Hooray! The Pittsburgh Steelers are in first place in the AFC North. As Mike Tomlin gears up for his Week 6 bye, he can take comfort in knowing it's been a job well done by his squad early in the season... or has it been?
Typically, holding possession of first place in an NFL division is something to hang your hat on -- even if it's only five games into the 2023 season. In this case, however, Tomlin and company can't be satisfied with the team's performance to this point.
Nearly every metric (raw stats or otherwise) shows that the Steelers have in fact been one of the worst teams in the league so far. Here's a look at some of their statistics entering Week 6, according to Team Rankings and rbsdm.com.
I know this isn't the stuff that you want to see, but it's important to bring it to light. While Coach Tomlin will always take a win any way he can get one, the stats suggest that this should probably be a 1-4 team through the first five weeks of the season -- and they nearly were just that.
If you don't believe the stats, then trust the tape. I have watched each game 2-3 times, and I can tell you that most of their performances so far are hard to stomach a second or third time. The tape absolutely matches the poor statistical output so far.
Why the Steelers should have a worse record entering the bye week
Let's take a second to diagnose the results of each game so far. In Week Pittsburgh was humiliated by a grossly more talented 49ers team in a 30-7 loss. Three weeks later, they lost even worse to rookie QB C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans (30-6 was the final score).
Where did their three wins come from? In Week 2, it required two defensive touchdowns to narrowly top the Browns with a final score of 26-22. This past week against the Ravens, Baltimore had a plethora of opportunities to put Pittsburgh out of their misery, but they botched one change after another. A blocked punt for a safety and a clutch interception by Joey Porter Jr. were the only things that even gave the Steelers a chance to mount a comeback drive with just 1:17 remaining in the game.
Of their five contests so far, their Sunday Night Football game against the Raiders was their only victory that it actually felt like they were going to (and deserved to) win. But even in that game, Kenny Pickett nearly threw a pick-six to CB Marcus Peters that would have shifted the tides.
I don't want to sit here and make excuses for every Steelers win. Whether it be by clutch defensive players or missed opportunities from their opponents, Pittsburgh does now sit on a 3-2 record -- and for that, they can be thankful. However, this feels like a very fraudulent 3-2.
Perhaps the Steelers really will get things together and they could look like a team that belongs in the division title discussion. But for now, simply being in 'first place' in the AFC North certainly does not mean that Pittsburgh is a great team right now. The bye week will be a great test to see if Mike Tomlin can make some big adjustments.