By Jeremy Hritz
This is Part I of a multi-part series previewing the Steelers 2022 season, leading up to the first regular season contest against the Cincinnati Bengals.
On the precipice of another Pittsburgh Steelers season, the optimism is peaking, though for different reasons. For the first time in 18 years, a new quarterback will lead the organization against the competition, in a newly named stadium, with many other new faces on the roster, in addition to fresh coaching faces. Surely, it is a season of change, but one still replete with high expectations and the end destination of a Super Bowl berth.
As is the mantra in Pittsburgh, the standard is the standard.
Whether or not this newly constructed team can compete with the likes of the AFC North foes Cincinnati Bengals or Baltimore Ravens remains to be seen. But this much is for certain: there is talent on this roster.
TJ Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Minkah Fitzpatrick form the trinity of the defense with the potential to dominate the NFL, while on offense, it’s not as stable. Outside of second year running back Najee Harris, the offense is a massive question mark, while the special teams have the makings of being an effective unit.
With that said, 2022 will be an intriguing season for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I offer you my season preview. I walk you through each position, its outlook, and areas of strength, in addition to areas for improvement. Additionally, I will share with you my statistical projections for multiple players on the roster, and also my game-by-game prediction to reveal just how far I believe these Steelers, based on this offseason, have the potential to make it.
So settle into your favorite chair, crack a beer, and read on to get yourself ready for the new season of Pittsburgh Steelers football.
It’s All About the (New) Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger has retired, and with his departure, an 18-year identity is gone. Newly appointed starter Mitchel Trubisky takes the reins as the starter, looking to live up to his #2 overall draft selection with the Chicago Bears (2017). With a 29-21 record as a starter, Trubisky is no stranger to life in the NFL, and those bullish on his prospects believe he can thrive within the Steelers organization. With mobility that Roethlisberger has been missing for years, Trubisky is being counted on to lead a young unit through buying time in the pocket to allow for his neophyte receivers to get open. My greatest concern for Trubisky is whether or not he can push the ball down the field, as this was an area of struggle for him with the Bears. He did make some notable deep passes in the preseason, and quite possibly this will not be an issue with the Steelers; however, until I see it in the regular season consistently, I’m hesitant to believe.
It doesn’t matter anyway, because despite the fact that Trubisky is starting, it is only a matter of time before rookie QB Kenny Pickett takes over the team. Drafted #20 overall in the first round, Pickett is a local legend and has quite the hoard of supporters clamoring for him to take command as the starter. Trubisky will be given 6-7 games to show what he can do, and if he is average to below average, Pickett will get his opportunity.
Pickett possesses moxie and calmness in the pocket, and he demonstrated that in the preseason by making several throws in the face of pressure. On top of his mobility, he also has nice touch on his throws, tailoring each one to what is needed for the called play. He has flashed the makings of a franchise quarterback, and without question before the season is over, he will get his opportunity.
Surprisingly, Mason Rudolph remains on the roster, and will serve as QB#3 behind Pickett and Trubisky. I fully expected the Steelers to trade Rudolph prior to the start of the season, but that has not transpired (though it still could). Instead, the 5th year QB out of Oklahoma State will solidify the unit with experience and the ability to start a few games if needed due to injury or poor play. There is no question Rudolph wants to be a starter somewhere in the NFL, and these circumstances are not ideal for him, be he is the consummate professional, and he will not allow his frustration to turn into a distraction for the team. Reportedly, the Steelers want a 3rd round pick for Rudolph’s services, and before the trade deadline if a team comes calling with such an offering, I would not be surprised whatsoever to see him moved.
It’s also worth noting that 7th round draft selection Chris Oladokun was released and signed with the Kansas City Chiefs to join their practice squad. Was it a wasted draft pick? Maybe. But it was a 7th rounder and a crap shoot.
Putting It All Together
This is an unproven unit, and because of that, it is difficult to have true confidence in what the quarterbacks will offer. Only time, repetitions, and evidence will convince Steelers Nation that either Trubisky or Pickett have what it takes to lead this team into the playoffs, and it will be the position most scrutinized this season by fans.
Come season end, fans will either be missing Roethlisberger dearly and pining for the “good ole’ days,” or they will be celebrating and embracing a new face at the position who leads them to a winning record.
Whatever the outcome, hang on, because it’s going to be one hell of a ride.