2023 Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Preview
Pittsburgh exited the Ben Roethlisberger era ready to hit the ground running with the unholy combination of Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett. Trubisky was ceremoniously named the starter to open the year, but his stint lasted less than four games. Pickett struggled as a rookie, averaging 6.2 yards per throw and tossing more interceptions than touchdowns. Pittsburgh’s normally elite defense was still solid in 2022 but was unable to carry the team’s toothless offense beyond a 9-8 record that left them just short of a postseason appearance. That was despite the Steelers closing the year on a four-game win streak highlighted by a comeback victory over the Raiders and a drubbing of the Browns. A strong defense and Mike Tomlin‘s consistently elite coaching have Pittsburgh’s floor sky-high. The shortcomings at quarterback have seemingly limited the team to fringe playoff hopes.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 18.1 (26th)
- EPA per play: 0.01 (14th)
- Dropback EPA per play: 0.02 (19th)
- Passing yards per game: 200.6 (24th)
- Rush EPA per play: 0.01 (3rd)
- Rush yards per game: 122.2 (16th)
Though not the worst offense in the league, the Steelers may have been the most lifeless. Diontae Johnson set the record for receptions in a season (86) without a touchdown. Najee Harris ran for 3.8 yards per carry, averaged four yards per touch, and saw his receiving total cut in half compared to his rookie season. Harris had one carry go for more than 20 yards. Backup Jaylen Warren had three such carries. George Pickens pitched in for a handful of highlight plays but never became a consistent option. It could be nothing more than noise, but Pickett’s one strength was his clutch factor. He ranked 10th in EPA per play on third down and performed even better on his handful of fourth-down attempts. Pickett also led four game-winning drives.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 20.4 (10th)
- EPA per play: 0.02 (23rd)
- Dropback EPA per play: 0.08 (26th)
- Passing yards per game: 222.3 (19th)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.07 (17th)
- Rush yards per game: 108.1 (9th)
Pittsburgh’s defense entered 2022 off back-to-back seasons of leading the league in sacks, helmed by T.J. Watt, the NFL’s individual sack leader in both of those years. Watt missed seven games with a torn pectoral muscle and wasn’t himself when on the field. He totaled 5.5 sacks and saw his pressure rate fall from 15 percent to 10.5 percent. The Steelers also lost Ahkello Witherspoon for the bulk of the season in addition to missing other starting corners for a handful of games. Ultimately, the 2022 season showed how much this unit was relying on Watt to be superman every game and the fragility of that approach.
Draft Picks (Top-150)
17th, 32nd, 49th, 81st, and 120th
Notable Free Agents
If the Steelers cut one or both of their cornerbacks, it’s likely because they are looking to re-sign Sutton. They also have what is nearly an extra first-round pick from the Bears through the Chase Claypool trade. The only difference is their No. 32 selection won’t have a fifth-year option on his contract.
Per Pro Football Focus, all three of the Steelers’ starting interior linemen were above average at their respective positions. Both of the tackles, however, were ranked well outside of the top 50.
Devin Bush is a free agent and Myles Jack will likely be cut given his middling play since joining the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s pass-rush is strong when healthy, but they need interior linebackers who can clog running lanes and cover tight ends.
Cameron Sutton is the only cornerback drafted by the Steelers who is still on their roster, and that won’t be true once free agency opens. Even if he is re-signed, Pittsburgh is in desperate need of an influx of talent at corner.
Matt Canada‘s grip on the Steelers’ offensive coordinator gig was tenuous, at best, exiting the 2022 season. He managed to hold onto the job for another year, though Pittsburgh’s offense needs to embark on a herculean turnaround for Canada to remain in place. The Steelers’ bland approach on offense has been consistent across multiple quarterbacks under Canada. Though Canada’s quarterbacks have left a lot on the table, he hasn’t done them any favors. The only significant coaching departure was linebackers coach Brian Flores leaving for the Vikings’ defensive coordinator job.
The Steelers should have a relatively quiet offseason. Their biggest issues (outside of quarterback) are in the trenches and they don’t have any marquee free agents to break the bank for. Their focus must be on retooling the offensive line to determine if Pickett can be a long-term answer at quarterback. Competing in a division with Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson (maybe), and Deshaun Watson, having an elite quarterback might be a necessity for the next decade. If the offensive line improves but Pickett doesn’t, it’s back to the drawing board in 2024.