By Jeremy Hritz
Collectively, this is a season of uncertainty for the Pittsburgh Steelers. A new quarterback, a retooled offensive line, young wide receivers, new starters on defense, new coaches, you get the picture. With all of that change, the question is, how will it all come together?
Many pundits do not believe the Steelers having a chance to put together a winning season in 2022, but that was also the sentiment last season during Ben Roethlisberger’s final year. The greatest challenges facing this team are a) the offensive line, b) cornerback, and c) inside linebacker. I do believe that the defensive line is healthy enough and is solidified with tested depth to return to at least slightly above average play, which should be enough to improve the running defense. On offense, the line is still a significant concern, but until a few regular season games are complete, I am hesitant to condemn the unit as being lesser than it was in 2022. Do we honestly believe that Trai Turner was better than James Daniels can be? Kendrick Green better than Mason Cole? Absolutely not. Which is why I believe it too premature to bury this unit just yet. If they underperform after the first three weeks, you know they are in trouble, but give them a chance.
The offense added speed at the wide receiver position, which was sorely needed, and now has a vertical element to stress defenses. Factor in the mobility of Mitch Trubisky, and the offense should be improved. Not that this team will be passing frequently, as Najee Harris will be the focal point of this offense. This team will commit to running the football, and it will be how they win games.
The trifecta of Cameron Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and TJ Watt will unify the defense and help to overcome deficiencies at corner and inside linebacker, but they will still be susceptible to big plays at times. We have seen what Cam Sutton can do at left cornerback, and the expectation is he improves this season, yet we don’t know what a full season as a starter will look like for Ahkello Witherspoon. At inside linebacker, the team desperately needs Devin Bush to regain his rookie year form, though it is uncertain whether or not that can happen. If he struggles, the coaching staff will not hesitate to pull him in favor of Robert Spillane, and possibly later in the season for rookie Mark Robinson.
The beginning part of the 2022 season will be critical for the team, both offensively and defensively, to become accustomed to one another, and understand how to function together as a whole, as training camp and the preseason do not forge the character of a team, the regular season does. Additionally, players who have had high expectations but have not yet met them must elevate their play and emerge to shore up and improve the positions that were areas of weakness last season. This may be asking too much.
At the end of the day, there is enough talent on this 2022 version of the Steelers for them to make a playoff run, and that is how I see things transpiring. Like last year, it won’t always be pretty, the team will have its warts, but with added speed at the receiver position, and hopeful improvements to the OL in the form of Cole and Daniels, Harris should assert himself as one of the top runners in the NFL.
The Steelers begin the season with some momentum before a rough patch in the middle of the year, followed by a rebound, good enough for a 10-7 record, and a Wild Card. If they make it that far, anything can happen.
Game By Game Prediction
Week 1: 9/11 at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS
Week 2: 9/18 vs. Patriots, 1 p.m., CBS
Week 3: 9/22 at Browns (Thursday), 8:15 p.m., Amazon Prime Video
Week 4: 10/2 vs. Jets, 1 p.m., CBS
Week 5: 10/9 at Bills, 1 p.m., CBS
Week 6: 10/16 vs. Buccaneers, 1 p.m., Fox
Week 7: 10/23 at Dolphins, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Week 8: 10/30 at Eagles, 1 p.m., CBS
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: 11/13 vs. Saints, 1 p.m., Fox
Week 11: 11/20 vs. Bengals, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Week 12: 11/28 at Colts (Monday), 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Week 13: 12/4 at Falcons, 1 p.m., CBS
Week 14: 12/11 vs. Ravens, 1 p.m., ET
Week 15: 12/18 at Panthers, 1 p.m. CBS
Week 16: 12/24 vs. Raiders (Saturday), 8:15 p.m., NFL Network
Week 17: 1/1 at Ravens, 1 p.m., CBS
Week 18: 1/7 or 8 vs. Browns, TBD, TBD
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