Looking ahead to Steelers’ 2022 regular season

After an off-season rife with transition and speculation, the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to do what many are saying they can’t – field a competitive football team.

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After an off-season rife with transition and speculation, the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to do what many are saying they can’t – field a competitive football team. There are still plenty of question marks looming large as the regular season approaches, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to say this season won’t, at the very least, be wildly entertaining.

The topic that has been most discussed by analysts and media on both the local and national levels is undoubtedly who will get the nod as the man under center come week one. All signs pointed to Mitch Trubisky before the team opened their preseason against Seattle on August 13th, when Kenny Pickett’s presence was met with cheers and chants and he went 13/15 for 95 yards and 2 touchdowns. The relatively clear waters became a little murky with Pickett’s stellar preseason performance, and now it’s anyone’s guess who Coach Tomlin will call on to begin the season – and it’s why the head coach has been so cryptic about making the decision. His avoidance of the topic won’t keep people from asking, but the answer isn’t going to be revealed until they’re certain and ready.

Per Good Morning Football, the quarterbacks share almost identical stats. Sure, it’s preseason. And sure, Pickett played primarily against 2nd and 3rd string guys. But his poise, composure, and confidence made the case for him as starter out of the gate that much stronger. Honestly, though, we won’t know until we know. And the debate is getting a little tiresome. People will continue to argue over which man is more worthy of the starting position, but why is the general conversation centered around disagreement when neither guy would be a bad choice? Trubisky has years of experience in the league to rely on, Pickett has the “it” factor. Either of these guys will be an upgrade over Ben Roethlisberger in his final season.

Especially when the play of the offensive line can be summed up in one word – abysmal. Between the penalties and the missed assignments, the thing that will matter most for whoever is dropping back in the pocket is that they’re mobile. Both Trubisky and Pickett have proven that they can scramble and get away from pressure, avoiding sacks and throwing on the run. Regardless of who is behind the line, they’ll have to find a way to utilize their speed and smarts to survive. They’ve both shown they’re more than capable of that.

And they’ll have plenty of weapons at their disposal. With the announcement of their initial 53-man roster, the Steelers retained 7 wide-receivers – George Pickens and Calvin Austin III being the most notable new arrivals. Pickens made a splash in camp and the preseason and should prove to be a valuable asset, not just in the passing game:

But with his ability to block for the run game, too:

On paper and in practice (through 3 preseason games), this offense is an improved one from last year. All they need to do is control more of the clock – and maybe score a touchdown or two more. With the addition of Jaylen Warren to the backfield to support Najee Harris and Benny Snell, people can reasonably hope to see more production and points out of this squad.

The defense is set to come back as one of the best in the league. The biggest problem for that unit last season wasn’t lack of ability, it was being on the field way too much. They spent the majority of the second half of every game being worn down and winded because the offense couldn’t maintain possession. Whether or not the offense can do what needs to be done, the potential is there. Tyson Alualu is back from injury, and a late trade for Malik Reed as a much-needed depth piece behind TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith. One major concern heading into week one is how they’ll respond if Devin Bush looks the way he’s looked since returning from an ACL injury sustained in 2020. They need him to play to his potential…or they need to sit him. This may be the season we finally see some difficult and necessary decisions made surrounding the fourth year linebacker.

More than likely, this team isn’t Super Bowl bound. They may not make the playoffs either, given how competitive the AFC is. But what I anticipate is another winning season for Coach Tomlin, and one full of twists and turns, thrilling storylines, and close games. After all, would it even be football season in Pittsburgh without a handful of games that cause people to lose their minds?

The Steelers open their 2022 campaign in Cincinnati against the Bengals on September 11th at 1:00.

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Why Steelers fans shouldn’t be too excited about Louis Riddick news

ESPN analyst Louis Riddick is interviewing for the Steelers GM position, a role Kevin Colbert will vacate after the 2022 NFL draft. 

ESPN analyst Louis Riddick is interviewing for the Steelers general manager position, a role Kevin Colbert will vacate after the 2022 NFL draft.

Riddick, also a former player, has held several executive roles in the league, including director of pro personnel for Washington Redskins (2005-2007) and the Eagles (2010-2013).

As exciting as it is that the Steelers are considering outside candidates for the prestigious front office post, it’s because they have to. Yes, they’ve interviewed three candidates so far: Ryan Cowden (Titans), Ed Dodds (Colts) and JoJo Wooden (Chargers), but only Wooden is a “diverse candidate.”

As the (controversial) Rooney Rule states: 1) Clubs must interview at least two diverse candidates from the Career Development Advisory Panel list, or a diverse candidate not currently employed by the club; 2) Clubs must conduct an in-person interview with at least one external minority candidate for any GM or head coaching interview; 3) Clubs must continue to consider multiple diverse candidates.

While Omar Khan (vice president of football and business administration) and Brandon Hunt (pro scouting coordinator) are both minorities, they’re already employed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

By interviewing Riddick, it would seem they’re checking off the second diverse external candidate box.

Don’t get me wrong; the Steelers could surprise us.

But they rarely do.

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Why the Steelers should pass on a QB and trot out Mason Rudolph in the 2022 season

In just a few short months, Mason Rudolph will get into the nitty-gritty of his first offseason as QB1 for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ben Roethlisberger was the reason the Steelers won as many games as they did in 2021. Take him out of the equation, insert Mason Rudolph, and they’re easily a sub-.500 team.

Rudolph will get into the nitty-gritty of his first offseason as QB1 for the Pittsburgh Steelers in just a few short months. He’ll get first-team reps, he’ll be “the man,” he’ll be the focus of the Steelers offense, he’ll be the first guy not named Ben Roethlisberger at the helm of the team in nearly two decades.

But even a full offseason as QB1 won’t magically make Rudolph good enough to be the face of Pittsburgh’s franchise. He just isn’t that type of quarterback. Rudolph doesn’t have that “it” factor. If he had, we would’ve seen a glimpse of what could be in his 10 career starts.

Given what Rudolph has shown in those starts, he won’t find success in 2022. He’ll fold under the pressure alone. But trot him onto the field and see what happens. If he flounders, so be it. Send Dwayne Haskins out there.

Times have changed — quickly. The Steelers won’t be ready to compete with the likes of the Bengals (or even the Ravens) in 2022. With all of the pieces the Steelers need, it will take patience.

There’s no harm in having a subpar season other than a bruised ego. A season with eight or fewer wins will get you in the top 15 of the NFL draft. Less than that, even better. It’s not what Pittsburgh wants; it’s not what it aims for. But if it’s what you get, it only means a higher draft pick and (hopefully) greener pastures in 2023.

These nine-win seasons only get you in the 20s — that’s not where the future is and certainly not a shot at a franchise quarterback.

Throw caution to the wind.

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Steelers are lost between winning now and preparing for a rebuild, and it’s very ugly

This Steelers team has a lot of soul-searching to do. What do they want to be in 2021? And what about 2022?

Amidst another off-season filled with promises and excitement, the Pittsburgh Steelers have nothing but a 7-7-1 record to show for it. They wanted to win now with Ben Roethlisberger before he called it a career, but didn’t (or couldn’t – or wouldn’t) do what it would have actually taken to win now.

The result is a mediocre record and a middling team, one that doesn’t really appear built to win now — and one that appears to have both eyes looking at the future for when Roethlisberger retires.

I mean, does this look like a team that can seriously contend in the playoffs?

Didn’t think so.

So winning now? That seems to be off the table.

But they brought back their 39-year-old quarterback, pushing a rebuild out at least another year. And with coach Mike Tomlin speaking vehemently against going after a rookie quarterback, the team would appear to be on a trajectory to transition to Mason Rudolph or a veteran addition in the offseason.

Their cap situation is primed to be more favorable next season. But bringing in another veteran quarterback carries with it implications of wanting to win now. And, if I haven’t made that clear by now, this current roster is not built to win now. What’s the logical next step then?

A rebuild in 2022.

Albeit, it will be a revamp of moderate proportions. But a rebuild nonetheless. The fact that they didn’t go all-in on the 2021 season — when they were supposedly going to make a big Super Bowl push in honor of Ben Roethlisberger’s final season — shows they’re preparing for that rebuild.

Tomlin is a good coach. The Steelers have some incredible players. They certainly have one of the better reputations in the league. But what is their goal? What do they want to achieve? Is it yet another season of managing to win more games than they lose? Or is their ultimate destination standing on a platform hoisting the Lombardi trophy?

It felt like they didn’t really know their answer to these questions before they entered this season. They were straddling two different philosophies: win now and rebuild. As a result, they don’t seem to have done either successfully. They put together a half-baked, half-effort attempt at a Super Bowl run — while keeping from jeopardizing their future.

Millions of dollars of cap space sat untouched, and the young offensive line undisturbed, even after it proved untrustworthy. The play-calling remains stale and uninspired week after week, and the head coach has nothing to say on the matter other than vague comments in support. Primed for another early-round playoff exit (or missing altogether), this team is a tremendously confusing disappointment. If the Steelers’ brass want to see improvement in the years to come, they need to own (and know) what they are. And what needs to be done.

They can’t keep avoiding one and neglecting what’s required for the other. When the offseason rolls around, they must decide: Rebuild. Or win now.

They need to pinpoint their issues and start addressing them in a cohesive way. Otherwise things may stay ugly for a while.

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Steelers offense is finding its identity in the most surprising place

Despite an aging quarterback, a rookie running back, and a questionable line, the Pittsburgh Steelers have finally begun to find their offensive identity.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have finally begun to find their offensive identity. For all the offseason talk of a supposedly weak offensive line, an aging quarterback and rookies at skill positions, things are starting to click in ways not even Steelers’ superfans could have imagined.

And it’s all starting with that so-called weak line.

With the exception of a handful of mistakes by young guys still finding their way, this offensive line has been the source of the Steelers’ offensive success. They struggled early and struggled often, but as we approach the halfway point of the season they’re finding their form and playing to their potential. Their mistakes are becoming fewer, their successes are more regular. In turn, the Steelers have returned to their run-first approach, opening up things in the air for their 39-year-old quarterback.

There’s still plenty of room for improvement, but it’s worth celebrating when they do things they wouldn’t have even come close to sniffing through the first few games. Like this progression:

They moved as a unit. They didn’t back down. They created holes for Najee to exploit. He did just that.

All day.

Harris had 26 carries for 91 yards and a rushing touchdown. That would not have happened if the line hadn’t set up Harris, even if the rookie has been a behemoth of a back in his rookie year.

And that’s all before taking into account the contributions from Diontae Johnson:

Even more notably, tight end Pat Freiermuth was a beast:

There will continue to be growing pains for this offense. But they are certainly trending in the right direction at the right time. And if they can keep heating up despite the winter weather, they may still have some playoff-push left in them.

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32 potential trade targets, one from every NFL team

Highlighting one player that could be traded from each NFL team before Week 1.

Trades within the NFL are commonplace during the month of August. Teams must consistently trim rosters, and occasionally a trade makes more sense than a cut.

Trade talk around the league will heat up over the next week as all 32 teams decide how to get rosters down to 53 players. Teams with excess at one position can help out another with a need. For instance, just this week, the New England Patriots sent running back Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams for draft pick compensation.

Here is one player from each NFL team that could be traded soon:

Why Pittsburgh Steelers HC Mike Tomlin doesn’t care about Najee Harris

What’s best for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Mike Tomlin right now may not be best for Najee Harris’ career longevity.

The number one job of any head coach is to do what’s best for his team. This coach, in particular, happens to be Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, and what may be best for his team could very well come via the ground game.

The Steelers drafted Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft to revive a last-ranked run game. Now entering his 18th season, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is in the twilight of his career and needs a run game to be successful season-long.

Why doesn’t Tomlin care about Harris? Tomlin, who signed a three-year contract extension in April, keeps him in Pittsburgh through the 2024 season. In all likelihood, Tomlin won’t be around to see the end of Harris’ career or need him to be productive.

Tomlin ran Le’Veon Bell until his wheels fell off. Bell hasn’t been productive since he left Pittsburgh in a greedy tizzy. You can’t blame Tomlin — the organization and its fans tend to not care about a player once he’s no longer in the Black and Gold, anyway.

If history repeats itself with Tomlin and his star running back, Najee Harris will get the ball early and often. And it won’t be long until we’re saying Harris isn’t the same back he was early in his career.

And that career — especially for NFL running backs — isn’t long. According to Statista, the life of a running back is 2.57 years. For example, Bell had three seasons over 1,000 yards in the five years with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Mike Tomlin will want to squeeze as much juice out of the Najee Harris lemon that he can. And when Tomlin retires, Harris will seemingly be a shadow of what he once was.

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3 reasons why Mason Rudolph will never be franchise QB for Steelers, elsewhere

Steelers’ Mason Rudolph is a high-end backup/low-level starter, but not the answer that the Steelers will need long-term.

This season is presumed to be the last of Ben Roethlisberger’s career — a daunting prospect considering Roethlisberger has been the lifeblood of the Steelers for the past 17 seasons, and there appears to be no plan for a long-term successor.

Internally, president Art Rooney II, general manager Kevin Colbert, and head coach Mike Tomlin cannot seriously look at Mason Rudolph as the heir to the quarterback throne.

Rudolph was served that opportunity on a silver platter in 2019 — he had chances to prove he was worthy of being the legit next in line. But inconsistency — among other things — reared its ugly head.

Can Rudolph improve? Sure. With proper development and mindset, he could be a decent quarterback; he just doesn’t have the talent that Terry Bradshaw or Big Ben has.

In all fairness, Rudolph’s sample size is nine starts in 15 games; hardly enough to predict the future of a career. But in those games, he’s been far from convincing that he can carry the Steelers franchise for the next 10-plus seasons.

For 2022, however, it appears the job is Rudolph’s to lose. Not only is he the only quarterback under contract for the 2022 season (Roethlisberger’s future years are voidable), but anyone else brought in next offseason will lack the team experience to start immediately.

In June, Rudolph was quoted as saying that it’s his goal “to be a starting quarterback in this league, and for my team.”

It’s good to have goals, and while Rudolph may wind up starting for the Steelers in 2022, the future isn’t long-term.

Based on what Rudolph has shown thus far in his 15-game career, here’s why he’ll never be a franchise quarterback for the Steelers or anywhere else.

6 reasons why Steelers should go free-agent route for DBs

Pittsburgh has struck out many times when drafting the defensive back position.

It took the Steelers several draft busts before a secondary worth fielding came together, and now it’s coming apart.

The Steelers secondary was a nightmare draft after draft for years — they just didn’t have an eye for spotting young talent, particularly at corner.

You may remember names like Curtis Brown, Shamarko Thomas, Shaquille Richardson, Doran Grant, Senquez Golson, Artie Burns — 158 games between these six defensive backs (jury is still out on former first-rounder Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen, but he converted to linebacker last offseason). These six guys are reason enough to go the free-agent route when looking for an impact defensive back.

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Golson is the standout in the group, and not for a good reason. Selected in the second round of the 2015 NFL draft, Golson never played a down for Pittsburgh — or any team for that matter. Whatever the Steelers saw in him collegiately didn’t translate to the pros, even when healthy. Golson’s first two seasons were spent on injured reserve, and he was cut the week before the 2017 season began.

Pittsburgh scored a gem with street free agent Mike Hilton, temporarily had something with free agent Steven Nelson, and won in a trade with the Dolphins for Minkah Fitzpatrick.

The Steelers are now hoping that 2017 third-round pick Cam Sutton can carry the cornerback position along with (the soon-to-be) 32-year-old Joe Haden.

Colbert and company have had more luck signing street free agents or packaging a trade for defensive backs.

Please do not waste a precious draft pick on a guy you’re only going to cut.

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What the Carson Wentz trade to Colts tells us about the Steelers organization

If Ben Roethlisberger decides to retire or he and the Steelers can’t agree on salary, Pittsburgh will be in a pickle. 

A month after Philip Rivers announced his retirement, the Indianapolis Colts already have his heir apparent. Former Philadelphia Eagles franchise quarterback Carson Wentz was traded to the Colts on Thursday afternoon. The move made me pause and wonder, Why aren’t the Steelers better prepared for if Ben Roethlisberger decides to retire?

Though Rivers’ retirement was unexpected by many, he gave the Colts time to get their ducks in a row. Surprisingly, Andrew Luck retired two weeks before the 2019 season, so Indianapolis had no other choice than to roll with Jacoby Brisset, who had starter experience.

In both situations, Indianapolis had an answer.

If Big Ben decides not to return or he and the Steelers can’t agree on salary, Pittsburgh will be in a pickle.

What the Wentz trade should tell us about the Steelers organization is that they’re comfortable with the potential for mediocrity at the quarterback position. Should Ben hang up his cleats, as Rivers did, Pittsburgh will find itself woefully unprepared. Art Rooney, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin don’t have a solid game plan for a future without Big Ben. They can’t afford a free agent starter, nor do they have the draft capital to trade for one. And at No. 24, it’s a gamble as to what kind of quarterback they’d get, and, historically, the Steelers are too set in their ways to trade the farm to move up in the draft.

They’d rather roll with Rudolph.

Mason Rudolph hasn’t shown that he’s able to carry a team. Still needing development heading into the fourth year of his career should tell you all you need to know — he’s not the answer to a Roethlisberger-less team. At best, Rudolph is a bandaid that could keep the Steelers from completely imploding. At worst, he’ll be a free agent next March.

Steelers Nation has been spoiled by the caliber of quarterback that Roethlisberger instantly became. And now we’re all left to wonder where our team will be if Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t come back, and even where the franchise will be in the future if he does play for just one more season.

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