PITTSBURGH — Every offensive team in the NFL wants to have an identity, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are no different in that regard.
What might be different is what the Steelers want their offensive identity to be. In a league that has emphasized quarterback play and passing schemes more and more over the years, the Steelers still want to be a balanced offense that can feature a strong rushing attack.
In fact, the improvement of that rushing attack throughout the season was one of the primary reasons Rooney cited for the club’s 2022 turn of fortune in the second half of the season.
“Time of possession, the second half of the season, we really started to dominate teams,” Rooney said. “Third down conversions, obviously those two go hand-in-had. We were out-rushing teams. Obviously all those things are related and can be part of a formula for success.”
He used that term, “formula for success” twice on Thursday, and it sure seems like that will involve leaning heavily on the run game.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to have an effective passing game, too,“ Rooney said. “I think the best things can do both. Being a team that’s tough to defend means you can do a lot of things right. That’s what we’re looking for, is to be balanced. I think we need to improve in the passing game, for sure. We need to have more yards after the catch from our receivers. We need to be better in the red zone. Definitely some places we need to improve on, to score more points. That’s the bottom line.”
Asked about an offense that was certainly risk-averse in 2022, Rooney said that having a rookie quarterback played into that a good bit.
“You’ve got to decide what your formula for success is going to be,” Rooney said. “I think Mike said it, if you have red paint, you’re going to paint the barn red. We had a lot of young players on offense. That figures into what you do and how you do it. One of the things we did over the course of the season, when you look at the first half vs the second half, we didn’t turn the ball over as much. That gives you a chance to win. So opening the thing up, if you have opportunities to do that, you do it. Like I said before, you’d like to have a balanced offense where you can be effective either way and tough to defend as a result.”
The Steelers also got a surprise boost for their running game in 2022 with the emergence of undrafted rookie running back Jaylen Warren. Mike Tomlin, known for running his backs “until the wheels fall off,” instead deployed an effective rotation between the two, that looks like it could be a strength of the team’s offense moving forward.
“I liked the way that evolved,” Rooney said. “Najee and Jaylen became a pretty good combination out there and something that we look forward to really continuing to grow in the next year.”
Rooney wants the team to score more points, and specifically be better better in the red zone. With Pickett having another year under his belt as an NFL quarterback, the Steelers could look to be less risk-averse (and hopefully more explosive) than they were in 2022. But it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be a push to change from the type of ball-control, balanced-attack that Rooney has preferred over the years.