Steelers Need To ‘Continue To Build’ To Compete In Loaded AFC According To T.J. Watt

Pittsburgh Steelers OLB T.J. Watt jumped on Mad Dog Sports Radio and spoke with Adam Schein on radio row in Phoenix, Arizona in lead up for Super Bowl 57 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles.

The two spent time taking about the matchup between two teams as well as the relationship T.J. has with his brothers regarding football as well as off the field. Later in the interview, Schein asked Watt how he sees the Pittsburgh Steelers making the playoffs next year in a loaded AFC conference with the likes of Mahomes and the Chiefs as well as the Bengals, Bills, Chargers, and plenty of other teams boasting talented rosters led by franchise QBs.

“Continue to build honestly,” Watt said on Mad Dog Sports Radio (subscription required). “Like we were just talking about, we felt really good about how we were playing defensively. We just have to get those splash plays, continue to build on it and watch our offense just go to work and dominate time of possession. I think that’s one of the coolest things to see is the really good defense to spend a lot of time on the bench.”

Watt missed the first half of the season after injuring his pec Week 1 against the Bengals, causing him to sit out until after the bye week. During that time out of the lineup, the Steelers struggled defensively to generate any pressure on the QB while getting gashed on the ground against the run. However, the defense got much better when Watt and S Damontae Kazee came back from injury, holding opposing teams to under 20 points in eight of their final nine games after the bye. The led the league in INTs and the trio of Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Cam Heyward picked up their productivity in the pass rush department along with the run defense improving down the stretch.

Watt also referenced the offense’s ability to win time of possession down the stretch, sustaining long drives to give the defense a breather as the offense moved methodically down the field with an improved running game and QB Kenny Pickett managing the game as a passer. While the Steelers did go 7-2 down the stretch and saw notable improvements on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football, they notably lacked that splash play upside on offense, finishing dead-last in TD passes on the season in the league as well as 25th in the league in adjusted net yards per passing attempt (5.6) and near the bottom of the league in yards after the catch.

The is no denying that the offense took strides from where it stared in 2022 but given how bad the offense was to start the season, that isn’t saying much. The AFC is loaded with juggernaut offenses that can put 30+ points on the board in a heartbeat as the Steelers saw against the Bengals this season (37 points) as well as the Bills (38 points). The Steelers defense held its own against the Chiefs last season in the Wildcard round to start the game, but Kansas City eventually got going and hung 42 points on them as the offense struggled to keep up.

While time of possession and playing good defense is important to be a playoff and title contender, the Steelers need much more than that to contend with the likes of Mahomes, Josh Allen, and Joe Burrow in the AFC. Kenny Pickett must take that step forward as a passer, being allowed to utilize hot reads in the offense and have the playbook opened for him to try and make more splash plays down the field and get receivers the ball with a chance to generate YAC. Pittsburgh’s strategy worked last season down the stretch but playing conservative football results in a lower ceiling with many chances to self-implode playing slow, methodical football.

Instead, Pittsburgh should keep this method, but strive to become more balanced as an offense as owner Art Rooney II stated a couple weeks ago, posing the threat of passing the ball as well as establishing the run against defenses to keep them honest. The National Football League is becoming a track meeting with the teams at the top, and the Steelers need to show that they can keep up with the best sprinters in the game to be considered legit title contenders.

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