Column | Steelers offensive line performance key to success for Steelers’ season


AP Photo/Don Wright

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Warren (30) tries to get past Detroit Lions linebacker James Houston (59) during a preseason football game on Aug. 28 in Pittsburgh.

By Jermaine Sykes, Staff Writer

Coming off of a franchise-altering offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers face challenges they haven’t encountered in a long time. But the goal for them remains the same — playoffs or bust.

Going into their 90th season, the Pittsburgh Steelers look to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season. The 2021 Steelers finished 9-7-1, good enough for the final playoff spot in the AFC. But a 42-21 loss versus the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wildcard round ended the Steelers’ season. 

Of course, the Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin want to rebound off of the previous season’s success. But things are much different this season.

For one, the Steelers come into the season without their future hall of fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger announced his retirement following the 2021 season, and for the first time since 2004, the Steelers will start the season without their all-time leader in passing yards. 

Tomlin has never coached a Steelers team without Roethlisberger leading the way at quarterback. Incumbent backup Mason Rudolph returns, but he hasn’t shown signs of being a consistent signal caller for the Steelers. 

To address this, they signed former Chicago Bears No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky in free agency. Trubisky spent last season as a backup for the Buffalo Bills. They also drafted Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett with the No. 20 overall pick

Trubisky won the starting role in the preseason, but he comes with some obvious question marks. Trubisky had a rollercoaster career with the Chicago Bears that ended in just four seasons. A year in Buffalo might have given Trubisky the change of scenery he needed, but is he the future for the Steelers? Only time will tell.

Pickett, the only quarterback selected in the first round of the draft, is who the Steelers believe can lead them into the future. The only problem with that is that the Steelers are hoping to win now. There’s not much room for error for the Steelers in 2022, especially with rookie quarterback growing pains. 

No matter the quarterback, the Steelers have one of the best offensive skill position units in the league. Running back Najee Harris and wide receiver Diontae Johnson return as staples in the Steelers offense. Tight end Pat Freiermuth should take a leap in his second season after a productive rookie year. The Steelers took wide receiver George Pickens in the second round of the draft, and he looks like a steal after the preseason.

The true key to success for the Steelers in 2022 is the offensive line. After being one of the worst units in the entire NFL in 2021, the Steelers made no significant additions to the offensive line. 

Tackle Dan Moore and guard Kevin Dotson are young pieces who could end up as valued starters, but relying on a sudden progression is a questionable strategy. Nonetheless, the Steelers need the offensive line to protect Trubisky — or whoever the quarterback is — and open up running lanes for Harris.

Despite the uncertainty on offense, the Steelers’ defense is one of the best in the NFL. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year TJ Watt is coming off a season where he tied the NFL sack record with 22.5 in just 15 games. Defensive tackle Cam Heyward — a three-time All-Pro first-team selection — aims to dominate opposing teams on the interior again. 

Along with Watt and Heyward, the Steelers return All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and the ink is still drying on the record breaking four-year contract extension he signed in June. Additions of linebacker Miles Jack and cornerback Levi Wallace will look to solidify this group as one of the scariest defensive lineups in the NFL.

The gauntlet in both the AFC North and the AFC altogether is another challenge for this Steelers team. The Steelers have the fourth hardest strength of schedule in the NFL. In their division alone the Steelers have to face quarterbacks Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson. Four of their first six games come against 2021 playoff teams. 

The underlying story of the 2022 Steelers’ season will inevitably come down to how the quarterbacks and offensive line perform. With a good performance from both, the Steelers can return to the playoffs. With anything less, this Steelers team could give Tomlin his first ever losing season as head coach. 

One thing I have learned, though, is to never underestimate coach Tomlin. Despite their question marks, the Steelers have one of the best defensive rosters and head coaches in all of football. I believe this is what will get the Steelers back to the wildcard in 2022, with a chance to get their seventh Super Bowl ring in franchise history.