It's hard to be optimistic about the Steelers in 2023

Steelers / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The new league year hasn’t even begun yet, and I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty down on the Steelers. I don’t want to be, as this offseason should be one filled with potential and excitement, but the more I look at what this team’s done so far, it is hard to feel excited.

The first full offseason with a new quarterback on a rookie deal is supposed to be exciting! Cap freedoms lead to big moves to surround the young gunslinger with as much talent as possible. The coaching staff shifts their focus to developing him and the team makes some surprising leaps in the quarterback’s sophomore year, building off what we saw as a rookie.

I don’t know about you, but it is hard to feel like any of that is going to actually happen in 2023. The abundance of cap space isn’t quite there. While the Steelers have quite a few avenues to create a healthy amount of cap space, they realistically won’t be working with much more than 20-25 million for outside moves. That dampens the possibility of adding a huge free agent.

The Steelers have too many needs

While there will be some positive moves made in free agency and in the draft, this team is full of needs on both offense and defense. The secondary could take a hit, especially if Cameron Sutton, Terrell Edmunds, and Damontae Kazee all walk. Edge rusher is lacking depth, and the defensive line has no definite starter besides Cameron Heyward.

This doesn’t even take into account linebacker, which is arguably the biggest need on the roster. The position once again underwhelmed in 2022, and they have two of their three main starters set to be free agents. Myles Jack could easily be a cap casualty, which would leave Mark Robinson as the lone returning player at the position next season.

The offense is arguably better off, albeit not by much. The line, while a sore spot, isn’t in dire need like it was last year. Running back is two deep, and quarterback has their guy in Kenny Pickett, even if there are questions behind him.

A receiver needs to be added, but the position isn’t bare by any means. That said, even if there aren’t dire needs like the defense, this unit was hard to watch in 2022. Improving upon this unit will be hard, especially if the Steelers have to dedicate a lot of resources to the defense.

The Steelers coaching staff isn’t an inspiring group

Let’s say the Steelers have the perfect offseason (even though they won’t). Both lines see some improvement, the linebacker gets the players it needs, and the secondary is kept together. This team enters the 2023 season with a roster slightly improved upon last year’s group.

That doesn’t change the fact that coaching has remained mostly unchanged this offseason. I am pretty confident that the defense should be fine. The unit played well when healthy, and while they struggled without T.J. Watt, it is impossible to replace that type of player. No, they likely won’t be the best unit in the league, but I have confidence that they can be coached into a top-ten unit.

The offense once again proves to be the issue. Matt Canada returns for his third season as coordinator, and the decision is baffling. This unit was lackluster in Ben Roethlisberger’s final season and they were abysmal last year. Even during their “run” in the second half of the season, this unit averaged 20.8 points a game.

Canada has proven to be an extremely conservative coordinator, and the Steelers seemingly want to play great defense and complement that with a grinding offense. This isn’t 2000 anymore though and expecting to be a top competitor like this is nonsense.

Look at the playoff teams this year, and more specifically the Super Bowl contenders. The Eagles boasted the far better of the two defenses and still failed to stop the high-powered offense of the Chiefs. A good defense is needed to be a true competitor, but a high-powered offense is a key to winning in the NFL right now.

Instead, the Steelers are trying to win with their defense alone, and this is going to come to a predictable end. The Steelers will fight and claw their way to a winning record and may sneak into the playoffs but will quickly be eliminated if so. Unless Pickett goes from a hot and cold rookie to a top quarterback in one offseason (there is little evidence to back that), this team will once again be a middle-of-the-pack unit.

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And guess what happens in 2024? We will be talking about the exact same things. Both sides will have significant needs, with no clear answers. Pickett will be halfway through his rookie deal and this team won’t be that close the making an actual Super Bowl run. I’m finding it hard to get behind this team right now when there has been such little change.