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The Steelers Stink! They Might Be A Playoff Team!

Najee Harris #22 of the Pittsburgh Steelers hurdles Rudy Ford #20 of the Green Bay Packers during the fourth quarter at Acrisure Stadium on November 12, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Joe Sargent/Getty Images|

Najee Harris attempts to hurdle Rudy Ford. It goes… well, it goes some way.

The last time we checked in on the Pittsburgh Steelers they were heading into their bye at 3-2, tied for first place in the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens. A month later, Pittsburgh is still kind of rolling on through the season even though everyone kind of agrees that they’re terrible.

The Steelers are currently in the top wild card spot in the AFC at 6-3. They have been outscored by 26 points through those nine games, largely on the backs of blowout losses to the 49ers and Texans. DVOA ranks its offense 17th; Kenny Pickett is 25th in the league in passing yards per game. He’s thrown the same number of touchdown passes as Desmond Ridder. On Sunday, Pickett went 14-for-23 for 126 yards, which is 5.5 yards per attempt. Also on Sunday, the Steelers beat the Packers 23-19. Per one model, they have a 60 percent chance to make the playoffs.

Yesterday was another escape for Pittsburgh; the Packers had two chances for the go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes. Keanu Neal picked off a tipped Jordan Love pass in the end zone with 3:20 left, then Damontae Kazee intercepted Love at the goal line on the final play of the game.

With quarterback stats like Pickett’s, it is obvious that the defense is what’s keeping Pittsburgh in games. That defense gave up 30 points in each of those two blowout losses, but they’re seventh in DVOA overall. But it’s not like the Steelers were wonderful defensively yesterday. The Packers, who are also bad, went 8-for-16 on third down and converted on both fourth-down attempts. They gained 399 total yards. But Pittsburgh kept them out of the end zone after the first quarter, and that plus those late picks was enough to get the win.

Pittsburgh also got a huge break yesterday in the second quarter. Kenny Pickett threw a pass out right to RB Jaylen Warren, who dropped it. Whistles blew the play dead, but the Packers got a clear recovery afterwards. Green Bay challenged that the pass was backwards. It sure looked backwards on replay. An announcer even said “that’s Green Bay’s football.” Kurt Benkert agreed. The Packers would’ve had the ball inside around the Pittsburgh 10 if the refs had overturned the call, but they didn’t. Gene Steratore agreed (with the refs). Pittsburgh ended up punting on that drive, and scored just six points the rest of the game. But they won!

As you might guess, Pittsburgh media is reacting to all this like the Steelers are a shitty version of the Eagles. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recaps Mark Madden’s morning radio bit, and for some even stupider reason I am sharing with you here that he thinks Pittsburgh’s wins this year are “mostly just dumb luck.” Seems right this time, folks! Another Trib headline says that the “resurgent run game overcome Steelers’ shortcomings vs. Packers.”

That running game is the primary aspect of the Steelers’ offense that has improved since the bye. It has come alive the last two weeks, averaging 5.5 yards per carry in a win over the Titans in Week 9 and had 5.7 against the Packers. The Steelers hadn’t scored a single rushing touchdown before the bye; they have six in the last four weeks. Jaylen Warren was announced as “co-starter” with Najee Harris at RB on Sunday, and finished with 101 yards with 6.7 yards per carry. Harris himself seems a bit rejuvenated as Warren gets more touches, and is up to four yards per carry on the year. These aren’t monster totals, but for a Steelers’ offense that otherwise doesn't do anything well, it sure is something.

The last two weeks have seen one major change to the Steelers’ playcalling: Matt Canada, who inspires constant “Fire Canada!” chants, has moved down from the booth to call plays from the sideline. The players have been telling the press they love it! “You don’t have to play telephone,” wide receiver Diontae Johnson said after the win over the Titans. “Just go straight up to him. Tell him whatever you need to say.”

Sunday's win is keeping this Steelers season a successful one, despite all the indications that it should not be. But even the Steelers’ players seem to know the team stinks. Something is definitely not right when employees are happy that their boss is now monitoring their work more closely.

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