It hasn’t been pretty, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are 5-3 and in second place in the AFC North after eight games. How the Steelers have pulled it off is head-scratching, to say the least. The Steelers start to the 2023 season has been so bizarre that they’ve even accomplished a stat that’s unprecedented in the history of the National Football League.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Steelers are the 34th team in NFL history to be out-gained by their opponent in each of their first eight games of a season. They are the first to have a winning record through those eight games.
Pittsburgh has been out-gained by 790 yards this year (2,228-3,018). Only the Denver Broncos (-830) have been out-gained by more. They’re also the only team this season to be out-gained in every game.
Entering Thursday night’s game, the Steelers ranked 30th in yards per game (271.7), while they ranked 30th in yards allowed per game (382.6). On top of that, they’re one of just three teams in the NFL with a winning record that has a negative point differential at -30 (133-163). The New York Jets (-3) and the Cincinnati Bengals (-13) are the two other teams.
So, how have the Steelers compiled a 5-3 record? I think it starts with their +8 turnover differential, which is tied for best in the league. The Steelers are 5-1 this season when winning the turnover differential margin, while they’re 0-2 when losing it. The game against Jacksonville was the only time that they’ve won the turnover margin and lost.
I’d be remiss to not mention the outside linebacker duo of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. They’ve contributed heavily to the Steelers’ 16 takeaways, whether it’s strip sacks or pressure on the quarterback that leads to interceptions. Watt and Highsmith both scored touchdowns in the Steelers’ Week 2 win over the Cleveland Browns, a game in which the offense finished with just nine first downs.
Kenny Pickett hasn’t lit up the stat sheet, but he’s been careful with the ball. He hasn’t thrown an interception in the last four games and has thrown just four interceptions all season.
The Steelers also have been outstanding late in games. They’re out-scoring opponents 42-11 in the fourth quarter in their five wins this season. All five of their wins have been one-possession games, so they’re coming up big in the weighty moments. Especially Pickett, he has shined in the fourth quarter.
In the Steelers’ 20-16 win over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night, Pickett recorded his seventh game-winning drive and sixth fourth-quarter comeback of his career (20 starts). It’s the third time this year that he’s recorded a game-winning drive and fourth-quarter comeback, doing so against Baltimore and Los Angeles, as well. Pickett’s six fourth-quarter comeback wins are the second-most in the NFL since 2022. His seven game-winning drives also rank second since 2022.
Despite being out-gained by their opponent in each of their first eight games of the season — turnover differential, strong fourth-quarter play, and Pickett’s clutchness have led the Steelers to a 5-3 record. It’s an unusual method for success, but it works for the Steelers. It might not be sustainable, however. It’s definitely a risky way to win football games.