If the Steelers want to make a stretch run and get into the AFC playoff field, they must continue to win games at a high clip, likely shooting for 10-7 to feel confident they will make the dance. While they have one of the more effortless remaining strengths of schedules, they need help from veterans who need to step up for the team to make noise. Who are the three veterans Pittsburgh needs to play better down the stretch?
The Steelers need more out of Patrick Peterson. For most of this secondary, their ceiling is capped. Joey Porter Jr. and Darius Rush have considerable upside as young player still learning on the job, but Peterson is the one veteran who still has meat left on the bone. For the most part, the rest of the secondary is just limited athletically or has other deficiencies to the point where you just know who they are, and while Peterson has those athletic question marks, he still is not getting the most out of his skillset.
Pittsburgh is looking for Peterson to make plays as a versatile player. Over the last few weeks, Pittsburgh has emphasized getting Peterson moving around the formation after struggling as an outside cornerback. He has all the football IQ and ball skills to make plays in zone coverage, even without his elite speed. Pittsburgh is starting to experiment with that and get him out there in advantageous spots. He has to take advantage of those and become a boost for the secondary, especially with some of the injuries up front at linebacker.
If the Steelers’ offense finds success moving forward, it will be due to their offensive line and running game working to improve. Mason Cole and Dan Moore Jr. have been the weak points of this group so far this season. But Cole, in particular, has wrecked some of the concepts in the run game. With Kenny Pickett struggling, it’s hard to see the Steelers finding a successful offense without the run game. Broderick Jones helped spring that after Chuks Okorafor was benched, but Cole had his two best games of the season in the two games that Pittsburgh has got their run game going.
Cole is not oblivious to that fact, either. They are not asking him to be Jason Kelce. The guy can not actively be a detriment to the run game. Moore may improve, too, but Cole is the key cog who has played at least at a serviceable level for Pittsburgh in the past. If they are going to get this running game going to how it was at the ned of last season, Cole is the exact player who needs to continue an upward trend.
Allen Robinson II
The last player that needs to step up is Allen Robinson II. Without Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh’s third option in the passing game is the dump-off pass to Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. That can be fine, but the third wide receiver position behind Diontae Johnson and George Pickens can not be a black hole of production. Some of this falls on Calvin Austin III, too, but Robinson is a steady-handed, big-bodied player who they can rely upon to make tough grabs.
Admittedly, I am not sure Robinson’s game has much more upside left. He is a contested catch first guy who does not have the athleticism he once had, meaning that it is tough for Robinson to create any separation, even out of the slot. But he makes hard grabs and can settle down in zone coverages. Robinson’s skill set is also valuable if they ever get back to being a consistent force in the red zone. Pittsburgh needs another constant presence in the passing game to take off. Robinson is the most likely option to be that guy, even once Freiermuth is plopped back into the lineup following his excursion off of injured reserve.