Few things have been easy for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half of the 2022 season, least of all any kind of offensive success. For a team with little margin for error, their lack of explosiveness has been damning. Tellingly, they are the only team without a touchdown outside of the red zone offensively this season, their longest being all of eight yards.
Whether via penalties, turnovers, or other self-inflicted wounds, nobody has struggled more to finish drives than Pittsburgh, which ranks 32nd in the NFL in points scored per drive. While the average drive length has picked up with Kenny Pickett at quarterback, the scoring hasn’t, so the bye week couldn’t have come sooner with everything that needs correcting.
“One thing at a time. Can’t try to fix everything at once”, veteran wide receiver Diontae Johnson told reporters yesterday via the team’s website. “All that’s gonna come. The more you press the more you’re gonna continue to do the same mistakes. Just really going out there and just being relaxed and knowing your assignment and just playing comfortable. You do that, you minimize the mistakes”.
Concretely, the only offensive change that we know the team has made during the bye week was to trade away one of their starting receivers, Chase Claypool, in exchange for whom they got in return what is projected to be a high selection in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
“It’s next man up. Nothing really changed”, Johnson said of the ramifications of that trade. “It’s gonna be the same offense, same routine that we got. Obviously, we’re gonna come at it with a different gameplan or whatever. But we’re ready for this week. We’re ready for the challenge. We’ve got to get back on track and get these wins going”.
The Steelers only have two of those wins this season, and the first one took a full 10 minutes of overtime to get. The second was spared only, perhaps, by a blocked two-point conversion attempt against Tom Brady.
Fans won’t be thrilled to hear from Johnson that “nothing really changed” on offense and that it’s going to be the same that they’ve trotted out in the first eight games, but barring the firing or otherwise demotion of offensive coordinator Matt Canada, it wouldn’t be realistic to expect much to be changed in-season.
Perhaps the biggest thing we can look forward to is the incorporation of a wider variety of personnel groupings with Claypool gone. With no firmly-established third receiver, that makes it more opportune to adopt more two-tight-end sets, for example.
Regardless of what has or has not changed, the bottom line is simple: they have to get into the end zone more. Johnson, who caught a career-high eight touchdowns just last season and went to the Pro Bowl, hasn’t even scored at all yet this season. Two of their top five leading scorers this season are kickers, one of whom only played in one game, and by the end of Sunday, it could realistically be three.