The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers, In Review

How a 2-6 team left for dead came all the way back and stayed alive until the very end.

Najee Harris and the Steelers celebrate a touchdown during Week 18. Photo Credit:

As kickoff commenced at Acrisure Stadium in Week 18, Steelers fans kept their eyes on the game on the field, but also two others. Before Week 18, the Steelers sat at 8-8 and were still in the hunt for the playoffs, but needed a lot of help. 

Their route to the postseason included a win at home against the Browns, and losses by the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins. 

The Steelers did what they could control, winning 28-14 at home over the Cleveland Browns, and the Patriots did their part, losing 35-23 on the road to the Buffalo Bills, but the Miami Dolphins, on their third string quarterback, were able to win a slugfest against the New York Jets, quarterbacked in that game by a 37 year old Joe Flacco, by a final score of 11-6. 

The Steelers, for the most part, looked good. Kenny Pickett threw for 195 yards and a touchdown. The run game looked mostly solid. George Pickens did George Pickens things, catching for 72 yards and a touchdown, as well as other incredible catches. 

The defense also did a good job of limiting Cleveland’s offense. Browns QB DeShaun Watson was sacked seven times, and picked off twice by Damontae Kazee and Levi Wallace. 

While the day at Acrisure was exciting, a depressing hush fell over the crowd during the final few seconds, as the scoreboard showed the out of town score in Miami, where the Dolphins had officially knocked off the Jets. 

And it was over.

Tight end Connor Heyward (83) makes a leaping catch. Photo Credit:

The need to watch other teams and how their performance ultimately determined the fate of the Steelers certainly added a lot of drama and interest, but ultimately, was unnecessary. Ironically, the Steelers were only in this position in part because of losses suffered to all four of the teams they were keeping an eye on. 

Pittsburgh lost at home in Week 2 to the Patriots, allowed the Jets to stage a late-game comeback in Week 4, suffered their worst loss since 1989 in Buffalo during Week 5, and then lost on Sunday Night Football in Miami the following week. 

Had the Steelers simply won just ONE of those four games, they would have not been in this position. 

Granted, the Bills game was just a disaster from start to finish, so you can throw that one out. But the Steelers had chances against the Patriots they didn’t capitalize on. They had a 20-10 lead in the 4th quarter against the Jets before they blew it. And they held the Dolphins to just 10 points in Miami, having two chances late in the game to win it, but both drives ended on interceptions. 

The Steelers had no one to blame but themselves for the position they were in entering Week 18.

It was somewhat fitting that all these teams combined to create the scenario that the Steelers needed to make the playoffs, as the Steelers screwing themselves seemed to be the theme of the year. 

Blown leads to lose games to quarterbacks like Zach Wilson, the decision to keep the incompetent Matt Canada the entire year, and letting opponents hang around in games only contributed to this theme. 

But this season was truly a tale of two halves, and Mike Tomlin somehow, some way, dragged this team from the basement of not only their division, but their conference, to a 9-8 winning season. 

Mike Tomlin has now 16 consecutive non-losing seasons to start his career, an NFL record, and the Steelers as a whole have now finished .500 or better 19 years in a row. 

Say what you will about Tomlin’s postseason career, which is very susceptible to criticism (8-9 record, no playoff wins in six years, and a combined 90 points against in their last two playoff games all come to mind), but his ability to keep his team competitive and alive needs to be commended.

The Steelers have only ever played one game in which they were officially eliminated from playoff contention under Tomlin. 

While Tomlin himself has downplayed what that streak could mean to him, his players make it clear it means a lot to them. 

“I take pride in it,” safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the team’s 2022 MVP said. “I know coach Tomlin takes a lot of pride in what he does. I take a lot of pride in what I do. So if I can do anything I can to keep that streak alive, that’s what I am going to do.”

Diontae Johnson also talked about it after Pittsburgh’s win in Carolina. 

But while some may question or complain that the Steelers perpetuated mediocrity by salvaging the season, I think there’s a lot more to look at. 

This was a rebuilding year. There, I said it. 

For whatever reason, there has been a major hesitancy from many in this fanbase to acknowledge reality, that this year was a rebuilding year. 

The retirement of Big Ben ushered in the start of a new era for Pittsburgh, so naturally there was lots of struggle. 

Some of them were just unfortunate, like the injury to TJ Watt, but many were self-inflicted, like Tomlin continuing to play Najee despite a nagging injury obviously hindering his performance early in the season. 

The Mitch Trubisky experiment was probably the biggest of those self-inflicted ones.

Mitch Trubisky (10) started the season as the Steelers quarterback, a move that didn’t end up helping anyone. Photo Credit: Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

Pittsburgh’s controversial decision to give Trubisky the starter’s job to begin the year ultimately hurt almost everyone involved. Trubisky played scared, looking very afraid to make any mistake or put the ball in any real danger. 

And while yes, playing safe with the football is very important, for the way Trubisky did it, it also meant the Pittsburgh offense was only gaining minimal yardage at best, and dink-and-dunk plays became a staple of the Canada-Trubisky combination.

In his limited looks, Mitch did at times show flashes of pure talent (look at his first off-the-bench performance against Tampa Bay when Pickett went down), but those moments were too far and too in between the time of poor play.

We can argue how fair a shot Mitch got in Pittsburgh, trapped in the ultra-conservative Matt Canada offense and constantly having to look over his shoulder at the first round draft pick from Pitt waiting in the wings behind him, but his play overall did not warrant him starting over Pickett. 

His performance also likely did not help his chances of getting a starter’s job anywhere else in the NFL. His second off-the-bench performance against the Ravens where he threw three interceptions might end up dooming him. 

Is it possible a team picks him up or trades a late round pick for him? Sure. But his stock as a player certainly didn’t rise as a result of his Steelers tenure. 

As the tide turned and the future became the present, Pickett came in mid-game during Week 4 and rejuvenated the Steelers offense and fanbase, he found his footing in the NFL very quickly. 

Yes his first few weeks were rocky, but Pickett developed rapidly, and just within weeks, he looked like a ten year veteran when he led a game-winning drive that even Big Ben would envy on a frigid Christmas Eve night to win the game. And then we saw him do the exact same thing again the next week on New Year’s Day. 

Pickett seemed to gain a massive amount of confidence as the season went on and his play performed. The numbers show it perfectly: 8 interceptions before the bye, 1 after. 2 throwing touchdowns before the bye, 5 after. 

But Pickett wasn’t the only one taking major strides. 

Pickett against the Ravens in Week 17. Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Rookie second round pick George Pickens made highlight reel catches look routine, and make the serious case he should be considered the Steelers’ WR1 next year. 

Undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren came in and had a stellar rookie campaign, being an incredibly solid running back behind Harris (who had a stellar second half turnaround) and a guy who can throw huge blocks for your team. 

The offensive line improved heavily this season, who was predicted to be one of the worst in the league but outperformed that to be, well, average. But for this group, being even just average was above expectations.

And on top of all that, other young players on this team continue to make strides and up their game. 

There are a lot of positives and a lot to build on for Pittsburgh. The future of the Steelers is very bright, provided Canada is not permitted to come back. 

There are still holes on this team, but more help will be incoming. Pittsburgh, in addition to their own picks, also has the 32nd pick in the draft thanks to the Chase Claypool trade

Those top picks should be used to shore up both the o-line and the defense. 

The Steelers o-line, while improved, could still use some help. 

On defense, the Steelers could use some help stuffing the run, so perhaps a replacement for Devin Bush and/or Robert Spillane could come to town. Pittsburgh might also benefit from drafting a top cornerback (think along the lines of Joey Porter Jr. if he’s available). 

Look, let’s call this season what it was: a rebuilding year. And if a rebuilding team can go 9-8 and be in the playoff hunt until literally the last dying seconds, that’s a pretty successful start to the rebuild. 

It would have been impossible for a team who is starting out with their new franchise quarterback to contend with teams like the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, and even the Cincinnati Bengals. 

But there is a lot to build on for next year. Many rebuilding teams would kill for the improvement and success the Steelers saw this season. 

And in the offseason, there’s a chance to develop this team even further.