Entering 2023, the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to improve upon a passing offense that ranked just 23rd in yards per game last season. With the addition of veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson II, and the hopeful improvement of quarterback Kenny Pickett and wide receiver George Pickens as they move into their sophomore seasons, there is a lot of optimism that could be the case. However, if the Steelers want to even be a good NFL passing offense, one thing will have to improve: their yards after the catch.
The Steelers struggled big time generating yards after the catch last season. They finished the season 29th in the league in yards after the catch. This mark had them ahead of only the three worst passing offenses in the league: the Bears, Falcons, and Ravens. One would have to think that this will be something the Steelers focus on as they move through the offseason.
At least one Steeler, wide receiver George Pickens, has made a concerted effort to improve on this as he heads into 2023.
“Me personally, I’m just going to try and get yards after the catch.” Pickens shared with reporters in audio provided by the team. “If I got an out route I’m not going out of bounds, I’m going to fight the defender for extra yards. I feel like this year we are going to have an edge.”
An edge is something that Pickens and the Steelers will certainly need as they look to remedy this. Pickens in particular struggled to gain yards after the catch last season. Out of 150 players who recorded 30 catches or more last season, Pickens ranked dead last in yards after the catch with an average of 2.0 yards. This isn’t just a result of him being a rookie either, as he also posted the lowest rookie number since 2018.
One partial explanation of this, at least for Pickens: his limited route tree as a rookie. He mostly ran go routes, and the Steelers offense as a whole didn’t really have an expansive route tree, with even slants not being a major part of the offense. As Pickett becomes more comfortable with the offense and the offense itself expands, he likely will see an expanded route tree, which should hopefully improve his YAC. Ideally, the Steelers will look to get him the ball in space in year two while also letting him make the plays he made running fly routes.
However, these issues seem to run deeper within the Steelers than just Pickens. Diontae Johnson ranked a lowly 142nd out of those 150 qualified receivers in yards after the catch per reception (2.7). Robinson wasn’t much better with the Los Angeles Rams last season, as he ranked 148th (2.2).
A potential solution involves increased passing volume for running back Jaylen Warren. He only had 27 receptions last season so he didn’t qualify, but his 8.0 yards after catch per reception would have ranked 13th in the league. Look for him to get more passing work in year two and hopefully open up the field a bit for the wide receivers.
Whatever the solution may be if the Steelers want to compete with the high-flying offenses of the AFC, they need to start generating more big plays after the catch.