The oddsmakers at DraftKings have 12 teams ahead of the 50-1 Pittsburgh Steelers in terms of their odds of representing the AFC in Super Bowl LVII, with only the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and Houston Texans in Pittsburgh’s rear view mirror. But are the Steelers really the 13th-best team in the AFC — on course for a 5- or 6-win season?
“They’re not gonna go 6-11. They never do, they never will. Here’s what’s gonna happen. Late October, we’re gonna be saying, ‘Wow, look at the Steelers, they’re 6-3….’ As long as the coach is there and the defense is there,” the Steelers will win, he concluded.
It’s not blind optimism, either. One can make the argument that each and every position group is as good as — or better — than what the Steelers trotted out in 2021.
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The Run Defense Has Been Addressed
In 2021 the Steelers finished with the worst run defense in the NFL, having played the entire season without Stephon Tuitt and nearly the entire season without starting nose tackle Tyson Alualu. Tuitt has retired and the Steelers will again miss his talent, but Alualu returns from the broken ankle he suffered in Week 2 last season, as does defensive captain Cam Heyward.
Critically, the Steelers added Larry Ogunjobi in free agency, who is coming off a season that saw him record 49 tackles and a career high 7 sacks. Montravius Adams — a former third-round pick who was poached off the Saints’ practice squad in November of last year — looks like a keeper, having signed a two-year extension in the offseason.
Then there’s 2021 fifth-round pick Isaiahh Loudermilk and rookie third-round pick DeMarvin Leal, one or both of whom seems likely to take snaps from defensive end Chris Wormley, largely because Wormley’s “run defense (leaves) a little to be desired,” notes The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly.
Either of the twins, Carlos Davis and Khalil Davis, could still emerge as a significant contributor, with Henry Mondeaux, Daniel Archibong and Donovan Jeter rounding out the rest of the options.
The Pass Rush Figures to Remain Among the League’s Best
Meanwhile, the Steelers ought to remain among the NFL’s best teams in terms of rushing the quarterback, having produced a league-high 55 sacks last season, four better than the second-ranked Minnesota Vikings. Leading the way once again will be reigning DPOY T.J. Watt (22.5 sacks) and fellow first-team All-Pro Cam Heyward (10).
But the Steelers also return five other players who produced multiple sacks in 2021, namely Chris Wormley (7), Alex Highsmith (6), Devin Bush Jr. (2), Derrek Tuszka (2) and Henry Mondeaux (2), though one of more of this group figures to be pushed for playing time by new and improved options.
Pittsburgh’s QB(s) Will Have an Enviable Assortment of Weapons
Finally, there has been considerable attention devoted to whether Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett (or perhaps even Mason Rudolph) will open the season as the team’s starting quarterback. Whoever it is will have a quality assortment of young players to throw the ball to, headlined by former third-round pick Diontae Johnson, former second-round pick Chase Claypool and second-year tight end Pat Freiermuth, all of whom produced at least 59 catches last year, with Johnson leading the way with 107 receptions.
Claypool figures to benefit the most from have a young quarterback throwing him the ball, as in 2021 the Notre Dame product was constrained by Ben Roethlisberger’s inability to get the ball down the field on anything other than a go route.
The Steelers also have a pair of promising rookie draft picks in the fold, namely second-rounder George Pickens and fourth-rounder Calvin Austin III, the latter of whom has been called the “biggest day 3 steal” of the draft.
Meanwhile, running back Najee Harris’ new-and-improved physique should allow him to build on a rookie season that saw him rush for 1,200 yards and contribute an additional 467 receiving yards.
Question Marks Entering 2022
The big unknowns coming into the season surround the quality of the quarterback play, whether Matt Canada is an NFL quality offensive coordinator, and whether the offensive line will be dramatically better than it was in 2021, when the Steelers started rookies at both left tackle and center.
Pittsburgh’s free agent additions on the offensive line (including Mason Cole and James Daniels) suggest that the line can and will be better. Likewise for the secondary, which added a free agent of its own in former Bills cornerback Levi Wallace, who said he chose to sign with the Steelers after receiving a sign from God.
It won’t be long now before Steelers fans get a look at the latest edition of the team. Training camp returns to Latrobe on July 26, 2022, with the team’s first preseason game scheduled for August 13 against Seattle.
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