After Week 8’s blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Pittsburgh Steelers sat at 2-6 and many projected them to finish with a top five pick. However, everything changed after the bye week. Thanks to the Steelers going 6-2 in their last eight games after the bye, they now have a realistic chance to make the playoffs.
Following a last-minute win Sunday night against the Baltimore Ravens that kept the Steelers alive in the playoff hunt, Pittsburgh jumped up two spots to No. 16 on ESPN’s weekly power ranking. In the excerpt explaining each team’s season in five words or less, Steelers beat reporter Brooke Pryor wrote, “Before and after the bye.”
She went on to explain how everything changed for the Steelers after their Week 9 bye week.
“The Steelers are where they are entering Week 18 — fighting for a chance to make the playoffs — because of the bye week transformation,” wrote Pryor. “After starting 2-6 with an unceremonious halftime benching of Mitch Trubisky in favor of Kenny Pickett in Week 4, the Steelers rallied after the Week 9 bye to go 6-2 down the stretch. Not only was the defense bolstered by T.J. Watt’s return, but the young offense grew up as the team started meeting differently and bought in to the game plan, and perhaps most importantly, into each other.”
Since the bye week the team has been a completely different animal. Everything switched, from sustaining drives on offense to the defense becoming elite. One of the most important changes in before the bye week and after the bye, is that the Steelers limited their turnovers. Before the bye, the Pittsburgh offense turned the ball over 12 times. After the bye they have only turned it over four times, and three of them came in one game as backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky came in for an injured Kenny Pickett and was careless with the ball.
It would be criminal not to mention how the return of T.J. Watt has impacted the Steelers as well.
After tearing his pec in the Week 1 win against the Cincinnati Bengals, Watt missed seven games, coming back after the bye. Since Watt has returned, the defense has only allowed an average of 16.88 points per game. In his absence they allowed 25.3 points per game. That 16.88 points per game is second-best in the NFL after the San Francisco 49ers. The 25.3 points per game is fifth-worst.
With a very young Steelers offense, that is the difference between winning and losing.
While the Steelers may not make the playoffs, the end of this season has to have fans looking happily to the future. Pickett has improved a lot, the offensive line looks pretty good, and when the defense is healthy they are amazing.
The recipe for success is there, the team just needs to continue to improve and stay healthy.