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Random Steelers Observations: Green Bay Packers edition

The 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers are a rebuilding franchise. They honestly have been for a few years now. However, the Steelers current rebuild doesn’t resemble any other rebuilding process that I have ever witnessed.

First off, the Steelers refuse to acknowledge that they are rebuilding. At least not verbally. Their offseason actions scream construction in progress so clearly that I am shocked the organization doesn’t hand out hard hats to all the local media covering the team every day, for safety purposes obviously. They can visit the construction site, but never dare to peak behind the security fence.

Not only do the Steelers refuse to even acknowledge the rebuilding situation, they wholeheartedly refuse to hit rock bottom to do so. The modern day formula requires that you have to get really bad before you can get really good. At least have a losing season or two so you can acquire those early round selections. This also requires a sellers mindset with roster building. You have to give up something to get something. Be willing to trade your best and most in-demand players in order to acquire coveted draft capital.

Near the end of Ben Roethlisberger’s tenure, it became painfully obvious that the Steelers were no longer true contenders. The number one requirement for any serious contender is a franchise QB, and old Ben no longer qualified. So I wrote an article suggesting that the Steelers try to trade T.J. Watt to the Jacksonville Jaguars for their first overall selection, which just happened to be #1 in the draft that year.

I believed my logic to be sound. Watt was arguably the best defender walking the planet, and he was just entering his prime. The Jaguars desperately needed a proven face of the franchise, and to rebuild an atrocious defense. The Steelers could select Trevor Lawrence, and let him learn for a season at the feet of the greatest quarterback in franchise history. But my logic went even deeper.

T.J.Watt is eerily similar to his big brother J.J. Watt. They share the same genetics, the same relentless offseason workouts, and the same kamikaze style of play, which makes them prone to injuries, especially of the nagging variety. This undebatable reality negatively impacted the latter part of J.J.’s career, particularly as he neared 30 years of age. I was merely reading the tea leaves, and wondering aloud if the Steelers shouldn’t consider being proactive, rather than being reactivate.

My final assertion in the article was this: the Steelers were going to have to make Watt the highest paid defender in the NFL in the near future, which would make the Steelers the highest paid defense in the league. I believe there is no way to justify having the highest paid defense in the NFL if you lack a franchise QB. Truth is, I still feel that way. If Kenny Pickett is the real deal, then the Steelers could quite possibly be true contenders moving forward. If not, they are nothing more than an overpaid and underperforming defense. The true definition of pretenders, who are too stubborn to face reality.

You have to love the catchy slogans though. The standard is the standard. The Steelers don’t rebuild, they reload. I have been just as guilty as the next guy of drinking the black and gold kool-aid that the franchise has been handing out in recent years, but my Spidey-senses are starting to tingle. I believe that the Steelers need to acknowledge the rebuild, or remain hopelessly trapped in Steelers Nation’s very own version of Groundhog Day.

Now it’s time for some of my random Steelers thoughts and observations:

  • Quick question; do you still have to wait 24 hours before reporting a missing person case, because DeMarvin Leal has been nowhere to be found in recent weeks. After a solid start to the season, Leal has fallen out of the rotation, and has seemingly been surpassed by Isaiahh Loudermilk. The Steelers need to figure out what they have in Leal through the remainder of this season, and formulate a plan for the future, because he is making zero impact in his current usage.
  • Tomlin suggested at his weekly presser that the Steelers would address the inside linebacker depth issues from within the organization. That’s a terrible idea. About as bad as grabbing a one legged Sean Spence up off his couch to replace your best defender on the last realistic championship caliber team under Tomlin’s tenure. How Tomlin and the Steelers handle this situation could make or break the season. If Elandon Roberts goes down, the Steelers will be forced to operate with the most inexperienced group of off ball linebackers in the NFL. Quit being stubborn and naïve, and bring in a Rashad Evans or Nick Kwiatkoski before it’s too late.
  • Don’t look now, but the Steelers offensive line is finally starting to gel, primarily because of the insertion of Broderick Jones. That one adjustment has given the Steelers offensive line a serious boost of athleticism, mobility, and physicality. Not to mention intensity. I have witnessed pancake blocks from Jones, Daniels, and Seumalo in recent weeks, after seeing none of those to start the season. Now the Steelers offensive line has multiple guys capable of pulling, reaching the second level, and hitting smaller moving targets. The Steelers rushing attack should continue to flourish as a result.
  • The Steelers defense struggled with their communication against the Packers, especially in the secondary, but Elijah Riley continues to impress when called upon. Riley’s snap to whistle intensity, and superior closing speed, are desperately needed in the Steelers abnormally slow defensive backfield. Riley also possesses solid versatility. He is capable of spot duty in the slot, in addition to his natural safety position. Less Keanu Neal, more Elijah Riley, in coverage please.
  • Minkah Fitzpatrick is arguably the Steelers most irreplaceable defender this season. Before you get out the tar and feathers, hear me out. The Steelers have Markus Golden and Nick Herbig behind T.J. Watt this season, a luxury they lacked last year. I believe those two gentlemen could pull off a pretty reasonable impersonation of Watt in a pinch. However, there is nobody else on the roster that can offer half of what Fitzpatrick brings to the table. Maybe nobody else in the NFL. Fitzpatrick’s presence is going to be even more important moving forward, considering the current ILB situation. Never fear, Fitzpatrick will selflessly fill every need to the best of his ability, at the expense of his elite ball-hawking abilities. Thankfully he is both willing and able to make the sacrifice. He really does deserve better, and Khan and company have to do a much better job of finding him an adequate running mate this offseason.
  • Lastly, I keep reading the well intended but uninformed evaluations of Kenny Pickett from the casual observers within the fanbase. I say casual observers because of the following suggestion that keeps popping up across social media. “Kenny Pickett really needs to throw across the middle more often.” Eureka! Problem solved. That was easy. I only have one question for those armchair offensive coordinators. To whom should he throw the ball, when there are precious few routes being run across the middle of the field?
  • Watch the film. The Steelers run fewer crossing routes than any offense in the NFL, by a large margin. I am convinced this is a direct result of the Steelers current formula for winning games. Protect the football, don’t beat yourself, and make winning plays at money moments. That’s how Mike Tomlin coaches, and Kenny Pickett orchestrates each game. It’s undoubtedly ingrained into Matt Canada’s game plans and play calling. The issue is much deeper than Kenny Pickett needing to throw across the middle more often. If only we could be so lucky. A sport’s psychologist is mostly likely needed at this point. I hope some of you chuckled at the last line, but I am only half joking.


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