A 2-4 start isn’t how Mike Tomlin’s staff imagined their new campaign would begin. With help from key role players, can the Steelers revive their season before it’s too late?
It’s been a tough couple of weeks for the Steelers prior to their upset win over the Buccaneers. Losses create doubts within the locker room, especially when it’s early in NFL season. Extensive media coverage brings those same concerns to viewers at home who become more concerned with their squad’s season projection.
As the regular season continues, Mike Tomlin and his staff are faced with the task of improving their record. Avoiding a 1-5 start was essential, but if the Steelers want to experience a post-season this year, they need these players to lead the team with impressive performances.
The emergence of TE Pat Friermuth will help Steelers offense
Developing as an elite quarterback requires patience and a talented village. Luckily, the Steelers have talent that will help adjusting quarterbacks build confidence under center. Heath Miller’s performances while sporting the black and gold helped Ben Roethlisberger become the face of the franchise. Pat Friermuth can make the same impact on Pickett’s career.
In 2021, Penn State’s gifted tight end played a pivotal role in Matt Canada’s offense. The rookie played sixteen games, recording seven touchdowns and sixty receptions. Friermuth caught 76% of passes thrown to him – making him a reliable target for an aging Ben Roethlisberger. His 497 yards receiving gave Pittsburgh another weapon to develop in the beginning stages of a rebuild.
Without No.7 under center, it’s almost like the Steelers forgot about their talented tight end. In six games, N0.88 accumulated 20 receptions and 235 receiving yards. Four receptions per game is not enough for a top tight end – especially with a struggling quarterback looking for a safety blanket. Incorporating Friermuth into the offense more often will help Pickett get his feet wet against defense waiting to feast on his youth. A concussion sidelined Friermuth in week 5, but he should return to action soon.
George Pickens could be a dominating presence
Stretching the field is an issue for Pittsburgh, but their explosive rookie could become the solution. A second-round pick acquired first-round talent – providing Pittsburgh with another weapon for their rookie quarterback. George Pickens has proven his skills. Insane highlights of his acrobatic catches excite the fanbase – but when will we see more?
Pickens’s highlights are a catalyst for Canada’s offense, and the Steelers need a spark. A 13.9 yards per catch average reminds the opposing defense of No.14’s big play ability – but Pittsburgh fails to feed their X-factor. His twenty receptions are tied for 60th best and need to increase before the season’s end.
More receptions for Pickens will equate to more points for Canada’s squad. The chemistry between Pickens and Pickett impressed coaches in the off-season and will be useful in Pittsburgh’s ascension to the top of the Conference. His 277-yards receiving could increase if given the right opportunity.
Minkah Fitzpatrick will show up big for the Steelers
Defense is the key ingredient to success for the Steelers for several decades. Pittsburgh’s identity will remain in protecting the endzone – with or without edge rusher T.J Watt. Struggles on offense have not positioned the Steel Curtain well, resulting in exhaustion and deficits. Teryl Austin’s defense allows 398 yards per game – ranking fourth most in the league.
Excuse won’t stop the defense from rising to the occasion, and it starts with Minkah Fitzpatrick. No.39’s interception return for a touchdown was the first score for the Steelers this season – and the easiest. Creating turnovers has helped Pittsburgh remain relevant in late games this season. Their ten takeaways rank eighth in the league – three were caused by Fitzpatrick.
Serving as the last line of defense is difficult for safeties, but Minkah gets the job done. Opponents feel his presence. Fitzpatrick is a leader and will accept more responsibility to uplift his team. The Steelers need their safety to man the fort until their offense finds its footing.
Honorable Mention: T.J. Watt
Alex Highsmith and the defensive line are trying their best to maintain a pass rush, but it doesn’t feel the same. Pittsburgh is 0-4 since Watt’s injury and needs their All-Pro leader. A pectoral injury sidelined No.99, but fans can expect to see him back in action before the season ends. If the Steelers can pull off a few wins, they could position themselves for a playoff run in time for Watt’s return.
Working with a rookie quarterback will require Mike Tomlin to rely on his assets this season. Kenny Pickett is surrounded by enough talent to find success – but it’s up to the Steelers to put the pieces together.