You hear those rumblings. The Steelers hype train is blaring through the station, and it’s not stopping. If you look around the national media, all you hear is how great the Steelers are, and the local media largely agrees with the entire premise of the idea. Take it from Nick Wright, Ryan Clark, Mina Kimes, or… well that list is becoming pretty endless. The bottom line is that the Steelers are en vogue and a trendy sleeper pick.
Many ideas make sense because of an improved Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, and a defense that should still be stout. As a head coach, Mike Tomlin is one of the best in the league. They were 9-8 last year without T.J. Watt for seven games. It all fits like a puzzle. There are a lot of reasons to like the Pittsburgh Steelers this season.
I have seen many people throw out reasons why the Steelers might regress. Some of it could be related to turnover luck; maybe Pickett does not leap, the cornerbacks remain somewhat suspect, they play in a treacherous division, and there is the rest of the conference. Yes, those all are valid concerns, but if there is one reason to worry about the Steelers, none of those reasons is why there could be a pitfall in this season.
No, the biggest reason, or maybe even question, remains simple. How different is this offense? Matt Canada has touted that Pittsburgh did nothing different than they did a year ago. George Pickens noted that the progression on some plays has changed to prioritize the deep ball in the offense. To Canada’s credit, the preseason did prove his willingness to push the ball down the field with Pickett. But it’s only the preseason, and the two prior seasons of evidence are hard to outweigh with just three drives.
I fully believe Pittsburgh is a playoff team on paper in 2023. They lack many holes on their roster, and while many spots do not have stars, they have solid contributors that can be relied upon. My question and concern is more about their ceiling and ability to progress throughout the season. If Pickett has a bad game while pushing the ball down the field, do they crawl back into the conservative nature of the offense that worked at the end of the last year?
More so, how much of a commitment is there to running Pickens on a unique route tree and diversifying the offense’s passing scheme off the run concepts? Canada has yet to pull out an extended series of jet-action plays in the passing game or a play-action that works down the field off his run offense. I understand that the Canada offense is built to be a run-first offense, but there needs to be a way to create those chunk plays off the run game in an offense that utilizes jet motion as much as this one.
The caveat here is not Canada, though. Sure, some of it relates to a passing scheme I still don’t love. I loved the execution of it in the preseason. But does Canada have new wrinkles to fully take advantage of the skill players he has and the offensive line’s improvement? That will define the ceiling of this team. Canada and Pickett, as a unit, will take the group as far as possible.
There should be reasonable skepticism to a massive change such as the one discussed with so much evidence to the contrary in the previous two seasons. But personnel can be chalked up to some of that. Now, it’s time to prove that the offensive line, Pickett’s growth, and the explosive passing game are for real. If they are, this team could push for an AFC North title. If not, I think the team is far more destined to be playing for a Wild Card spot.
The hype train is still accurate, and there is a lot of granted excitement around the team. But it is fair to have some skepticism about the passing offense’s boom before it happens.