If preseason is any indication, Steelers will have to win lousy

It can be difficult to stay engaged for the entirety of a preseason game, especially when the contest is effectively over. Such was the case in the Steelers’ final tune-up against the Lions last Sunday, as Detroit dropped 16 points with less than eight minutes left.

Regardless of whether you got locked into every shot of Pittsburgh’s latest August showcase, you probably left thinking something like this:

The Steelers were in control for much of this game, but the final score was just 19-9. Shouldn’t the Steelers have won by 20+?

That sentiment basically sums up Steelers football for the year ahead.

Throughout the pre-season, there have certainly been encouraging signs within Mike Tomlin’s squad: solid play from rookies like George Pickens, Mark Robinson and Jaylen Warren; a defense that has generally remained solid; resounding returns to win games; and finish undefeated for the first time since 1997.

At the same time, the three clashes against the sea ​​hawksJaguars and Lions — three teams slated to miss the playoffs in 2022 — were won by no more than 10. Pittsburgh tallied just enough yardage and points, and enough saves, to emerge victorious.

Of course, this is just “exhibition” football, so it’s hard to determine how much Tomlin, general manager Omar Khan and the rest of the Steelers organization are giving away a one-game win. pre-season, maximum effort and demonstration of the team’s legitimate ability. Similarly, the Pittsburgh reserves played at least 30 minutes every game, so the results don’t reflect the team’s true starters.

When the real “ones” were on the field, however, it looked exactly like the Steelers’ trademark style of recent football that we’ve grown accustomed to: a stagnant offense backed by a top defense.

Let’s start with the presumed starting quarterback, Mitch Trubisky.

Trubisky earned the go-ahead in all three games, finishing with a 70.6 completion percentage, 283 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, showing overall balance and ability. However, only two of Trubisky’s 11 drives have ended in six points; although the quarterback made a few accurate strikes down the field, including a 38-yard dime to Dionate Johnson against Detroit, he also took a number of checks and generally didn’t force the football into tight windows .

Trubisky wasn’t the only reason Pittsburgh’s offense seemed to be stalling, however. The main culprit was the offensive line, which showed little cohesion in its first three games under Pat Meyer. OL of the Steelers ranked 23rdrd in passage blocking grade and 15e in run-blocking ratings this pre-season, by PFF, wobbling widely with the unit’s 2021 ratings (15e in pass blocking, 24e blocking execution).

Behind Tomlin’s offensive line, Steelers running backs had 61 carries for 266 yards, or 4.36 yards per carry. Still, 185 of those yards came against the Seahawks, meaning the team allowed a dismal 2.38 yards per sack in the past two games.

No stat reflects the offense’s flaws more than this: Throughout August, the starting O started possession on their own 40-yard-or-better line three times. None of those drives ended in a touchdown.

The descriptors above are eerily reminiscent of the Steelers offense in 2021, which hardly looked dangerous. The group gained just 4.8 yards per play last year, tied for 28e. According to Sharp Football Analysis, Pittsburgh had an explosive 7% play rate a season ago, tied for the lowest percentage of passes that gained 20+ yards or rushes 10+ yards. Aside from the occasional deep ball to Johnson or Chase Claypool, Pittsburgh hasn’t always gotten big yards, moved chains, scored touchdowns or capitalized on advantageous field position, instead relying on the iron leg by Chris Boswell.

Despite porous offensive play, the Steelers won all three games on solid defense — another hallmark of 2021. Pittsburgh gave up no points to Detroit’s “starter” offense and just six points to the Jaguars led by Trevor Lawrence and Christian Kirk. There have been nightmarish 2021 running games with little aggression or block loss, but Teryl Austin’s defense has continued to look like flexing, not breaking.

The Steelers finished the preseason undefeated, but the three wins were rather unconvincing. Somehow, the team had pulled a victory from the jaws of defeat, whether it was a heroic drive from a quarterback or a decisive drop on the goal line.

Pittsburgh did just that in 2021, getting wins from the Bills, Broncos, Seahawks, Browns, bears, crows (twice), and titans in seemingly inexplicable ways. 2022 may feature a revamped coaching staff and a nascent offense, but the unmistakable trait of winning by the skin of a steel tooth is likely to remain if the Steelers are to struggle this fall.

About Michael Bill

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