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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
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By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

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New York Knicks forward Precious Achiuwa (5) shoots over Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr., rear, in red, during the first half of an NBA basketball game in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)
Column | Former Villanova fanatic watches “Nova Knicks” take down Sixers in NBA Playoffs
By Aidan Kasner, Sports Editor • May 23, 2024
Opinion | Do not arrest peaceful protesters
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • May 23, 2024

Column | Steelers need to boost roster, believe in Tomlin to return to glory

Pittsburgh+Steelers+head+coach+Mike+Tomlin+holds+his+season-ending+meeting+with+reporters+at+the+NFL+football+teams+practice+facility+in+Pittsburgh+on+Thursday%2C+Jan.+18.
AP Photo/Gene Puskar
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin holds his season-ending meeting with reporters at the NFL football team’s practice facility in Pittsburgh on Thursday, Jan. 18.

While the Pittsburgh Steelers are never terrible or find themselves among the basement dwellers of the NFL, they aren’t particularly great either. The perfect word to describe them is mediocre. But positive signs in 2023-24 can change the Steelers’ fortunes.

The Steelers’ tumultuous season came to an abrupt end Monday afternoon at the hands of the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, New York. The game began in the least ideal manner for supporters of the Steel Curtain — the team found itself down 21 points more than halfway through the second quarter, showing few signs of life after committing two turnovers in the first half. 

A quick score before halftime kept them in the game for the time being, but the Steelers were never able to overcome the deficit in the second half. 

The Steelers’ season finale went much like their season as a whole. They had a significant stretch where they looked bad and had fans scratching their heads.

But then — in typical Steelers fashion — they turned things around and made the loss look respectable. This is an ongoing theme for the organization over the last decade. Lack of dominance haunts the Steelers.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has never had a losing season. He continues to will the Steelers to wins even when they are statistically outplayed. But Tomlin and the Steelers have not won a playoff game in six years. 

The team has often needed to use their clutch pedigree to eke out games where they are outplayed. But the Steelers are not dominant. And this shows against the upper echelon of the NFL. 

Lack of dominance shows why the Steelers haven’t been true contenders for at least the last half-decade — more specifically, since the divorce of the “Killer B’s,” wide receiver Antonio Brown, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’veon Bell. 

Hope for the future

Some positives revealed themselves during the 2023-24 season, though. Tomlin relieved offensive coordinator Matt Canada of his duties midway through the season and the offense seemed to find success that it couldn’t find under Canada. 

The Steelers eclipsed 400 total yards multiple times even with third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph, a feat Canada was never able to accomplish in over 40 games as the offensive coordinator. 

If this success can continue, there is great hope for the Steelers, as they won most of their games on the back of their defense. But pairing a solid offense with an opportunistic defense could lead to a deep playoff run that the city of Pittsburgh hasn’t seen since the mid-2010’s. 

The running game found its rhythm with the team finishing in the top three in rushing yards in the back half of the season, which helped open up other facets of the offense. Wide receiver George Pickens proved himself reliable this season with a 1,000-yard season and averaging 18 yards per catch. 

On the defensive end, rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. shined, showing the coaching staff they have a star for years to come. Porter consistently matched up against the opposing team’s best wide receiver and held his own, only allowing 24 receptions on the year, the lowest amount in the league for defensive backs who were targeted over 50 times.

Tomlin is back for 2024

While many began to question the job security of Tomlin during the back half of the season due to losses to teams out of playoff contention, Tomlin is in line to return for next season and the foreseeable future. 

Despite the 400-yard performances, the Steelers’ offense was not perfect after Canada’s departure. The team went on a losing streak after Tomlin’s decision. But this is without needed context.

Three of their four losses came with backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who was later benched. Quarterback is the most important position for the offense and Trubisky never performed at an adequate level. This was the catalyst for multiple underwhelming offensive outputs. 

When Rudolph was ushered in, the offense found its form and the Steelers rattled off three wins to end their season and punch their ticket to the playoffs. With starting quarterback Kenny Pickett returning next season, the offense should improve.

What’s ahead

Moving forward, the Steelers have a few concerns they need to address to return to prominence. It starts with their defense — the front office should search in free agency and the draft to strengthen and get younger in the defensive backfield. The unit is at its best when NFL sack leader linebacker TJ Watt is in uniform, but he has dealt with injuries over the course of multiple seasons. There should be an effort to add depth along the front seven, especially with Steelers legend defensive lineman Cam Heyward turning 35 this year. 

The offense is quite talented with good players at the skill positions. The offensive line could use some improvement, though. Center Mason Cole was at fault for many errant snaps to the quarterback resulting in negative plays. The 2024 draft is said to be deep with offensive tackle prospects, a position the Steelers could look to target to improve their pass protection. 

Though their success has been stagnant for an extended period, it is important for Steelers fans to remember that the team is in a better position than most organizations. For years, it seemed as though the offense was the weak link but it has improved since the change at offensive coordinator, giving hope to many that they will be able to light up the scoreboard with the plethora of weapons they have on offense. 

Tomlin has proven year after year that he can drag a lackluster roster to at least an annual playoff appearance and if the team is able to sustain the progress they made at the end of the season, then fans should be excited for what is in store for the 2024-25 season. 

About the Contributor
Elijah Carter, Staff Writer