Column | Steelers must reassess quarterback situation after ugly offensive performance against Bengals


AP Photo/Jeff Dean

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky (10), front, is pressured by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard, back, as he throws during the second half of an NFL football game on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Cincinnati.

By David Scott, Staff Writer

The Steelers defense dominated the field in Sunday’s 23-20 overtime victory against the Cincinnati Bengals. On the other side of the gridiron, their offensive play left a lot to be desired.

Aside from the game-winning drive in overtime, which came after a plethora of missed kicks from the Bengals, the Steelers offense was flat and overmatched. Without Najee Harris on the field for the majority of the game due to an ankle injury, the Bengals focused their defense on the passing game.

The Pittsburgh defense racked up five turnovers during the game, an easy recipe for victory, yet the game still almost slipped through the Steelers’ hands. The offense only capitalized twice off of the five turnovers, contributing a measly 10 points to their score.

It’s easy to point at Mitch Trubisky as the offense’s weakest link following his first outing with the Steelers. The sixth-year quarterback had a pedestrian performance in Cincinnati, completing 21-38 of his passes, resulting in 194 yards and a touchdown. He certainly didn’t do anything to hurt the Steelers, but he couldn’t put the nail in the coffin of what should have been a lopsided game. 

“We have to connect more with receivers on deep-to-intermediate routes,” Trubisky said. “We’ll go back to the film and look at it, specifically third downs. We also have to turn turnovers into touchdowns and not settle for field goals. There’s a lot to get better on and correct.”

On top of their poor quarterback play, the Steelers failed to get their exciting receivers involved in the game plan. Rookie wide receiver George Pickens had an impressive preseason, but most of his reps came with either Kenny Pickett or Mason Rudolph at quarterback. His lack of rapport with Trubisky showed on Sunday, where he only pulled in one pass for three yards. 

Even Diontae Johnson, who just received an extension from the Steelers over the offseason, didn’t have a head-turning statline. In fact, none of the Steelers receivers had more than 55 receiving yards, with the exception of tight end Pat Freiermuth, who had 75. The pass catchers also failed to find paydirt, with the team’s lone offensive touchdown coming from a Najee Harris checkdown.

With rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett looming on the bench, could Trubisky’s mundane performance affect the Steelers’ quarterback plans?

It’s hard to imagine that the almost heartbreaking loss turned victory didn’t get wheels turning among the Steelers executives. They took Pickett with their first round pick for a reason, and just might think to get him involved sooner rather than later. 

While there is a lot of excitement surrounding Pickett’s potential to see the field at some point this season, subpar performances from Trubisky probably won’t be enough to set the quarterback carousel in motion. Before the game on Sunday, Mike Tomlin made his plans for their first round quarterback known. Fox NFL analyst Jay Glazer reported that Tomlin plans to sit Pickett for the entire season

For a team that has playoff aspirations every season, it would be shocking if they refused to make personnel changes if the offense remains lackluster as the season progresses. They have a former Heisman candidate on the bench, waiting for his shot, and if there’s a chance they could improve the offensive flow, why not take it?

In the coming weeks, Trubisky will run through a gauntlet of top defenses. His performance could either solidify him as the starter for the rest of the season or motivate a midseason quarterback change. In the Steelers’ next five matchups they will face the Patriots, the Browns, the Jets, the Bills and the Buccaneers. Losing three of those five games would most likely leave the Steelers at the bottom of the tough AFC North, with matchups against the Bengals and Ravens still remaining.

Tomlin has clearly put his faith in Trubisky, giving him the starting job and a captain’s badge, but that doesn’t mean he should feel obligated to keep him as the starter. It’s still early in the season, but if week one is any indication of how the offense will perform with Trubisky at the helm, perhaps it’s worth giving Pickett a chance to shine.