Just like they always somehow seem to do, the Pittsburgh Steelers showed up in the clutch. After falling by two scores to the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, Mike Tomlin's team could ill-afford to drop their second straight home game -- especially considering how tight the race is in the AFC North.
The Steelers hosted the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football in Week 9, and all eyes were on the head-to-head matchup between quarterbacks Kenny Pickett and Will Levis. Both players were taken early in the draft a year apart from each other, and fans have been questioning from Day 1 whether or not drafting Kenny Pickett was the correct move in 2022.
The game started off with a bang. As Matt Canada called his first game of the year from the sideline, the Steelers' offense marched down the field after getting the ball to score their very first opening-drive touchdown of the season. Prior to this point, Pittsburgh had only garnered a total of 7 offensive points in 7 first quarters this year.
Eventually, Pickett made his patented game-winning drive -- his seventh of his young career -- and the Steelers held on to win with a final score of 20 to 16. However, this game wasn't as satisfying as many of us would have hoped.
Steelers' victory doesn't inspire confidence
Mike Tomlin will be the first to tell you that a win is a win. It's hard to argue against that sound logic, but I would caution against falling into the trap of believing that the quality of all wins is equal. This victory simply did not inspire much confidence in the Steelers' fanbase, nor did it make us believe that this is suddenly a different team.
After scoring on a 10-play, 78-yard drive to begin the game, Pittsburgh's offense was right back to its old ways. They punted the ball away on their next two possessions after combining for a dismal 4 yards on 6 plays before finally mounting a field goal to give them a mere 10 points before halftime.
In the second half, Canada's offense was hit or miss with two solid drives and two bad drives (excluding the final possession in which they were trying to run time off the clock). Putting up 20 points might seem like a lot for a team like the Steelers, but if this were a season average, it would still only be good for 20th in the NFL.
The Steelers once again managed to win a football game in which the opposing team earned more yardage on offense. Pittsburgh's yardage output in this game was still below the NFL season average.
I thought Kenny Pickett's performance was a bit discouraging as well. The second-year quarterback missed a pair of wide-open throws early in the game that could have kept the chains moving. Though he technically did enough to give his team a chance to win, the victory once again came at the hands of the defense. Pickett finished the night with just 160 passing yards on a mere 5.3 yards per attempt with one touchdown, per ESPN stats.
If we are to be optimistic about something other than Pittsburgh's pass rush in this game, it was a quality overall game by the running backs. Najee Harris had a nice touchdown run on the opening drive, while Jaylen Warren looked explosive -- turning his 11 carries into 88 yards.
Against a below-average team like the Tennessee Titans, I would have loved to see the Pittsburgh Steelers come out and score 30 points or perhaps see Pickett throw for 300 yards and at least a pair of touchdowns. But it just doesn't seem like it's in the cards for this football team. They keep finding ways to squeak out wins, but they haven't given us any reason to believe that they are true contenders.
The Steelers will have another winnable home game next week against the 2-5 Green Bay Packers and will have 10 days to prepare for this uncommon opponent. Perhaps they will convince us in Week 10 that they are a legitimate threat in the AFC, but my thoughts on this team didn't change with their narrow win over the Titans in Week 9.