After last season, I was optimistic about the Steelers and their chances to climb this season, with the absolute least of my hopes being that we would return to playoff status. However, after many trials and tribulations, I had just about lost all hope, and I can confidently say that I wasn’t alone in that.
Over the course of Weeks 1 through 15, the Steelers had proven one thing and one thing only: They were consistently inconsistent. They’d get a decent win or two and then collapse. It had gotten to a point where no one held their breath on Pittsburgh even finishing with a winning record, much less making the AFC bracket—and then Mason Rudolph happened.
Against Cincinnati, Rudolph’s unmatched connection with George Pickens paved the way to a dominating 34-11 victory, marking the first time the Steelers had hit the 30-point threshold since November 2022 and their first time doing so in a win since November 2020 (with both of those times being against Cincy as well).
While that rare victory was something worth smiling about—even more so when considering it had Pittsburgh rocking a winning record again and was against a hated rival—I was hesitant to celebrate, and why wouldn’t I be? As I said, we’d seen highs before, all just for them to mean nothing a week or two later, so how was I supposed to take one offensive outlier as the new standard?
I figured we’d only get a better idea of what the Rudolph-led offense was all about once it met the Seahawks in Seattle. Having a winning record, an infamously difficult home atmosphere, and a defensive-minded head coach Pete Carroll, they serve as one of the best teams to gauge one’s offense against. But, especially with a playoff appearance on the line, that means they’re also far from the first name you’d pick for your guys to face, a fact that left me and many others understandably nervous.
And yet, by halftime, I had seen something that I never thought I’d see: The offense playing well for a second-straight week.
Pittsburgh’s newfound scoring ability wasn't some one-time thing
Heading into the locker rooms, Pittsburgh held a 17-14 advantage which, while narrow, was tied with the win over Green Bay for its second-highest-scoring first half all season. First place? Last week’s win over Cincinnati (24).
To make matters better, not only did the Steelers refuse to slow down in the second half, but they never trailed for the remainder of the game, scoring 13 more points before coming to a glorious rest at 30-23. Just like that, the Steelers offense had hit the 30-point mark again, and not all because of Rudolph.
For starters, it takes both a quarterback and wide receiver to make a solid QB-WR connection work (who would’ve thought?), so George Pickens deserves half the credit for the aforementioned one that he and Rudolph have exhibited so far. Pickens had four catches (half of which were taken to the house) for 195 yards against Cincy and seven for 131 against Seattle.
As for Pittsburgh’s rushing attack, it has seen a rather steep rise in quality since the Canada firing, and its performance against the Seahawks was no exception to the trend, as running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren combined for 197 rushing yards and three touchdowns, so they’ve certainly earned their flowers as well.
But just because the win was decent doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement
At this point, Californians can probably hear faint “SUPER BOWL BOUND” chants all the way from Pittsburgh, and even though I won’t go that far, I have to admit that I’m pretty hyped for what we’re yet to see.
I’ve admitted that one game only means so much, and I know that a second game only means so much more, especially when the Seahawks are far from perfect. Speaking of which, was I the only one who noticed how unimpressive the Pittsburgh defense was despite that?
Despite them having only done so once since Nov. 12, the Seahawks scored 23 points against our boys. As for how that compares to Pittsburgh’s defensive standard, the Steelers have only given up more than that twice since Oct. 1, and it’s the most they’ve given up in a win all year. Again, flukes are always possible in the Steel City, but the Steelers have to make sure it stays that way, as now is the absolute worst time for the defense to start slipping.
So to recap: Though the win neither looked the best nor was obtained against the best, it still serves as enough to throw fuel onto the fire of Pittsburgh finally being a team worth looking out for. But while that’s all well and good, there’s an even better way to do so, and as soon as next week—make the playoffs.
A Steelers playoff run is still on the agenda
On Saturday, the Steelers will travel to Baltimore to take on the AFC-leading Ravens. Beating them would normally appear as an insurmountable task, as the Ravens just beat the Miami Dolphins 56-19 to move up to 13-3.
However, it’s important to note that the Steelers not only beat them earlier this season (in worse offensive shape) but also that Baltimore will likely be pulling starters to preserve them for its own postseason run. That pair of factors makes this matchup look a lot more winnable. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh’s playoff path needs more than that to be fully cleared.
Multiple outcomes can occur outside of Pittsburgh’s win that would send the Steelers off to the bracket, with the most practical being that either the Bills or Jaguars lose (the Colts and Texans are also in the running, but the squads facing each other guarantees at least one of them being eliminated from contention).
From there, it’d be time for this new-look Pittsburgh to be put to its truest test by taking on a full-strength playoff opponent/atmosphere, but we won’t go that far down the hypothetical road just yet. All that matters now is the Steelers doing their part to be granted such an opportunity, and if the latest displays of their talent are remotely indicative of their potential to do so, checking that box is very well within the realm of possibility.