The Pittsburgh Steelers offense struggled to do much of anything through their first eight games of the season, and a big part of that was a haphazard, disjointed offense that couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. On the Steel Here podcast with Jersey Jerry and Kevin Adams earlier today, tight end Zach Gentry said that the Steelers establishing their identity was one of the keys to turning the season around after their bye week.
“It was good to see us transform into something that we wanted to be. It felt like early, we didn’t have really an identity. We couldn’t get it going in the run game, or the pass game. Maybe one game, we’d [be] throwing the shit out of the ball and light it up and the next game we’re not so much. So it was good to have kinda an identity, a team that could run the ball successfully and throw the ball downfield and you got guys on the outside who can get it done,” Gentry said
Before the season, the blueprint for Pittsburgh to succeed was going to be a team that could run the ball early and often, control the clock and just wear down opposing defenses. That was going to be the case no matter if Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, or Mason Rudolph started Week 1. But when the Steelers failed to have success on the ground due to a variety of factors, including running back Najee Harris dealing with a foot injury and the offensive line struggling to run block early in the season. When they didn’t have success on the ground, they had to rely on the pass and a mix of substandard quarterback play and questionable playcalling doomed them.
The run game turning around in the second half of the season isn’t the sole factor for Pittsburgh’s turnaround, but it was a pretty big one. They were playing the way they were built to play, with a ground-and-pound run game that could pick up chunk yardage and hold onto possession more than the opponent. Pickett’s decision-making also improved as he got better throughout the course of the season, which allowed the opportunity for more shot plays down the field to rookie wide receiver George Pickens, who became the master of the contested sideline catch. That was, as Gentry said, the team the Steelers wanted to be.
Really, it was the team they had to be to have success this season, and that’s what they did in the second half, finishing 7-2 to close out the season at 9-8 after a 2-6 start. With Pickett having a full offseason to prepare as a starter, I would think the identity of the 2023 Steelers isn’t going to be so run-heavy, but the run game is still going to have to look pretty close to how it did in the second half of the season. Hopefully, Harris will be fully healthy, and undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren takes another step forward in Year Two. If that’s the case, and Pickett continues to develop, the Steelers’ offense could be a lot better in 2023.