Why the Steelers offense must utilize a transcending player

Pat Freiermuth #88 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball while being tackled by C.J. Mosley #57 of the New York Jets in the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium on October 02, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Pat Freiermuth #88 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball while being tackled by C.J. Mosley #57 of the New York Jets in the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium on October 02, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers have just suffered another inexcusable loss, but it showed us something that they need to remember for the rest of the season.

Back when the Steelers snatched a Week 1 win from the Bengals in Cincinnati, I warned that we should not get too comfortable with it, as looking good early hardly means anything. Looking at the outcome of Pittsburgh’s Week 4 matchup against the troubled New York Jets, I must admit that always being right does get tiring after a while.

The Steelers started horrendously slow, seeing a convincing deficit in the second quarter before entering halftime with a concerning 10-6 tally on the scoreboard.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky looked like such a mess—both statistically and visually—that Tomlin eventually decided to bring in rookie Kenny Pickett (a call that many fans had already wanted to be made).

Pickett’s performance was far from perfect as well, mainly due to his three interceptions. However, he completed 10 of his 13 passes and ran in both of Pittsburgh’s touchdowns.

With that said, there is no reason as to why he should not be given the starting nod for future games. Fortunately, Mike Tomlin was able to make that connection, as he announced Tuesday that Kenny Pickett would be the starter moving forward.

Pittsburgh’s offensive questions run much deeper than the QB, though

While the quarterback situation has been a big talking point when discussing concerns about the Steelers offense, it has not been the only talking point. There is something else that Pittsburgh has also seemingly made a point of not doing, and that is utilizing tight end Pat Freiermuth on the passing game.

The argument of a certain player not getting enough touches/targets is bound to come up regardless of the team that you’re talking about, but when considering how the Steelers offense operates, what exactly its limitations are, and just how reliable Freiermuth has proven himself to be, the fact that this even has to be said is just ridiculous.

Pittsburgh’s passing offense has changed very little since Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement in regards to its quality of execution, most notably when it comes to the lack of an established deep game. With there being that large of a hiccup in the offense’s power, it needs to capitalize on its potential with the shorter plays (again, this shouldn’t have to be broken down for anyone).

Freiermuth is the perfect weapon for said plays, especially when he either cuts across the middle or is targeted underneath. Stats play no role in saying that, as those who merely watch the games see it happen whenever the ball is thrown his way.

But nonetheless, he is rarely given the opportunity to headline the offense’s plays, and that is something that the stats do show.

How much does Freiermuth help the Steelers statistically?

Over the regular season’s first month of games, Freiermuth has played in all four for the Steelers, and he has amassed 223 receiving yards while getting the team one touchdown. When his numbers are compared to those of star wide receiver Diontae Johnson, Freiermuth has 16 more receiving yards and one more touchdown, yet he’s been targeted seven fewer times.

Turning our attention over to the running game—something that the Steelers have heavily relied on this season—we see that running back Najee Harris has been given the ball 58 times, yet has garnered fewer yards on the ground than Freiermuth has through the air.

Also, when combining both his rushing and receiving stats, Harris still only manages to outshine Freiermuth by 27 yards and a touchdown.

Beyond whoever is starting at QB, Johnson and Harris are typically two of the offense’s biggest/highest-regarded names, but even they are struggling to cement themselves as larger impacts than Freiermuth (despite being given more chances with the ball).

Nothing about any of that should push the offensive play calling in a direction where the promising tight end continues to take the back seat.

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He may not make for the most exciting of football, but if Pat Freiermuth needs to be the backbone of Pittsburgh’s offense to win, then I am all for it. And when staring at that 1-3 record, I would like to think that the Steelers themselves would be as well.