When the history books talk about the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers, the story will be the team’s turnaround from 2-6 at their Week 9 bye week to finishing the year 9-8 and having a chance to make the playoffs in Week 18. It was an impressive turnaround, and while the lack of a playoff appearance dampens the season a little bit, the team finishing with a winning record after such a poor start while playing a rookie quarterback is certainly noteworthy. During Ben Roethlisberger’s live Footbahlin’ podcast that was taped on Friday night and released today, Steelers’ tight end Pat Freiermuth talked about the team’s early struggles and why not having a veteran leader hurt the group.
“It’s so hard as an offense to not have a veteran presence, because when we’re struggling and we’re 2-6, who do we look to? No disrespect to Kenny or myself or Najee or anyone, we’re only second-year guys, rookie guys. Like what do we know? So it’s hard and it’s hard for Cam and T.J. to come to the offensive side because they don’t know what we’re trying to do,” Freiermuth said. “We had a little meeting and sit down with the whole offense and got everything off our chest, and ever since that point we kind of just clicked and started playing for each other and kind of trusted the gameplan.”
Freiermuth added that the turnaround gave the team momentum heading into the offseason.
“Ending the season like we did, it gives us so much positivity going into the offseason,” Freiermuth said.
The Steelers had one of the youngest offenses in the NFL, with 30-year-old Derek Watt being the oldest player to see semi-regular playing time. In addition, no one on the current Steelers roster had really experienced any sort of prolonged struggles, and it’s hard to lead by example and get guys through the difficult period when there’s no real example to go off. That led to the team just looking disjointed for the majority of their first eight games, and it didn’t seem as if there was going to be any sort of significant change.
But then the bye week came, and the Steelers were able to figure it out. We won’t know exactly what went down during the bye week, but it certainly seemed as if the meetings between the players and the coaching staff were productive and gave the players a new energy heading in 2023. The way Freiermuth puts it with guys getting stuff off their chest almost makes it sound like a Festivus of sorts, despite Pittsburgh’s bye happening in early November.
The point is, whatever happened worked. The bye week has been cited by a number of players and coaches as the turning point for the season, so it wasn’t just blind luck that the Steelers went on a second-half run.
Now, the challenge is making sure that the run wasn’t just that and was actually a sign of positive change. The 2023 Steelers should be a contender in the AFC North, given that they have one of the better defenses in the NFL and an offense that should be better in Kenny Pickett’s second season. But if the offense fails to evolve, it could be more of the same next season. Pickett needs to take more shots down the field and the play-calling could certainly stand to improve as well. If those things happen, the Steelers will have more success and ideally have that success early in the season. There’s a lot of time before the 2023 season kicks off, but things are certainly looking up at the moment.