Everything Is Wrong With The Pittsburgh Steelers


Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett gets sacked by the Eagles defense in their Week 8 matchup. (Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are an absolute mess. Eight games into the season and now heading into their bye week, the Steelers sit at 2-6, in the basement of the AFC North, and are second to last in the entire AFC, ahead of only the Houston Texans. 

Their only two wins this season can be credited to the Bengals’ long-snapper getting hurt in Week 1, and playing Tom Brady in the midst of getting divorced so hard he forgot how to play football. Other than that, it’s been a complete tire fire. 

There could not be a more perfect image of what the Steelers season has been than when Eagles center Jason Kelce (brother of Chiefs star Travis Kelce) stood on the sideline wearing a Halloween mask DURING THE GAME

With 8 minutes left to go in the 4th quarter, the Eagles were already up 22 points, had replaced most of their starters with backups, and were so dominant over the Steelers that Kelce could comfortably wear a costume mid-game on the sideline. 

There is no better image of what the Steelers are: a team that nobody is scared to play against, and a team whose opponents are so confident they can not only beat, but destroy.

With the bye week here, there is good and bad news. The good news, we don’t have to watch the Steelers play football for two whole weeks. The bad news, we will have to watch the Steelers play football again in two weeks. 

There are so many problems with the Steelers this season, whose playoff chances are a faint dream at this point and are in very real jeopardy of giving Mike Tomlin the first losing season of his career. 

So what exactly is wrong with the Steelers? Well, let’s unpack that very loaded question. Settle in, we could be here a while. 

Matt Canada’s Play Calling

I can’t believe I have to talk about this, again. But fine, here we go. 

The Steelers have yet to score more than 23 points in a single game this year, and have yet to score more than 20 points from their offense in a single game all year. Their play calling is atrocious, and their offensive ranks in the league combine to put together an iron-clad case as to why current Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada must be fired immediately (not the first time I’ve had to write about that). 

Pittsburgh is currently 28th in the league in total yards per game, 24th in passing yards per game, 25th in rushing yards per game, and perhaps the most damning: dead last in points per game, with only 15.

All of these numbers are influenced in part or almost entirely by the play-calling of Matt Canada. Canada’s offense, which still consists mainly of one yard rushes and far too many jet sweeps that go nowhere make the offense incredibly predictable, and his refusal to change up the playbook from the standard cache of around 6 plays and go with more aggressive play calling has crippled the Steelers. 

In addition to this, the constant underuse of players like George Pickens, Pittsburgh’s explosive rookie wide receiver (who was targeted only 3 times against Philadelphia) is also hindering the offense’s ability to take shots down the field and use their strong receiving core to their advantage. 

While by far not the only cause for the current state of the Steelers, Canada is by far the biggest contributor to the team’s demise. Canada’s offense has now run through four quarterbacks. At a certain point you have to start wondering if it’s not your exes, but instead it’s you. 

Matt Canada must be fired. Now.

Run Game Struggles

Najee Harris has had a brutal season to date, averaging only 3.3 yards per rush thus far and his longest run of the season being only 16 yards. 

To Harris’ defense, he has been playing injured, starting Weeks 1 through 5 with a steel plate in his shoe, and has been forced to deal with an offensive line that still often struggles to block and create holes in the defense. This is still an offensive line that is relatively inexperienced, and struggles immensely to block and push forward to create running lanes for Najee. 

Does Harris have higher expectations placed on him because he was a first round pick by Pittsburgh last year? Definitely. But Harris has missed some wide open running lanes, and has been caught trying to do too much, often resulting in fewer yards than he could have picked up had he just ran forward. On a 3rd and 3 catch where he was five yards clear of anybody around him and had a clear lane to the first down, Harris ended the play gaining 0 yards. That cannot happen. 

His struggles in his sophomore year have only been exemplified by the emergence of Jaylen Warren, who as you’ve probably heard is a 5 ‘8 undrafted rookie only because it’s mentioned seven times each broadcast. 

Warren is averaging 5.3 yards per rush and has impressed fans with his durability and strength, but is still being used sparingly in the Steelers offense. Warren has been able to do what Harris hasn’t, simply run forward with the ball and gain yards. 

Warren plays a north-south style of running, putting his head down and simply charging into the opposition. Harris has tried to play an east-west game, one where he tries to juke the defense and gain space. It’s great when it works, but it hasn’t all season. 

Even with Warren’s emergence as a strong complementary back, the Steelers need Najee Harris to be Najee Harris, the explosive running back who can make defenders miss left and right. He simply hasn’t been so far this season. 

Pickett’s Picks

The quarterback position hasn’t fared much better, with Kenny Pickett having a rough start to the season, the first of his career. 

After replacing Mitch Trubisky at halftime of Week 4 against the Jets, Pickett has thrown eight interceptions, often coming at crucial times. In his debut against the Jets, Pickett threw three interceptions, and while the first two tipped off his own receivers, the third was a panic throw that was clearly a rookie mistake, but would help end the Steelers’ chances of a comeback. 

In Miami, a few weeks later, Pickett threw two interceptions in the final five minutes of the game, both coming as Pittsburgh was marching down the field down only 6 points and looked destined to score. 

In comparison, Pickett has only two throwing touchdowns, with two rushing touchdowns to go along with them. 

Pickett is a rookie, and he will make mistakes as he learns more and more about playing in the NFL, but we should not act as if Pickett’s interceptions have not been a serious problem for the Steelers. 

There seems to be a very strong divide in Pittsburgh, between blaming Pickett for everything or coddling him as if he can do no wrong. The reality is somewhere in the middle. Pickett is doing what he can with limited options, but we cannot coddle the 24 year old much either. 

Take Pittsburgh’s last gasp drive in Miami for example. Before the interception, Pickett threw an absolute beauty of a pass to Pat Freiermuth on 4th down to keep the drive alive. It was a veteran-style play from Pickett that should be commended in every way. It was the kind of throw that would make even Big Ben jealous. 

But if we praise him when he makes those amazing plays, it’s only right we acknowledge when Pickett makes mistakes. 

None of this is to say that Pickett is a bust (as some in this fan base are claiming despite he has all of 16 quarters of football in his NFL career), I think he will be a very good quarterback for the Steelers in the future, but his interceptions are an issue, and I think if it was Mitch Trubisky who played these games and had this stat line, this would be a much more talked about issue. 

TJ Watt’s Injury

The Steelers are 1-9 all-time without TJ Watt. 6 of those losses have come this year, with Watt being out since Week 1 with a torn pec injury. While it was speculated by some that Watt could return for Pittsburgh’s game against the Eagles on Sunday, the Steelers ultimately did not activate him, which was a smart decision, allowing the reigning Defensive Player Of The Year two more weeks to heal instead of risking anything in a game the Steelers had no real shot in anyways. 

If this season has taught us anything, it’s that TJ Watt is invaluable to the Steelers, and how he is by far the best player on this Steelers roster. Watt’s absence has left a glaring hole in Pittsburgh’s pass rush, which since Week 1 has only 8 sacks in 7 games. 

Even with Watt expected to return for Pittsburgh’s next game, November 13th against New Orleans, it would be mighty difficult for Watt’s comeback to be able to drag this team to a respectable record, let alone a winning one. 

4th Quarter Struggles

The Steelers have struggled mightily in the 4th quarter so far this season. They are 30th in the league in 4th quarter possession time, and 28th in the league in average points in the 4th quarter with 3.5. 

In comparison, the 2021 Steelers were 9th in the NFL in possession share in the 4th quarter, and were behind only the Los Angeles Chargers in average 4th quarter points, scoring 9.8 points on average. 

The former number shows that the Steelers rarely have the ball in the 4th quarter, and the latter number shows that even when they do have the ball, they aren’t scoring points. 

Now, these numbers are bad no matter what, but these would not be such glaring problems if the offense got off to good starts in games. However, the Matt Canada special ensures that the Steelers are only scoring around 15 points a game, meaning in any crunch time scenario, Pittsburgh is probably already losing. 

This stark difference from 2021 to 2022 can probably be mostly connected to Ben Roethlisberger, who was famous for clutch 4th quarter and final minute drives. An interesting and likely not coincidental part in that too, the Steelers in the 4th quarter in 2021 often ran a no-huddle, hurry-up offense, in spite of Matt Canada’s ultra conservative game plans. 

But while the 18-year veteran Ben could overcome Canada’s awfulness, it’s hard to expect that Pickett would be able to at such a young stage of his career. 

The Road Ahead

What likely ends up happening is the Steelers win 3-4 more games this season, putting them in that 5-12, 6-11 range, meaning that they weren’t good enough to ever be in the playoff race, but also screwed themselves out of a top five draft pick. 

But if you’re looking for any kind of optimism, here’s all I got: 

Pittsburgh’s next game is at home against New Orleans, who are currently 3-5 and have a game against the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night. After that, the Steelers host the Bengals, who the Steelers have already been able to beat once this season, and who are currently without star wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. 

Overall, only one out of their next seven opponents currently have a record above .500. The Steelers would need to take complete advantage of that upcoming schedule and rip off a massive win streak if they have even a prayer at a second-half comeback. 

The offense would need a sudden resurrection, and the Steelers would have to hope TJ Watt can pick up where he left off in Week 1 and carry this team on his back the rest of the season. 

Mike Tomlin has started a season 2-6 just one other time in his career, which came in 2013. That Steelers team miraculously rallied to finish 8-8. So if history is any indication, I suppose it’s not entirely out of the question that Tomlin can rally his football team again in an attempt to salvage what looks like a lost season. 

A LOT needs to change, and fast, for this team. And while many fans will say the season is over, there will be the few who believe and hope, and maybe, just maybe for them, the Steelers can pull off a comeback for the ages. But that won’t happen without massive improvement and change—and firing Matt Canada would be a good start.