Pittsburgh Steelers Need More Impact Players
A common thread connecting all six of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ NFL championships has been the outstanding players fans always counted on to step up decisively and turn the tide at crucial points of the season. Without players such as Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Hines Ward and Heath Miller, the Steelers would never have owned a single Lombardi Trophy, let alone six. Each of these players, at various times during his career, demonstrated the capability — individually or with help from teammates — to lift the entire team emotionally and carry it to victory.
But given the circumstances of the Black-and-Gold’s 2023 edition, it’s quite difficult to identify candidates appearing prepared to lead this team to glory. Offensively, the jury is still out regarding Kenny Pickett’s ultimate potential to fill the shoes of predecessor Ben Roethlisberger. And while the Steelers certainly are loaded with talent at both the RB and receiver positions, promising young players including Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, George Pickens and Calvin Austin III face the possibility of remaining largely untapped resources if the organization doesn’t provide greater support from the QB, OL and OC positions.
Defensively, with the exception of superstar linebacker T.J. Watt, veteran leader Cam Heyward (currently on IR) and Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers generally lack the kind of impact players who once formed the storied Steel Curtain defense. And because their offense has been so unproductive in the season’s first two games, this defense has been laboring under quite a heavy burden.
The rising level of frustration in Steelers Nation today stems largely from the fact that Pittsburgh fans know exactly what it takes for a team to bring home the hardware in February. For decades, they’ve been thrilled by the exploits of exceptional players who consistently performed above and beyond expectations. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that diehard fans are looking askance at this year’s edition of the Black-and-gold. Considering that the strongest teams in the league today (e.g. the Chiefs and the 49ers) are currently led by substantial cores of all-star-caliber players, this raises the legitimate question about which Steelers are going to emerge as the kind of impact players indispensable for winning a seventh championship.
But so far during this young season, only a few players on Pittsburgh’s roster give the appearance of following in the footsteps of their storied predecessors. Of course T. J. Watt is definitely on a par with the greatest linebackers ever to don a Steelers uniform. He’s a true impact player who has been pivotal to his team’s fortunes. While not currently available to the team, Cam Heyward also is a player comparable in impact to any of those who manned the Steel Curtain defense of the 1970s. Both Watt and Heyward fit the mold of Steelers players distinguished as the greatest and most consistent contributors to the team’s six league championships.
With respect to the younger players on the current roster, the only one currently appearing to possibly be on the verge of making a significant impact is Jaylen Warren. Since his initial training camp last year, Warren has been determined to seize nearly every opportunity to show he’s capable of helping the team win right now — not next season or awaiting the development of his quarterback. Because he has shown so much promise so early in his NFL career, No. 30 definitely fits the mold of those “above-and-beyond” players who built Pittsburgh’s franchise to its current status as one of the league’s most successful. Even in a game as offensively lame as the Steelers’ narrow win over Cleveland last Monday night, Warren still found some ways to impress. Assuming that the OL improves as this season unfolds, Warren might turn out to be this team’s offensive catalyst.
Unfortunately, having only three or four true impact players on your entire roster simply isn’t enough to get anywhere in this league. And when we examine the Steelers’ current roster, it’s fair to question who else in this group can step up to become the kind of reliable, impact player that every championship team needs. While Pittsburgh’s overall talent level certainly seems adequate for the challenge, Steelers Nation realizes it takes more than pure athletic talent to reach the promised land.
Every NFL team, even the perennial doormats, is chock full of athletic talent. But the 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers’ greatest need isn’t more athleticism. What the Black-and-gold needs most are more players who become unstoppable precisely because they simply refuse to be denied. This indispensable psychology forms the essence of what traditionally has been described as the “standard” of Steelers Football. The weeks ahead will provide the opportunity for these players to emerge from the pack and become the newest household names in Steelers Nation.