This much is obvious. There’s no magical cure to fix the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense. Rebuilding that unit will be a slow, probably painful and bumpy process, and one that can’t really get started properly until the offseason. No one scheme, player, or coach is going to turn around their fortunes.
For all the obvious problems, the poor situational football, the lack of big plays, the mental and fundamental issues, there’s one underlying issue that gets little attention. The Steelers’ offense lacks any sense of veteran leadership and presence and it’s hurting this unit more than you think.
Pittsburgh being a young offense isn’t a revelation. This is a group in transition with new faces in key places and any overhaul is going to bring in a youth movement. But there’s really no veterans to turn towards. Mitch Trubisky was supposed to be that guy, named captain before the season, but his benching takes away some of that weight. Ditto Mason Rudolph, the #3 who has been inactive all season.
Beyond them, there aren’t many names to look towards. It’s not like the Steelers’ defense that has old-heads in Cam Heyward, Tyson Alualu, and Myles Jack. Highly experienced players who have been through good times and bad. Guys who know how to prepare. How to study, how to watch film, how to take care of their bodies, how to get through the grind of a season, especially as one as tough as this one.
When Kenny Pickett says things like “we don’t study enough,” I’m sure he’s right. But who’s there to show them the way? There aren’t guys like Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, and Ben Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh’s trying to manufacture leaders, place people in those roles, but that still takes time for those guys to figure out who they are, let alone trying to be a mentor to anyone else. James Daniels has become the de facto leader along the line and while he’s played five years in the NFL, he’s still just 25 years old and brand new to the Steelers. He’s learning and adjusting this whole time and it’s hard to lead and serve while feeling things out yourself. You gotta secure your own oxygen mask before putting on someone else’s.
Leadership doesn’t demand starters or All-Star players, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. Former WR Darrius Heyward-Bey is a tremendous example of that. DHB was a backup, a special teamer, a reserve/role player but a fantastic leader. Receivers who watched Antonio Brown absorbed his work ethic but players talked to and learned from Heyward-Bey.
That’s one of many things the Steelers are missing on this offense. They need more talent, they need better execution, all of that is true. But I’d also be eyeing a couple veterans in that room. They’ll need a veteran backup QB when Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky are playing elsewhere in 2023. They need another DHB in the receiver room, a veteran along the line, and probably at running back too. Perhaps some of that will come from internal guys stepping up, Daniels will probably be a stronger leader next year while some young names like Pat Freiermuth and Kenny Pickett will settle into roles, but an outsider would help, too.
The youth of this team was necessary. It was inevitable. All teams go through these cycles and soon enough, the defense will be in this position, too. But this is one of those growing pains that’s bubbling under the surface, quietly hurting this team and sinking their season.