Steelers must alter their offensive game plan to be true contenders

Quarterback Kenny Pickett #8 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on January 1, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Quarterback Kenny Pickett #8 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in action against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on January 1, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been much-improved since the bye week, but their current offensive game plan won’t yield success against great teams. 

It’s hard to be too upset with a team that has gone 6-2 since the bye week. Most of their wins haven’t been pretty, by any stretch of the imagination, but Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers have managed to get the job done.

Because of this surge, the Steelers are now in the thick of the AFC playoff picture heading into the final week of the season. While they certainly aren’t guaranteed to make the tournament, they’ve come much closer than I think anybody would have assumed after their abysmal 2-6 start.

However, there is an issue that must be addressed. Their offensive game plan simply isn’t going to work against more competent football teams (much like the ones they faced during the first half of the season).

Steelers must alter their offensive game plan

I loved watching the Pittsburgh Steelers run the football effectively against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football. We know that Mike Tomlin wants to play that smash-mouth type of football and rely on his defense. That strategy has paid off in recent weeks, but it won’t lead to true success.

If Tomlin cares about winning a Super Bowl, I’m not convinced that you can play this style of football. Last night is a perfect example. The Steelers were able to rush for 198 yards as their duo of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren combined for 5.5 yards per carry, via ESPN stats. While this offense is excellent for moving the chains between the twenties and taking time off the clock, it doesn’t lead to points.

Pittsburgh had just 3 points at halftime and they didn’t even get their second field goal until 3:42 remaining in the fourth quarter. Their only touchdown drive had much less to do with the running game and almost everything to do with QB Kenny Pickett.

As well as Pittsburgh’s defense played and stars like T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Minkah Fitzpatrick made an impact, the Steelers nearly lost this game because they simply did not have an explosive enough offensive performance.

If this team were to sneak into the first round of the playoffs, they will either face the Buffalo Bills or the Kansas City Chiefs. That’s a far cry from a Lamar Jackson-less Ravens offense. Mike Tomlin would be foolish to think he could outpace Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes by passing for 168 yards and running the ball 41 times.

Whether they somehow make the playoffs this year or not, the Steelers need to alter their offensive game plan if they want to have true offensive success down the road. Playing ball-control offense is good when you can play with a lead or if you are trying to put the game on ice, but it limits your potential scoring output greatly.

Despite the Steelers averaging 146 rushing yards per game over their last 9 contests, they have only scored 19.2 points per game over this span. I’m just not convinced that running the football 40+ times per game can work consistently enough against teams like the Bengals, Bills, or Chiefs who could put up 30 points on this team at the drop of a hat.

The Steelers become a more efficient passing offense — particularly in the red zone. They need to use the run to set up the pass; not the other way around.

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If they can alter their game plan, there is hope that they can become true competitors in the near future. However, if Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada have no plans to change things up, they won’t be in contention for a Super Bowl anytime soon.