The way the Pittsburgh Steelers closed the 2022 season, including a 7-2 stretch in the second half, has many within the fanbase and in the media feeling optimistic about the franchise’s chances at competing in 2023.
Though things were ugly in the first half as the Steelers slogged their way to a 2-6 record entering the Week 9 bye, especially after star outside linebacker T.J. Watt went down with a pectoral injury in Week 1 that caused him to miss the next seven games, Pittsburgh bounced back in a strong way in the second half of the season, playing solid football to finish 9-8.
That display of toughness and fortitude in the second half of the season, staring down adversity and defeating it has many within the organization excited for the future. Appearing on SiriusXM’s MadDog Radio with host Adam Schein, Watt said that it’s important to focus on the positives of the season while expressing his excitement for the 2023 season.
“The positives for sure. Especially when you’re so young, you don’t wanna be a pessimist and look at all the negatives. You wanna look at the positives and the amount of games that we are stringing together, the tough wins, they weren’t easy wins,” Watt said to Schein, according to audio via SiriusXM.com (subscription required). “They were gritty. Pittsburgh Steeler, blue collar-type of wins, two-minute drills, Kenny Pickett starting to get very comfortable. You could see the offense getting their groove.
“Obviously defensively we felt very strong too, so, we just ran out of time. But, a lot to build on for this upcoming season.”
While the Steelers ultimately missed the playoffs last season in the final week as the Miami Dolphins beat the New York Jets to get in, there were plenty of positives on display in the second half of the season that should have excitement levels rather high moving forward.
Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett really grabbed hold of the starting job and made it his own, putting himself in position to be the next face of the franchise moving forward. He certainly has that “it” factor and really came alive down the stretch, leading multiple game-winning drives in the final minutes to pull out tough, gritty wins, like Watt said.
The run game also came alive with Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, becoming a top 10 rushing team in the second half of the season, while the much-maligned offensive line gelled and really started to take over games.
The return of Watt also helped the Steelers’ defense significantly in the second half of the season, getting back to the dominant style of football they showed in Week 1. Ultimately, the Steelers led the league in interceptions and the defense played a pivotal role down the stretch, keeping games close as young offense figured things out.
Growing pains experienced last season should do wonders for the Steelers’ young, key pieces moving forward. Pairing those young, developing pieces with standout veterans is a good mix, and could lead to some good football in 2023 for the black and gold.