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Steelers Stock Report: Bye Week Edition

As my beloved father used to say, “If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.”

In case you didn’t notice, the Steelers just completed their bye week. Week 6 is too early in the season for my liking, but you have to make due with the hand you are dealt. The Steelers really capitalized from their bye week last year, and hopefully they enjoy similar success in 2023.

The Steelers were hoping for some good news during the bye, in the form of at least a loss or two from their AFC North cohorts, but that didn’t happen. Actually, all 3 AFC North teams won on Sunday. The Ravens defeated the Titans in London, the Bengals held on against the Seahawks, and the Browns shocked the world by defeating the undefeated Forty Niners.

The Browns didn’t just defeat the Niners, they physically dominated them, especially on defense. The Browns utilized the exact strategy to defeat the Niners that I expected the Steelers to utilize in their Week 1 matchup.

The Browns defense relentlessly attacked the Niners line of scrimmage, and their secondary pressed the Niners skill positions at every turn. The Browns physicality knocked multiple Niners weapons out of the game, and the press coverage took the pitch and catch options away from Brock Purdy. Purdy struggled throughout the game without his superstar teammates and easy outlet options. In the end, he suffered the first regular season defeat of his NFL career. The Niners have an impressive roster, but it appears their Achilles heel maybe be their inexperienced, untested kicker.

Steelers Stock Trending (?): Offense

Without an actual game to review this week, I am going to base each section on what we have already witnessed, and the projections I believe are to come. Apparently, the Steelers aren’t going to make any changes to their coaching staff until after the season. My opinions are well documented, so I digress.

When it comes to the Steelers offense, there is no direction to go but up. The offense thus far in 2023 has lacked any semblance of chemistry or rhythm. The players don’t trust the scheme, or each other. The Steelers have more weapons than last year, but absolutely no idea how to utilize them. That statement remains me of Canada’s comment about Calvin Austin lll last season, when reports suggested that Austin would potentially be able to return from the IR in-season. Canada admitted he wasn’t sure how he would utilize a player with Austin’s blazing speed and elusiveness. Sadly, he wasn’t joking.

Now for some good news. The Steelers struggling offense is on the verge of getting back multiple weapons that have been out injured. Diontae Johnson has already expressed his intentions of playing in the Steelers next game against the Rams on Sunday. The Steelers have desperately missed his ability to gain easy separation as a route runner, especially Kenny Pickett. In Johnson’s absence, George Pickens has flashed WR1 capabilities, but needs Johnson to help reduce the number of double teams he has endured in his absence.

Pat Freiermuth is set to return from his hamstring injury, with hopes it doesn’t linger as a nagging issue. Hopefully the time away gave Freiermuth the opportunity to reset his season, as he has struggled throughout, especially his blocking.

James Daniels appears ready to return against the Rams, and not a moment too soon. The Steelers interior offensive line will have their hands full going up against All World DT Aaron Donald. Isaac Seumalo is starting to find his groove, and has produced two solid performances in a row. Mason Cole needs to return to his 2022 form, after struggling thus far this season. Broderick Jones produced the best debut performance from a rookie LT for the Steelers that I have ever witnessed, but it’s anybody’s guess if the Steelers will allow him to remain the starter after Dan Moore Jr returns from injury. Personnel usage has been a puzzling issue this season.

The Steelers offensive line is starting to gel, and get relatively healthy. That bodes well for the Steelers running game, where Jaylen Warren appears destined for a substantial increase in touches. His impressive burst has proven to be the best fit for the Steelers zone blocking schemes and offensive line configuration. Lastly  Kenny Pickett should benefit immensely from having his full compliment of skill position weapons. Another post bye week offensive revival seems possible, if not likely.

Steelers Stock Trending (?): Defense

The Steelers currently possess the highest paid defense in the NFL, but still have 3 obvious weak spots in their starting lineup. Incredibly, at least 2 of those weaknesses could be addressed with different personnel decisions. The very definition of self-inflicted wounds.

Montravius Adams continues to be the Steelers starting nose tackle, which is actually an injustice to the young man, as he is valiantly attempting to play out of position. The Steelers already have two better options on the active roster, in rookie Keannu Benton and veteran specialist Breiden Fehoko. Hopefully Benton will take over as starting nose tackle, especially when Cameron Heyward returns from the IR.

Another starting lineup weakness is at cornerback. Levi Wallace has been a huge liability as a starter, and has been targeted by the opposition each week. Inexplicably, the Steelers refuse to replace him with Joey Porter Jr as a starter, even though Porter has easily been the Steelers best corner. Honestly, the Steelers need to be working the phones searching for a serious upgrade at the position prior to the trade deadline. Preferably someone young enough to grow in tandem with the aforementioned Porter. The Steelers must be able to vary their pass coverages, particularly their ability for press coverage, if they are going to maximize their pass rush. Similar to how the Browns shutdown the Niners this past Sunday.

The third weak spot for the Steelers starting defense is at strong safety. The Steelers decision makers decided to not even try to retain free agent Terrell Edmunds, last year’s starter. In hindsight, that decision has been a huge mistake. Without Edmunds, Fitzpatrick has been forced to play closer to the LOS and out of position. His elite ball-hawking abilities have been nowhere to be found thus far in 2023.

Damontae Kazee is an excellent deep safety, who excels in centerfield. He lacks the size and physicality of a full-time strong safety. Keanu Neal was brought in to be Edmunds replacement, which was extremely shortsighted. Neal is nowhere near as versatile as Edmunds. Both players are effective in the box, but Neal doesn’t possess Edmunds speed, which makes him a liability in coverage.

Basically, the Steelers tried to replace Edmunds with two players, because of his lack of splash play abilities. In the end, they have two players who combined together might be able to emulate Edmunds, but neither have shown splash play abilities this season. It appears to be one step forward, but in actuality two steps back.

I believe that seldom used Elijah Riley needs more playing time at safety. His versatility would benefit the defensive backfield, as he can drop into the slot when necessary. He displayed exceptional closing speed during his short stint filling in for the injured Fitzpatrick during the victory over the Browns. That quality is in short supply for the Steelers ridiculously slow secondary at the moment.


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