12/15/22-There Are Reasons For This Mess

December 15, 2022 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

 

At 5-8, the Steelers have all but been eliminated from the playoffs already and should they lose this coming Sunday, combined with a few other things, they in fact will be out of contention before Christmas.

That’s unheard of in Pittsburgh over the past 18 years but it’s the hard reality the team faces today.  This isn’t totally unexpected, however.

They have been starting a rookie quarterback for the last couple of months. They saw veteran leaders like Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Haden head into retirement. They had a major injury to their best player, TJ Watt, and they had a lame duck General Manager drafting for them the last couple of years.

It’s a recipe for this type of play. Yet, there have been other things that have gone extremely wrong and need to be called out, which have helped put the team in this state.

First and foremost, despite some perceived recent improvements by the offense, Matt Canada should never have been retained from last year to this year or through the teams’ bye week. The offense ranks 26th in total yards, 100 yards less per game than the top team. They are 24th in passing, averaging a mere 204 yards per game and 19th in rushing.  Being in the bottom half of both categories offensively, won’t get you too far.  Worst of all, the team only averages 17.5 points per game, good for 27th in the league.

To top that off, their number one receiver, at least by their definition, Diontae Johnson, doesn’t have a single touchdown catch through 13 games.

Most of this is on Matt Canada.

But Canada isn’t the only glaring contributor to the 5-8 record.

We can’t overlook the defense, who just this past week against the Ravens, allowed a third string quarterback who had never taken a snap in the NFL to complete a throw out of the back of his own endzone on the very first play of his career and the subsequently let the Ravens convert a massive 3rd down and three, running the ball when the entire stadium knew that play was coming.

The defense has issues.  Defensively, the team ranks 22nd overall, allowing 358 yards per game.  They sit at 24th in passing, giving up 242 yards per game and in the middle of the pack, 15th in rushing, allowing 115 yards per game.  They also allow 22.5 points per game, good for 14th in the league.

When you don’t have a single unit or statistic that ranks at the top of the league, and most rank at the bottom of the league, you’re not going to win many ball games.

The real issue here though, is the defense is largely a veteran group and was supposed to carry this team. They were supposed to be a top five, or better, unit. They aren’t.  They aren’t coached well enough. They aren’t talented enough and they aren’t a group that should be kept together, in whole, after this season.

Not surprisingly, after seeing those stats, the team’s wins have mostly come against losing teams, who have a combined record of 28-36-1.  Even more of an issue, only two of the five wins have come against an AFC opponent.

The team has four games left, and if they somehow find a way to win all four, they’ll finish with a miraculous winning record of 9-8, which still won’t be enough to get them into the playoffs but would be quite impressive.

But after having gone through all the numbers, I don’t see how that will happen. It’s possible they’ll go 2-2 down the stretch and finish 7-10 but that’s the best case scenario, in my eyes.

Steelers at Panthers

Pittsburgh will try to get one of those possible two wins this coming Sunday in Carolina against the 5-8 Panthers.  The Panthers, by virtue of playing in a poor division, control their own destiny and should they win out, will make the playoffs as the division winners. They have a lot to play for.

They are however, a bad team and for whatever reason, the Steelers are 3-0 against the NFC South this season.

This time of year, it’s really the same story to success. Control the clock, run the football and play good defense.  Despite the statistics the steelers currently sport, I suspect they’ll be able to do this vs. Carolina and will end up 4-0 against the NFC South. It won’t have much of an impact on their playoff chances, but it will stave off official elimination for at least another week.

Steelers 22  Panthers 20

12/8/22-Steelers Have Shot At Postseason

December 8, 2022 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

It’s highly unlikely. Nearly impossible. But, the Steelers have a chance, albeit a slim one, to make the playoffs. At 5-7, it’s hard to believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers are even ‘in the hunt’ for the postseason but all of the sudden, after two straight wins, here they are.

With the injury to Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, the door opened up a bit more. What the Steelers will still need to do, however, to get to the promised land of the postseason, is run the table. There’s no other way that I see it happening. If they do that, they’ll need to win their final five games and seven in a row overall. The good news is the schedule is relatively soft compared to the beginning of the season.

Pittsburgh has two games left vs. Baltimore, one of which we know Lamar Jackson will not play in, possibly both. They have the Panthers, who are not good, on the road, Las Vegas at home on Christmas Eve, Baltimore again, possibly still without Jackson and then finish with Cleveland at home. Crazily enough, the Steelers could conceivably win each of those games, and they’ll need to. They are going head to head for that last wild card spots against teams they lose head to head tie breakers to, like the Jets, Patriots and Browns (for now). They also will be up against the Raiders and Chargers. Winning out is the only way to do it. Should the Steelers win out, they’ll sport a 10-7 record, and based on my simulator, with tie breakers, that would net them the 6th seed in the playoffs, with the Ravens being the 7th seed, having the same 10-7 record but being swept by Pittsburgh.

It’s still a long shot but it’s now a conversation to be had. The play of Kenny Pickett has to continue to excel and the running game needs to be the catalyst of the offense. If the running backs, Najee Harris, Benny Snell and whomever else carries the ball, can continue to average 4.0 yards per carry or more, this team has a shot. I’d look for the defense to be the unit that has to carry the team as a whole and maintain opposing offenses to less than 20 points. If they do that with the rush of TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith and stuffing the run, which is what four of their five next opponents like to do most often, they have a chance.

Baltimore at Pittsburgh

The Steelers will face the Ravens this coming weekend who will be led by Tyler Huntley, in Jackson’s absence. Huntley is a serviceable quarterback. He started four games for Baltimore last year, completing 65% of his passes for a touch of 1,000 yards. And while he’s not as dynamic as Jackson, Huntley added another 294 yards rushing. The Steelers can’t take him lightly but they can force Huntley into errors.

They need to keep him in the pocket, blitz him often and stuff the rushing attack. If they can manage to run the ball with Najee Harris and control the clock, this game could go their way. I see this as another classic Steelers vs. Ravens game, low scoring, hard hitting and ugly.

Steelers 17 Ravens 13

11/29/22-Kenny Pickett Should Be Steelers Only Focus Down Stretch

November 29, 2022 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The Steelers enter the final six games of the season with a 4-7 record. Normally, this time of year, there is only one objective in mind for Pittsburgh, finding a way to get into the playoffs. It’s been that way for the last 18 years.

But this year, it isn’t and shouldn’t be the objective. Ben Roethlisberger is gone and he’s not coming back. The team is now Kenny Pickett’s and the mission over these next six weeks should be simple, develop him. Let Pickett learn on the job and gain as much experience as possible to come back next year ready to lead that traditional December playoff charge.

Through his first eight games, Kenny Pickett has completed 66% of his passes for exactly 1,600 yards. Those numbers aren’t bad. He however has only thrown three touchdown passes compared to eight interceptions.  The good news though, he hasn’t thrown an interception in his last three games and six of the eight interceptions have come in two games, including three in his very first one.

There are things to build upon.  The time to do that is now.

The team can start by continuing to run the football effectively. Over the last three weeks (which coincide with Pickett not throwing interceptions), the team is averaging over 4.0 yards per carry and the Steelers have gone 2-1 in that time.  A healthy run game is a life line for a young quarterback, it must continue. Picket’s quarterback rating has improved in each of those three weeks, from 79, to 85 to 87 in the his latest outing.

Those are the things the team needs to see in the final six weeks of the season. Forget about wins and losses, let Kenny progress.

The more they run the ball, the more the clock is controlled by the Steelers, the more points they score and the less work their defense has to do.  All are important development tools for Pickett.

As he concludes his rookie campaign, a few things to look for will be his increased completion percentage, throwing more touchdowns than interceptions and taking very few sacks, from a statistical standpoint.

Some of the intangible items like throwing the ball away, working through his progressions and calling audibles are all additional items these next six weeks will help the young gun develop.

By this time next year, Pickett should be the leader of a playoff contender and this invaluable experience this year will help get him into that position.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Atlanta Falcons

The Steelers take their 4-7 record on the road this week to face the 5-7 Atlanta Falcons who by virtue of playing in a poor division are in the thick of a playoff race.  The Falcons don’t do anything particularly well but have found a way to win some games they shouldn’t and lose some games they shouldn’t too.

I expect Pittsburgh to march into Atlanta and let their run game do the talking. A running game by committee seems to be the way to go and I hope to see a lot more of Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland. I like the way they run and I’d lessen the work load for Najee Harris.

If the offensive line can continue to allow the Steelers to run the ball at 4.0 yards per clip. Then Kenny Pickett will find time to hit George Pickens, Diontae Johnson (if he doesn’t drop the ball or run backwards) and Pat Friermuth down the field.

The Steelers defense will need to contain Marcus Mariota in the pocket and keep him from running the ball. I’m looking for TJ Watt to break through with a couple of sacks and force Mariota into some ill timed throws and mistakes.

I believe the team is on a bit of a roll and while they are extremely unpredictable week over week, I suspect they’ll go into Atlanta ready to play and ready to win.

Steelers 24  Falcons 16

11/23/22-Steelers have very few players worth keeping

November 23, 2022 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

 

At 3-7, the Steelers have a lot of problems.  This wasn’t a new discovery after their latest debacle, a 37-30 loss at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals, but it was magnified in this defeat.

Watching this team play both offense and defense is painful for any Steeler fan or even any fan of the game of football.  Their largely inept, on both sides of the ball.

Who’s to blame?

You can start with the now ex general manager, Kevin Colbert. He left this team with far too many holes and quite frankly his last few drafts left something to be desired.  You can absolutely blame Matt Canada, the world’s worst offensive coordinator. You can blame Mike Tomlin for not firing Canada and you can blame Teryl Austin on defense for not making adjustments with one of the more talented units in the league. But mostly, you can blame the bulk of the players, they just aren’t delivering when they need to.

With that said, I wanted to take a look at this 3-7 roster and admit that these last seven games of the season should largely be used as a dress rehearsal for 2023 and beyond.  Therefore, the team should be broken into 3 buckets; Must Keep, Could Keep, Can Move On.

In the Must Keep Category, you have:

TJ Watt – The world’s best linebacker and one of the most important players in the NFL. Watt is a game changer and can’t be taken for granted.

Minkah Fitzpatrick- He’s a ball hawk and a play making safety that makes a big difference.  He’s one that has to stay.

George Pickens – He is only a rookie but you can already tell he’s a big play threat and a budding number one receiver. He can be a difference maker for years to come.

Pat Friermuth – He’s very good tight end who could be Travis Kelce if the right plays were called. He needs to get the ball far more than he has so far.

Chris Boswell – He’s one of the best kickers in the NFL and you don’t let those guys get away.

That’s the list. That’s the must keep.  Only four players.  That is far too little.

The Could Keep, is a list of players that you’d like to keep but if they leave, you won’t lose sleep over it.

Cam Heyward – Largely, he’s a must keep. He’s a playmaker and a leader. The ONLY reason he’s on this second list is due to his age. I don’t think he’ll be relevant when the Steelers are good again so if he were to move on or the Steelers to move on from him, I could live with it.

Alex Highsmith – He makes plays and leads the team with nine sacks but he’s largely effective when TJ Watt is on the field. Without TJ, I see Highsmith as rather ordinary.  He can stay or go and the Steelers will be ok as long as TJ is on the opposite side of this spot.

Cam Sutton – I like him as a cornerback on this team but I’m not convinced he’s a number one corner.  I’m fine with him being the number two, however.

Terrell Edmunds – He’s turning into a pretty good safety but still gives up some big plays.  He is a guy that can be developed more but if he were to leave, he can be replaced.

Diontae Johnson- He drops too many balls and tends to run south after the catch before turning north, which drives me nuts but he’s a good speedy receiver who can be a big play threat if the right play is called.

Najee Harris – He has shown some good things but he hasn’t broken out yet in his second year.  I think he can be a feature back but it better happen soon.

Kenny Pickett – I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be a franchise quarterback and I was very close to leaving him off this list because I didn’t think the Steelers should have drafted him in the first round but he is only a rookie and since he was a first round pick, I’ll place him here.  However, should the Steelers have a top five pick in next year’s draft, they might want to consider drafting a quarterback again and trading Pickett.

And that folks, is your list.  If they didn’t make the first two, they fall to the Move On list.  Everyone else is replaceable.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts

The Steelers will head to Indianapolis for what shapes up to be a Monday Night Football clunker. The Steelers sit 3-7 and the Colts now sit at 4-6-1 after their last minute loss at home to the Philadelphia Eagles.  Neither team looks to be in playoff contention, though you could make the case the Colts could jump back into the conversation with a win against Pittsburgh.

The Steelers don’t have a shot in this one. Had they beaten the Bengals, I may have said otherwise but after seeing the Colts lead the Eagles nearly the entire game and the Steelers have a dismal second half, I’m not convinced the Steelers will put up much of a fight.

If Matt Canada doesn’t allow Kenny Pickett to learn by doing, as in throwing the ball downfield, then I don’t even know what the rest of this season will be about.  I don’t see him doing that. I don’t see the offensive line protecting Pickett or giving Najee Harris room to run and TJ Watt can’t win the game on hi own.

The Steelers will not have an answer for Jonathan Stewart and Matt Ryan will distribute the ball with ease. Steelers lose big.

Colts 31  Steelers 13

 

 

11/9/22-Steelers Lose The Bye Week

November 9, 2022 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

You wouldn’t think it to be possible. A loss over a bye week. Yet, that’s exactly what the Steelers did, they lost.

How? How do you lose a bye week?

Well, let me tell you.  It’s quite simple, as the Steelers proved.  You lose by not firing the worst coach in the league. No, not Mike Tomlin.  Matt Canada.

Matt Canada should have been fired after last season, wasn’t, was allowed to coach an offense through eight games that ranks 28th in the league in total yards.  They rank 31st in scoring, averaging a mere 15.0 points per game, which is half of what the top team in the league, the Chiefs average and maybe my favorite of all stats, they’re wide receivers have less receiving yards combined than Tyreek Hill.

All of this is unacceptable.  And that’s where I do fault Mike Tomlin.  Tomlin is a smart man.  He has won a lot of games in the NFL over his career. He’s found a way to be .500 or better in every season he’s coached. He’s been to two Super Bowls, he’s won one. Yet, he hasn’t won one in 14 years and hasn’t been back in 12 years.

Tomlin is a highly competitive individual, as all coaches are. And for someone as competitive as Tomlin is, who clearly has the passion and fire to win, it’s shocking he didn’t step up and pull the plug.

I realize, as we all should, that it’s not as simple as firing a coach and naming someone else as a replacement.  But, if there is a guy on the staff that you think could be Canada’s successor, this would be the time for a trial run. There’s half a season left. The team is going nowhere, fast.  Give it a trial by fire and see what happens. If it fails, you know your answer and find a full time replacement in the offseason. If it succeeds, you have your guy and he’s begun working with young Kenny Pickett and Co. already.  It’s not that hard of a concept.

If the Colts can fire their head coach and bring in a guy from the TV booth to replace him, then the Steelers can certainly do this.

Tomlin’s loyalty is going to burn him here. No, Coach Tomlin won’t be fired after this season, regardless of what happens, but if he doesn’t turn this ship around, his seat will warm up heading into next season.

Canada must go. Period.

It didn’t happen at the most opportune time of the year so I guess we’ll have to wait until the off season comes and the Steelers are sitting at home with one of the most ineffective offenses they’ve ever seen.

New Orleans Saints at Pittsburgh Steelers

The New Orleans Saints visit town this coming Sunday with a 3-6 record and are underachieving this year.  The Saints, do however average over 23 points a game and nearly 400 yards per game on offense. While the Steelers defense is giving up almost 400 yards per game (395) and allowing 24.6 points per game. The advantage seems to be in favor of the Saints.

There is no longer a home field advantage in Pittsburgh and I don’t expect turn out to be great for this one.

Yet, I don’t know why but I think the Steelers will have a chance to win.  Mainly because Tomlin usually comes out of a bye strong with an 11-4 record. The Saints aren’t good. Andy Dalton is their starter right now at QB and I think his best days are behind him and, perhaps the most impactful player in the game, TJ Watt, should suit up for Pittsburgh. He is a game changer, especially against bad teams.

If the Steelers give the ball to Jaylen Warren instead of Najee Harris, allow Kenny Pickett to get the ball downfield and win special teams, they have a shot at actually winning this ball game.

Let me make it clear, the Saints are the better team in this one but sometimes the best teams don’t win and this time, the Steelers will find a way.

Steelers 17  Saints 16

 

10/27/22-This Is The Season The Steelers Need

October 27, 2022 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season.

How many times have you heard that line?  Countless.  It’s a fact and it’s been a badge of honor around Pittsburgh when describing the last 15 years of Steeler football.  It’s described a lot of success but also several shortcomings.  Part of ‘not losing’ has meant not winning enough to go very far in the playoffs or even make the playoffs.

Part of not losing has meant having a draft pick in the middle or later portion of the rounds which has led to not being able to stockpile as talented players as other teams have. It’s the by product of a league who tries to create parity.  The Steelers have been the model team for years upon years. A team that many try to emulate but nobody can duplicate.

The not losing has finally caught up to them and guess what? That’s ok. It was bound to happen.  This is the season the Steelers need to get things back to the 2004-2010 level that everyone craves.  It may take a few years to do so but if the Steelers draft in the top 10 this coming draft and perhaps the draft after, they can flip things around quickly.

We can debate all day as to what position(s) they should draft if and when the time comes but for now, just theorize the possibility of adding two top 10 players over the next two seasons to a roster that already has their quarterback, running back, tight end and wide receivers of the future. They have some nice pieces on defense and are potentially just a few players away from turning this thing around but sometimes it takes a season or two like this to do so.

I’m not telling you to root against the team so they land a top 10 pick but I am suggesting that you take the losing in stride and recognize it may result is something bigger down the line. This team hasn’t made a deep run in the playoffs in several seasons and it’s currently not ready to compete in the AFC North with teams like the Bengals and Ravens let alone in the AFC against the Bills or Chiefs.

The Steelers once were the team to beat in the AFC along with the Patriots and Colts. Look where those teams are today too.  They’ll all be back, in time, just be patient.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles

The Steelers will hit the road this week to take on the league’s top team, by record at least, when they face the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles.  The Eagles are a bit surprising to me with their record but are certainly a better team than Pittsburgh.

Jalen Hurts has made tremendous strides this season and it will be imperative that the Steelers defense find a way to pressure him. Alex Highsmith must provide a spark to a defense that needs sacks. Highsmith is the key to this game defensively. The Steelers held the Dolphins and Tyreek Hill in check last Sunday night and they can build on that performance but they will absolutely need to win this ball game on the backs of their defense.  If the defense can get after the ball, create turnovers and ideally a short field for the offense, they’ll give themselves a chance.

Unfortunately, without a short field, the offense doesn’t have a chance. Matt Canada won’t allow balls to go downfield and he’s wasting a season of George Pickens in not doing so.  Kenny Pickett needs to be given the ability to throw the football beyond 10 yards, that’s why they drafted him where they did.  Sadly, that won’t happen this week. The offense will continue to run jet sweeps, passes underneath and certainly hadn’t he ball off on first and second down.  I don’t see how they score more than 13 points and even that will be lucky.

Eagles 23  Steelers 13

10/12/22-Hot Takes About A Bad Team

October 12, 2022 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The Steelers are off to a horrific start and it’s only going to get worse.  ESPN currently projects the Steelers to finish with the top overall pick in the NFL draft.  They haven’t done that since they drafted Terry Bradshaw back in 1970.

It may not be what the Steelers or their fans wanted but it would be a great way to officially rebuild.

However, here are all the reasons why this team is bad and may indeed finish with the first overall pick, and a few other thoughts as well.

  1. My first thought is the Steelers should not have drafted Kenny Pickett. He may turn out to be a good quarterback, I’m not convinced he’ll be a franchise qb.  They needed help on the offensive line, defensive line, middle linebacker and secondary far more than they needed Pickett.  They should have either rolled with Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph or maybe even kept Ben Roethlisberger around for another season and grabbed their guy next year.  This team is going nowhere fast and you can get a qb after the rest of the team is up to speed. (See the 2004 Steelers as a reference)

 

  1. Najee Harris shouldn’t have been drafted in the first round. I’ve never been a fan of first round running backs and Harris is no exception. In fact, I don’t think he’s all that good. His vision is poor, he lacks speed and despite being a big back, he doesn’t show the aggressive style he should. He’s a great guy, but that doesn’t win football games.  He’s 35th in the league in total yards rushing (oh by the way there are only 32 teams, so at least a few teams have multiple backs in front of him) and he’s 45th in yards per carry at 3.2.  In my opinion, anything short of 4.0 yards per carry isn’t getting it done.  I think the team needs to move more carries to Jaylen Warren.  Pittsburgh thought they were getting the next Le’Veon Bell and, well, they didn’t, with Harris.

 

  1. Chase Claypool is just not that good. He was drafted to win the 50-50 ball and he rarely does. He finds a way to land on his back, without the ball, often, but that’s it. He had a huge rookie season and has done nothing since.  I don’t think he’ll be back when his contract expires, nor should he be.

 

  1. Diontae Johnson is not a number one receiver. He drops too many passes and makes too many mistakes.  He’s talented, no question about it.  He’s a good number two, but he’s not a top guy.  George Pickens is though.  Kenny Pickett needs to, and will, find him more than any other wideout on this team. Pickens has star written all over him.

 

  1. Matt Canada should be fired, asap. I know Mike Tomlin is a loyal guy but loyalty can be a fault, and in this case, it is.  Canada is in over his head. Since last November’s game against the Lions, a 16-16 tie, Canada’s offense has averaged 18 points per game. Oh by the way, four different quarterbacks have started in that time.  18 points per game isn’t going to get it done in the NFL. What more needs to be seen?  Fire him.  In season changes are tough but something has to give here.

 

  1. The defense, the one that everyone loves, stinks. Without TJ Watt, nobody can apply pressure to the quarterback.  Alex Highsmith is mediocre at best and without Watt, he’s marginal.  The Steel Curtain isn’t walking through that door. A revamp of the team needs to happen, and it won’t happen overnight.  This team is looking at multiple years.  Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick are cornerstones, Cam Heyward is a beast but aging, you can take everyone else.

 

  1. The Steelers aren’t going to win a Super Bowl for several years, maybe even a decade or more. I think they are so far behind the rest of the league that it’s going to take several draft classes and coaches to get this thing right.  I’m not convinced that Tomlin will even be here the next time this team wins the whole thing.

 

What will happen this weekend:

In short, a loss.  The Steelers face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend and Tom Brady has traditionally shredded the Pittsburgh defense.  There is no reason to think he won’t again.  I expect Brady to exceed 300 yards, lead the Bucs to over 25 points and have a easy time of it.  The Steelers defense has holes everywhere and won’t sack Brady even once, they won’t get a turnover and they won’t be able to get many, if any, three and outs.

Conversely, the Steelers offense won’t get the ball downfield often, they certainly won’t run the ball effectively and Kenny Pickett will be blitzed all day long, having trouble getting the ball to his wideouts.  It will be a good learning experience for the rookie but he won’t get his first win this weekend.

Buccaneers 27  Steelers 9

9/27/22-At 1-2, Steelers have Serious Problems

September 27, 2022 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

At 1-2, the Steelers face a must win game against the New York Jets this coming Sunday afternoon.  It seems miraculous, at this point, that the team even has the one win.

Pittsburgh is riddled with problems and if they don’t find a way to beat the Jets on Sunday to move to 2-2, they will be staring down the barrel of a possible 1-7 start. The next four matchups after this week are against the Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins and Eagles.  Who amongst us believes this current Steelers team has a shot in any of those games?

Obviously, the team misses TJ Watt, tremendously, yet in the two game since his injury, the defense has pretty much held their own.  Watt is a game changer and certainly missed but this defense is strong enough to keep the team competitive in his absence.

I do think there are some players that need to step up a bit more and while I am giving the defense some kudos, they are not a unit that is in the top five of the league, like many like to think or perhaps pretend to think.

Tyson Alualu hasn’t made much of an impact upon his return this year.  He needs to do better in the run game and find a way to pressure the quarterbacks more.  He can contribute significantly more than he has to this point in the season. The Steelers have decided to demote him and rightfully so, until he can step back up.

Malik Reed, Watt’s replacement, isn’t getting it done. It’s by no means fair to compare him to Watt, but he’s not getting to the quarterback or making any plays to help this team win ball games, thus far.

Devin Bush, it’s time to cut bait.  He can play out the year but the former 10th overall pick has to go. He absolutely has the talent, but he’s not a good fit for this team at this point. He gets burned far too often, doesn’t seem to be in the right position and makes the wrong reads more often than not.

In the secondary, I’ve not been impressed with Terell Edmunds and now understand why he was a free agent for so long this past off season.  He is not good in coverage and while he makes some good plays, he makes his fair share of bad ones as well.

As far as the corners, the team should be calling Joe Haden right now and asking him to come out of retirement. They royally messed up in not bringing that man back. He was a leader and would still have been the top corner on a team that could desperately use one.

The defense, however, is far from the issue on this team, despite the aforementioned problem areas.  The offense has been and most likely will continue to be atrocious as long as Matt Canada continues to be offensive coordinator.

Canada is a fearful coordinator who doesn’t take chances and doesn’t get the ball in his play makers hands.  A lot of talking heads speculated that the Steelers offense played this way last year due to Ben Roethlisbergers lack of mobility.  Clearly, that wasn’t the case. It’s the same offense with a far more mobile Mitch Trubisky behind center. Canada does not utilize Trubisky’s legs, doesn’t call plays downfield and isn’t allowing the ball to be thrown to a very talented wide receiving corps featuring Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and George Pickens.  Pickens was a monster all summer long and should be a candidate for rookie of the year but instead, through three games, he as a mere five catches for 65 yards.  That’s on Canada and nobody else.

Canada won’t even allow his veteran quarterback to call and audible.  This is the NFL right?  Shouldn’t a vet quarterback who has experienced some success in this league be able to change the plays at the line of scrimmage?

Canada’s offense ranks 31st in total yards, 28th in passing yards per game, 23rd in rushing yards per game and are averaging a pitiful 18.0 points per game. None of that is nearly good enough.

In short, Canada should be fired.  Until he is, I don’t see this offense doing much.

The last time the Steelers played at home, the fans were chanting for Kenny Pickett instead of Mitch but I have news for you, that’s not the answer. Pickett won’t be the savior. He is the future and he probably will play this season, but this is not the time. Trubisky deserves at least the first eight games and quite frankly it would be a disservice to Pickett to throw him in against the Bills, Bucs, Eagles etc.  Let the kid learn for a bit, once the Steelers are way out of contention, then you can bring in the rookie to get the experience. Once you go to Pickett, there’s no going back.

But the play around whoever does play quarterback needs to improve. The line has done better than I thought but they need to hold blocks longer and keep a pocket.

Najee Harris can take the gaps that are created, when they’re created vs. running behind a wall that gets him an average of 3.2 yards per carry (132 yards on 40 carries through three games) and right now, I’d consider giving Jaylen Warren the ball more often.  Warren is faster and carries the ball for a 4.7 yards per carry average.

If the Steelers only fix one item, then it must be getting the ball to Pat Friermuth. Please, somebody scream it from the hill tops, get the ball to Friermuth.  His talent is being wasted away each week.

What will happen this week:

If the Steelers don’t fix at least some of the above problems, they won’t win the game against a very lowly and less talented New York Jets team.

It appears as though the Jets will be getting back to Zach Wilson at quarterback instead of Joe Flacco and quite frankly I think that’s good news for the Steelers. Wilson hasn’t played yet this year and is coming off an injury, so he should be rusty.  If the defense can blitz him, led by Alex Highsmith, I think they’ll force him to make mistakes.  My expectation is the Steelers will obtain at least 4 sacks and two turnovers on Sunday.

They’ll need the defense to perform at that level because the offense still won’t do much.  I figure the team will stick with the short dink and dunk approach, fail to throw the ball downfield and will muster up a touch over their 18 point average to score 20 points this coming Sunday.

This one week, that’ll be enough to win the game as the Jets may be one of the only teams who are worse than Pittsburgh is right now.

Steelers 20

Jets 16

 

 

8/8/22-Early Quarterback Questions, Answered

August 8, 2022 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

The quarterback race is on in Latrobe as the Steelers barrel towards their preseason opener this coming Saturday vs. the Seattle Seahawks.  The question is, is it really a three-man race and if so, does first round selection, Kenny Pickett, even have a chance at the starting gig?

The short answer is, no, it’s not and, no, he doesn’t.  Which begs the follow up question; why?

Well, first I’ll answer the question that wasn’t asked by saying that yes, this is the right move.  Pickett shouldn’t be the starter in the first week or even early in the season. Everybody wants to go back to 2004 and point to Ben Roethlisberger being a starter and leading the team to an AFC Championship game. 

Well, that leads to the why doesn’t Pickett have a chance question?  It’s simple, really. He’s a young quarterback on a veteran team and you

Kenny Pickett signs autographs for fans before a practice on 8/8/22 at Latrobe’s Memorial Stadium

have two young veterans who are competing for the starting gig, Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky.  Neither is the long-term answer for this team, but both could be the short term answer for a team who may boast the best defense in the league this coming season.  There isn’t room, right now, for a kid fresh out of college to go in and make the typical rookie mistakes that all first-year quarterbacks make. 

Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada owe it to the team, and you the fans quite honestly, to provide the best chance to win football games, right now, it’s not with Pickett.  Should the team go out and lose early and often or fall out of playoff contention later in the season, then yes, Pickett should start at that point and be ready to be the top guy in 2023.  However, until that point, he should be the third string guy (as he’s currently listed on the depth chart (as was Big Ben in his first training camp incidentally)) or perhaps, if he shines enough, the number two, in front of either Rudolph or Trubisky.  

So, with Pickett essentially being eliminated from the top gig, who should it be?  Obviously, there are three preseason games to figure that answer out and I believe the team will need every bit of those three games to decide. In fact, so much so, to digress back to the Pickett conversation for a moment, I’m not sure how much action he’ll even see during the preseason because these other two guys need reps. 

So let’s start with Mason Rudolph.  He’s been in the system for four years, he knows Canada’s offense, he’s worked with guys like Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool and he’s had mild success as the Steelers starter.  He has a decent arm, he’s intelligent and he’s easily the most comfortable guy in the system at this point of the summer. 

The counter points to Rudolph are the fact that he has been here since 2018 and has only had that mild success, arguably, no success.

Pickett and Mason Rudolph walking back to the field after grabbing a drink of water.

Nobody expected him to be the full time starter with Big Ben being the guy but when Ben went down in 2019, Rudolph couldn’t hold the starting gig and was beaten out by undrafted rookie Duck Hodges.  That’s got to mean something.  On top of that, the fact the Steelers went out and signed Mitch Trubisky to potentially be the starter this year and drafted a quarterback in the first round tells you exactly how the coaches feel about Rudolph. I think he has an uphill battle to grab the top spot on the depth chart.

Now, let’s move on to the newly signed Mitch Trubisky.  Trubisky received nothing but praise coming out of Buffalo in his lone year as a backup to Josh Allen.  Allen, one of the top quarterbacks in the league praised Trubisky and vice versa.  To learn under Allen is a valuable tool and one I think Trubisky will benefit from. Trubisky has 50 career starts, with a 29-21 record and led the Bears to the postseason two out of three years.  He was also the 2nd overall pick in 2017 so he has the pedigree.  I believe Trubisky is more poised under pressure, has the knowledge and confidence to win and since he’s the shiny new toy brought in via free agency, he has the leg up on the rest of the quarterbacks. 

Nothing is guaranteed for anyone, but long term we know the plan is to go with Pickett, rightfully so.  However, for now, the starter needs to be between Trubisky and Rudolph and while all logical sense would say it should be Mason Rudolph as the opening day starter, given his tenure and knowledge of the offense, reality points to it being Trubisky.

Mitch Trubisky signs autographs before practice on 8/8/22. Mitch is the likely opening day starter.

Trubisky is going to start the preseason opener. That much we know.  From there, he and Rudolph will grab the bulk of the playing time and Pickett will play cleanup when the backups backups are in. This will allow Pickett to learn and it will also allow Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada to see who prepares better, plays better and leads better between Trubisky and Rudolph. 

I believe the competition needs to be even and fair and Trubisky and Rudolph both deserve to start at least one game this preseason and play it form there. That said, I do believe the Steelers are leaning towards Trubisky already and the ‘open quarterback competition’ that was declared before camp may be a farce.  Time will tell, soon enough but all odds point to Mitch Trubisky being the Steelers 2022 opening day starter.

The real question is how long does he hang onto the job and when does Kenny Pickett take over?

 

12/19/21-The Black and Gold Are Still Alive

December 19, 2021 by  
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By: Mike Pelaia

Steelers 19. Titans 13.  That was the much-needed final score after a hard-fought contest between the men in black and gold and the AFC South leading Tennessee Titans. Tennessee could have moved into the number one seed in the AFC with a win but the Steelers defense held them in check and came up with the big plays when needed.

Without this win, the Steelers season would have been cooked.  They needed the win and they played like it, specifically on the defensive side of the ball where big plays were made and big stops happened in crucial moments.

As great as TJ Watt was, on a day when he had 1.5 sacks and set a new single season franchise sack record, it was the return of Joe Haden that made the biggest impact. Haden, who had missed the last 4 games, came up with a big fumble recovery and the game winning stop on 4th down, preventing the Titans from getting a first and goal, by mere inches. 

Haden’s return can’t be understated.  This defense looked alive and matched the energy of the crowd in a playoff atmosphere. In a lot of ways, it was a playoff game for Pittsburgh who would have fallen below .500 and with only 3 games to go, facing a difficult climb out of the cellar of a crowded AFC North. 

Instead, they now find themselves in the playoff mix and a possible division crown.  They’ll need to win their last two games vs. Cleveland and at Baltimore to make that a reality but before that, they must fly to Kansas City to face the mighty Chiefs who are now on a roll and are the AFC’s top seed. 

For the Steelers to win a second game in a row against a playoff bound team, they’ll have to step up the offensive output, more than they did against the Titans on this cold and dreary Pittsburgh afternoon.

Santa Claus is going to need to bring the Steelers a running attack. Moreso, he’s going to need to bring them an offensive line who can create holes for Najee Harris to run through.  Harris posted a measly 18 yards on 12 carries against the Titans and that low output sits squarely on the offensive line.  They get bullied off their blocks and don’t give Harris a moment to find a hole to attack.

Yet, the putrid offense is not just on the offensive line, Matt Canada, the Steelers Offensive Coordinator must stop being so predictable. He needs to allow his Hall of Fame quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger to play the style of football that he’s comfortable with and the offense will score far more than the 19 points they put up against Tennessee, if Canada can check his ego at the door.

Against Kansas City, they’re going to have to score over 25 points to really have a chance.  They can do it if Canada doesn’t get in the way.  The weapons are there. Diontae Johnson, Harris, Roethlisberger, hopefully Pat Friermuth comes back healthy, James Washington and Chase Claypool are all guys capable of making a splash play, if Canada either calls a play that allows for it or he allows Roethlisberger to draw it up himself.

Despite this big win against the Titans, it’s hard to believe Canada will change his ways. For the sake of the team, let’s all hope he does.  

 If Mike Tomlin and his offensive staff start to apply some of the learnings from the first 14 games, the Titans game included, they can take a little of the pressure off of Chris Boswell by putting up multiple touchdowns.

If they put up multiple touchdowns, the defense will play a little more relaxed and the blitz game becomes a significantly safer to execute and far more impactful. 

The team has 99 problems, or more, but their biggest flaws that must be fixed by the time they land in Kansas City are game planning, stopping the run, making adjustments, running a putrid offense that’s predictable and stale and getting off the field on third downs.

How they’ll flip the script in Kansas City is yet to be seen but I don’t think they are good enough to do it.

They can win against Cleveland and Baltimore but I see a 33-20 loss coming the day after Christmas.

That all said, this team is alive, and with a little help from some friends, and winning their final two, they can make it into the dance in January.

And that’s all that matters at this point in the year.

 

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