man to man coverage 39.2% in the NFL, which ranks fifth. When faced with this, the team’s receivers have not been able to create separation. The team’s three most targeted receivers still on the roster — receivers George Pickens and Diontae Johnson — all have a poor grade against man coverage.
When facing man coverage, Pickens has a 62.3 receiving grade and a passer rating of 84.7 when targeted, while Johnson has a 65.1 grade and a rating of 34.6 when targeted. This is not due to a lack of capability, as Johnson had a 75.8 grade and 114.0 passer rating when targeted last season, while Pickens had a 77.8 grade and 102.7 rating when targeted his last full season in Georgia. Team’s are not afraid to play man coverage against Pittsburgh and for good reason. If Pickett and company begin taking advantage of the receiver duo’s proven skillset against man coverage, look for this team to get a much-needed influx of big plays.
– Short throws: This comes down to a mix between play calling from offensive coordinator Matt Canada and execution by Pickett. Pickett throws in the 0-9 yard range on 52.7% of his passes, second highest among 37 quarterbacks with at least 81 attempts. When he does, his passer rating is 86.9 and has a PFF passing grade of 64. This is a predictable trend that opposing defenses are sure to spot, and Pickett and Canada must lower this percentage of short passes moving forward.