Take a look at he AFC standings right now and you will find a 1-4 Pittsburgh Steelers team. That’s good for last place in the AFC North, and in fact the worst record in the entire league. This is unfamiliar territory for such a proud franchise. The question is how did we get here? Let’s take a look at the major factors that have led to this dismal start in 2022:
As we mentioned very early on this year on the Steelers Sanctuary Podcast, there was no more important player on this roster than TJ Watt. https://www.buzzsprout.com/1981237/11425303
His superb play covers up all the sins on this team. From poor coaching, to over rated teammates, to an underperforming offense he covered it all up. As long as TJ Watt is healthy and playing at his super human level, it doesn’t matter who calls the plays on defense. It doesn’t matter how bad the offense is. He is that good!
Without him, we see the fallout. The defense no longer creates turnovers, or applies pressure. The schemes and coaching are exposed as below average. Players like Cam Heyward, and Alex Highsmith have all but disappeared without the attention to Watt. This team is 0-8 lifetime without him in the lineup, and will continue this futility until his return.
We here at Steelers Sanctuary have been huge fans of former Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. He was undoubtedly one of the best in the business over his time with the team. Unfortunately he did not have a good run over the last five drafts.
The first round has been particularly bad. Not including 2022, Pittsburgh has only managed one real impact player in the last 6 years. The list consists of:
2021 – Najee Harris
2020 – None (Minkah Fitzpatrick trade)
2019 – Devin Bush
2018 – Terrell Edmunds
2017 – TJ Watt
2016 – Artie Burns
As you can see thats one home run, one complete bust, and three so-so players. An NFL franchise needs a whole lot better hit rate than that to remain competitive. Rounds 2 through 4 aren’t much better. Colbert certainly had his hits with players like Javon Hargrave, Diontea Johnson, and Alex Highsmith. But those are counteracted by flops like Justin Layne, Kendrick Green, James Washington, and Sean Davis. This kind of spotty drafting in the early rounds is a key contributor to the current teams struggles.
Free agent gaffs:
The Pittsburgh Steelers are never ones to go out and spend big money in free agency. That’s just not how they go about their business. Having said that, even the middle and low tier free agents this franchise use to make a living on haven’t brought anything to the table. In the last three years, James Daniels is the only player who can even be considered serviceable in terms of an every day starter. They have managed to sign some special teams players like Derek Watt, Miles Killebrew, and Miles Boykin.
You could make an argument for center Mason Cole as an ok signing. Given how low the bar Kendrick Green set at that position skews how we look at the overall play at canter however. The jury is still out on defensive tackle Larry Oganjobi. He has made little impact to this point, and now is nursing an injury. There are a lot of forgettable names like Eric Ebron, Joe Heag, and Stefen Wisniewski over the last few off-seasons. To top it off, its a safe bet to include Mitch Trubisky as a free agent miss. He has already been replaced only four games into the season. Again the Steelers will never look great on any free agent list, but they have to do much better than they have in recent years.
When you are looking for reasons for a 1-4 Pittsburgh Steelers team, look no further than their continuing failures at the offensive coordinator position. Who’s to blame for the struggling Steelers offense?
After a successful, but tumultuous run by Todd Haley, this team has missed badly on its offensive coordinators. Randy Fichtner was not at all qualified to be an NFL offensive coordinator. He was simply chosen to appease Ben Roethlisberger.
Once the Steelers finally came to that realization, they made things even worse with the strange hire of Matt Canada. This is a coach with very limited NFL experience, who has been fired from several jobs at the college level. What Mike Tomlin and the Steelers saw in him is a complete mystery. His very limited, and college orientated offense is not working at he NFL level. It seems almost a forgone conclusion this franchise will be on its third coordinator in four years come 2023.
On the defensive side it’s clear that Mike Tomlin wants full control. It would be hard to evaluate either Keith Butler, or Teryl Austin given Tomlin’s heavy hand in scheme and play calling. Until he is willing to hire a defensive coordinator that has the clout to push back against Tomlin’s intrusions it will be business as usual.
There are certainly many factors to point to when trying to figure out how we got to a 1-4 Pittsburgh Steelers. In the end, all roads lead to Mike Tomlin however. There is no more powerful man in the organization than the head coach. That includes owner Art Rooney III, who has shown no sign that he is willing to over rule his head coach at any point. Mike Tomlin calls the shots in the draft, in free agency, and with his coaching staff. If you want to point a finger at the main culprit in this team’s current predicament, look no further than the man at the top.