No matter the circumstances, the Steelers seasonal hopes are usually somewhere in between, cloudy with a chance of overperforming when least expected.
Week 8 of the NFL regular season brought many into a place of utter hopelessness, anger, and frustration in Pittsburgh. The Steelers were handled with ease by an Eagles team that was undefeated (previously 7-0, now 8-1) in front of a passionate yet consistently hostile Philadelphia fanbase.
Then came a very much-needed Week 9 bye. Because back in Week 1 a raucous multitude of outcomes began that felt like one unpredictable variable after another took over the game.
Losing All-Pro edge rusher T.J. Watt meant that Pittsburgh would only win a single game in his absence along with trotting out, statistically speaking, the worst-ranked offense on the field under the controversial offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Times were tough, but it now appears the curtain may finally be lifted for better, and not worse.
Week 10 arrives, and it’s as if everyone has already written them off at 2-6 coming out of the bye Week. If there’s one thing the Steelers do well, it’s this: they’re never going to be truly bad, which is why they won’t obtain a high-end draft pick. Tanking is not an option on the South Side. They’ll always compete to the very end, hence the no-losing seasons since 2003.
Watt finally returned after what was a multi-game absence, and surely didn’t show signs of rust with 4 tackles for loss, 2 solo tackles, 2 assisted tackles, and 1 QB rush, according to ESPN stats. All in all, Watt contributed in ways the Steelers so desperately lacked until Sunday, particularly upfront and down the middle on run stopping. 29 rushing yards, 1 rushing first down, and 1.9 yards per carry were allowed all afternoon. To say he was sorely missed would be a massive understatement.
Alex Highsmith, thus far, has 8.5 sacks on the year, and 2 sacks against New Orleans. So much for the talk about him not living up to potential and expectations alongside TJ Watt. He’s worth every penny and draft pick of investment.
Damonte Kazee and Levi Wallace, meanwhile, have quickly shaken off what was a rough-around-the-edges start in Week 8 versus the Eagles. 4 and 5 total tackles, 3 and 5 Solo Tackles, 1 and 3 passes defended, and 1 Interception each respectively. If we can see this type of production with a healthy Watt and eventually Fitzpatrick soon to be back, this defense may not be down and out.
Steelers aren’t out of the race just yet
Offensively, there was a great awakening in the trenches. 217 rushing yards. Najee Harris finally found success pounding the rock. 99 rushing yards and 5.0 yards per carry. Kenny Pickett, on the other hand, rushed for 51 Yards, 6.4 yards per carry, of his own with a rushing touchdown added on top. Jaylen Warren might’ve just cemented himself as a great handcuff. 37 rushing yards, 4.1 yards per carry, and 2nd in receiving yards with 40, only trailing Diontae Johnson who had 63 Receiving Yards.
Overall, the recipe for future success was evident if it were to continue. In order to climb out of the basement and into AFC playoff contention, the Steelers must play great defense, run the ball efficiently, limit turnovers, and play consistently good special teams. There’s certainly nothing sexy about this style of ball, but it most definitely reeks the scent of prototypical Steelers football. The difference between better and lesser teams dressed in the Black and Gold are decided by these very obstacles down the stretch when closing games will be decided by 10 points or less.
Looking ahead, the Steelers have 3 very winnable games upcoming. Week 11 Vs a Cincinnati Bengals team that will be without star wideout Ja’Marr Chase. Week 12 on the road versus an inanely chaotic Indianapolis Colts team under rookie interim Jeff Saturday. Then on the road once more facing an Atlanta Falcons who are reeling as of late and most likely looking forward to next year’s Quarterback class in the 2023 NFL Draft. All things are possible, and Pittsburgh continually proves this to be true every year.