The Steelers addressed their offense in lots of ways throughout the 2023 NFL offseason, but there is still one spot on the offense where adjustments have to be made, and it is not likely on the personnel side of the equation.
Pittsburgh has a serious yards-after-catch (YAC) problem after last season. They were among the worst in the NFL in terms of production after the catch. For reference, the team’s highest producer of YAC was Pat Freiermuth, who is a tight end, and ranked just 53rd overall in the NFL.
From there on, Diontae Johnson ranked 80th overall after placing inside the Top 20 in the previous 3 years of his career, Najee Harris was 91st overall, while George Pickens did not even crack the Top 200. Their new addition, Allen Robinson II, suffered an injury but averaged less than a yard of YAC per target.
Needless to say, the profile of YAC for the Steelers looks less than ideal. But that fits in with a passing game that never went anywhere. So, what are a few causes of that stat? There are a few, and some of them are schematic and others are personnel-related out of the gate.
For one, it’s not the entire cause, but Johnson had an obvious and concerning trend of going backward emerge. That is one thing that is easily correctable for him. Should that change, Johnson’s YAC potential immediately increases given the lack of negative yards that he will get there.
Second, the team blocking as a whole was just not there at the skill positions. That especially includes the screen game that largely disappeared since the team never had a hope to get much of anything out of those plays. Allen Robinson II and Darnell Washington are two plus blockers in space that should allow that YAC potential to increase. Even for Robinson himself, guys like Washington and Broderick Jones, who are great blockers in space, allow for more explosive plays in this area.
Lastly, this offense simply had a narrow route tree that targeted the sidelines. By virtue of less space, it’s just harder for players to get a lot of YAC on the sideline, and the Steelers loved to run plays in their screen game to the short side of the field. It often ended in negative plays that only sent them backward. When you run a lot of curls, outs, and fades, that does not allow for much room with the YAC part of the offense.
Why is that all important? For a team that lacked middle-of-the-field usage on even slants last year, Pittsburgh is expected to have a strong running game that should profile some opportunities over the middle of the field. There is always the specter of play action, but that never has seemed to matriculate in the Steelers’ offense, at least not yet.
However, for a team that grossly lacked any cohesion in the passing game and as such barely got any explosive plays out of their passing game, increasing their YAC has to be one of the most important tasks that the Steelers look to fix on the offensive side of the football in 2023.