By Jeremy Hritz
The 2022 Steelers season is now complete, and what a tale of two halves.
The team started the year in transition and uncertainty, not knowing how things would transpire, with a new quarterback in Mitch Trubisky after enjoying the benefits of a Hall of Famer for 18-years. All along, the anticipation of a rookie quarterback taking the helm intensified.
Things started exhilaratingly, with an improbable AFC North victory over defending AFC Champs, Cincinnati, and with that, optimism that the concept of a rebuild, re-tool, or whatever you want to call it, did not apply to Pittsburgh.
So much for that. At least early on.
The Steelers began the year 2-6, and many were clamoring for the entire coaching staff to be relieved, the team to tank the remainder of the games for the #1 overall pick, and the team to once again look for a franchise quarterback.
Things were as dire as they could get, as there was no running game, no ability to push the ball down the field in the passing game, no resistance to the run on defense, and no effectiveness in rushing and sacking the quarterback.
Not to say that everything was perfect in the second half of the season, but it was a hell of a lot better.
Players began to develop and grow.
Najee Harris started to get healthy, and the offensive line he was running behind began to gel and open viable running lanes. Harris, complemented by rookie Jaylen Warren, formed a formidable running unit that could beat teams through power and speed.
And just think, they have a full year to improve and to sharpen their offering for next season.
Kenny Pickett stopped turning the football over, started showing confidence in his abilities, and came through in the clutch, proving that he does possess the traits of a promising franchise quarterback. Even the concerns about him not throwing down the field successfully were quelled to an extent, and there is excitement about what he will produce next season.
George Pickens flashed his supernatural talents and provided glimpses of what he will deliver when he has a confident and comfortable quarterback leading the team. Pickens has the ability to get down the field and make the combat catches that can make defensive backs look silly. It wouldn’t be a stretch to predict Pickens doubling his output next season and establishing himself as a top-5 receiver in the league.
I haven’t even mentioned Pat Freiermuth or Zach Gentry and several others offensively, because so many stepped up.
Defensively, we witnessed 3rd year player Alex Highsmith take the step we all believed he could, finishing with double digit sacks. What’s most impressive about that feat, is that he did it while absorbing the attention from opposing offensive lines with TJ Watt out for a period of time. What can Highsmith and Watt do next year, if both fully healthy, for an entire season? Exciting to think, isn’t it?
And yes, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cameron Heyward, even Terrell Edmunds were solid and make for the belief that next year truly could be special.
There’s a time and place for looking at what this team needs, and I’ll be doing that over the course of the month. For now, it’s important to think about the opportunities in front of this Steelers team, not just for next year, but for seasons to come.
The Steelers entered 2022 thinking this could be the beginning of a transitional period, with some dark periods of loss and playoff misses. But that no longer appears to be the reality.
There are about 8 months until we get our first taste of Steelers football, preseason that is. But despite it only being an exhibition, with this newfound optimism, it’s going to be delectably sweet.
Here we go.