The Steelers’ offense last year never became that productive in the passing game at any point during the season. While one of the reasons is a jeling offensive line and a cohort of quarterbacks that shuffled around all year, one thing that never changed was the lack of YAC opportunities for Pittsburgh in the entire season. The Steelers ranked as one of the worst YAC-producing offenses in the NFL, averaging only 85 yards per game in that metric.
But that’s not the case so far in 2023. Through three games, the Steelers have turned that narrative on its head. They are averaging over 40 more yards after the catch this year than last, averaging 128 yards per game after the catch per game. It’s turned some plays into explosive plays, such as George Pickens’ Week 2 score or the deep post to Calvin Austin III on Sunday night in Las Vegas.
Jaylen Warren leads the way with 125 YAC this year, 5th most in the NFL up to this point. But the surprising player to rise to the top of that ranking? It’s Pickens himself. He has 114 yards after the catch through three games this year, and the moment Diontae Johnson went down, Pickens turned himself into a player who can make plays with the ball in his hands. Pickens has another gear that allows him to register those chunk plays.
Pickens had 110 yards after the catch all of last season. Now, two years after a torn ACL he suffered at Georgia, that part of his game is shining. The screen plays, swing passes, and man coverage beaters getting dialed up in the Steelers’ offense are one of the things they do well. It’s not perfect, given the team’s natural struggles offensively so far. But it’s hard not to embrace what you see on the tape as accurate.
The team talked about getting those YAC yards throughout training camp in 2023. So far, that are doing just that, and it’s a lifeline the team needs to continue to roll with while the offense works out its struggles.