Team Capsules: Pittsburgh Steelers

August 14, 2023

A look at every NFL franchise heading into the 2023 season

© Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are always competitive. Whether that’s winning Super Bowls or fighting for a postseason berth, they seemingly never have a bad season.

Last year, they started 2-6, but got hot in the second half and went 7-2 down the stretch. Their only two losses were to the Bengals and Ravens, both playoff teams, and each was by a touchdown or less.

Ultimately, Pittsburgh came up a tiebreaker short of making the tournament, as their 9-8 record had them as the No. 8 seed in the AFC. But quarterback Kenny Pickett showed some signs he could be a future star in this league, and things look bright for the Steelers in 2023 and beyond.

Just how bright? Let’s take a deeper dive.

What to like about the Steelers…

  • Mike Tomlin is a top-five coach in the NFL and continued his remarkable streak of never finishing under .500 a season ago. He’s coached the Steelers for 16 years and has a career record of 163-93-2. He’s finished 8-8 three times, back when they still played 16 games, and over .500 in the other 13 campaigns. Even losing Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to retirement didn’t prevent Tomlin from leading Pittsburgh to another solid year. He doesn’t know the word rebuild and is poised to lead the Steelers back to the playoffs where they belong. 
  • Pickett needed NFL experience and got a lot of it in 2022 after the Steelers wisely made the switch from the hapless Mitch Trubisky. He threw seven interceptions in his first four games and just two in his final nine contests. He led Pittsburgh to wins over New Orleans, Baltimore, Cleveland and others, while finding chemistry with receivers Diontae Johnson and George Pickens along with tight end Pat Friermuth. He’s ready to explode in his first season as an NFL starter, as the former Pitt star has big expectations playing for the pro team in the same town. 
  • The Steelers defense gave up just 20.4 points per game, tied for 10th in the NFL. They surrendered just 108.1 yards per game on the ground, good for ninth. And they did it for a good chunk of the season without stud edge rusher T.J. Watt, who injured his pec in Week 1 against Cincinnati. Watt returned to play nine more games, registering 5.5 sacks, but not quite looking like himself. The former defensive player of the year told reporters last week at training camp that he feels “pretty good” entering this season. When he’s on the field, he’s arguably the best defender in the NFL. He’ll have a monster season after a tough 2022.

What not to like about the Steelers…

  • Running back Najee Harris was a bit of a disappointment last year after bursting onto the scene in 2021. He went from 1,200 yards to 1,034, while his yards per carry and yards per reception also both dropped. He had a fine season, but those who thought he might be the next Derrick Henry appeared to be a little premature with their praise. The former Alabama star will need to be a key part of the offense this year, and also has to show he wasn’t just a one-hit wonder. He’ll be pushed by Jaylen Warren for touches on the football. 
  • While Johnson and Pickens are both okay NFL receivers, neither looks like a true No. 1, at least not yet. In a league filled with absolute star wideouts, the Steelers don’t have one. Neither came all that close to 1,000 yards, with Johnson hauling in 882 and Pickens 801. Johnson didn’t score a single receiving touchdown in 17 games, something that’s almost hard to fathom. Pickens found the end zone four times. Having a consistent quarterback should help, but it’s no secret both need to take a big leap for the Steelers to get to where they want to go. 
  • The AFC North is a beast of a division, perhaps the best in the NFL. The Bengals could easily return to the Super Bowl, after being inches away from going two straight years. The Ravens finally settled their contract dispute with Lamar Jackson and gave him a major weapon in Odell Beckham Jr.  The Browns are still the Browns, but if Deshaun Watson returns to form, they’ll be competitive. The Steelers also have to play the 49ers, Jaguars and Seahawks along with six against the three teams above. They’ll be tested.

Steve Quinne’s Pick: Steelers to make the playoffs (+130)

Tomlin can roll out of bed and win eight or nine games. That’s just what he does. Pickett will look way more comfortable in season No. 2 and Watt should once again be terrorizing opposing QBs. Harris is poised to have a better season and Pickens showed flashes he could be a future star. The Steelers also have games with the Raiders, Texans, Rams, Titans, Packers, Cardinals and Patriots. Those are all victories. The AFC is very competitive, but seven teams will still get into the dance. Pittsburgh will be one of them, joining the Bengals and Ravens, as the AFC North flexes its muscles and shows why it’s the best.