The Steelers are now back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, facing down a long regular season that looks a lot more promising given how things have gone leading up to it. Finishing just above .500 last year, they anticipate being able to compete with any team in the league this season with second-year QB Kenny Pickett leading the way.
They’ve done a great deal to address what they identified as their shortcomings during the offseason, which included addressing the offensive and defensive lines as well as the secondary and the inside linebacker room, which is nearly entirely different from last year. The results have been positive so far.
Even well into the regular season and beyond, there are going to be plenty of questions that need answered. When will the core rookies get to play, or even start? Is the depth sufficient where they upgraded? Can they stand toe-to-toe with the Bengals and the other top teams in the league? We’ll try to frame the conversation in relevant ways as long as you stick with us throughout the season, as we have for many years.
Question: How can the Steelers keep everyone happy in a conservative passing offense?
First of all, this is not a rhetorical question on my part. It’s a proactive one—well, mostly proactive. Regardless of how much stock you may or may not put into any one reporter’s account of what the team’s broad plans might be, the evidence on the field speaks for itself.
The Steelers run a conservative passing game. Few teams take fewer shots down the field or spend less time targeting the middle of the field. So much of the offense is short or intermediate passes outside or toward the numbers.
It’s been good for the purpose of protecting the football, but it hasn’t exactly been dynamic. And one might get the sense that it isn’t fully utilizing the talents that the Steelers have at their disposal, even if you go beyond WR George Pickens.
Pickens, of course, is the squeaky wheel that needs greasing, an analogy that can be accurately interpreted multiple ways. But it’s not just about him. WR Diontae Johnson was limited to just one catch for 17 yards the last time out.
The tight ends barely get used, and that was true even while Pat Freiermuth was perfectly healthy. The manner in which the running backs are used in the passing game is more reactive and situational rather than as a proactive potential weapon. And Allen Robinson II and Calvin Austin III may as well not exist most of the time.
At the end of the day, what matters is winning, and the Steelers are doing that a decent amount. The run game has come into its own over the course of the past two weeks. Still, I can’t help but wonder if they might not want to take a more proactive approach to keeping everybody happy. That can start by better designing plays that feature getting receivers the ball out in space in low-risk situations.