The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Great Expectations Don’t Guarantee a Happy Ending

There seem to be more reasons to be excited about Mike Tomlin’s team than there have been in quite a while. But there are also concerns and unknowns that may yet get in the way of another chance at the Super Bowl.
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There are seemingly more reasons to be excited about Mike Tomlin’s team than there have been in quite a while. But there are also concerns and unknowns that may yet get in the way on the way to the Super Bowl.

As it turns out, the “feel in the air” Mike Tomlin recognized upon reporting to Saint Vincent College has the staying power of Canadian wildfire smoke.

It’s thicker than a Spotted Lanternfly infestation.

The arrow isn’t just pointed up, it’s locked in its full, upright position.

Or so it seems.

Such is the wave of positivity that has been flowing from the Steelers and continues to flow around the Steelers as they approach the beginning of the regular season.

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The reaction to their 3-0 preseason has been just a little over the top.

Not that Steeler Nation would ever overreact in such a fashion one way or another.

The more rational among the Terrible Towel-waving crowd have probably already realized General Manager Omar Khan isn’t infallible, quarterback Kenny Pickett isn’t going to post a perfect passer rating of 158.3 and every offensive possession in the regular season isn’t going to result in a TD.

2023 Atl 0824kr 2154But there are less obvious potential concerns that might yet get in the way between the regular-season opener and the Super Bowl.

Among those would be:

  • Joey Porter Jr. won’t hold up his end as an outside cornerback, which won’t allow the Steelers to move Patrick Peterson inside to slot cornerback or a rover-type position in the secondary. If that happens the Steelers will be worse than they otherwise might have been at outside cornerback and in the interior of the sub-packages.
  • The depth at cornerback will be tested and fail the test. Even if Porter plays as well as the Steelers anticipate, he’ll need to stay healthy, as will Levi Wallace and Peterson. The additions of veteran corners Desmond King to the roster after the initial cut to 53 and Anthony Brown to the practice squad betray how the Steelers really feel about the position.
  • The aggressive approach on offense, particularly the attack-1-on-1-coverage-outside-at-all-times mindset will go away at the first sign of struggle, and the Steelers will revert to trying not to lose games on offense until it’s time to try to win them in the final two minutes. That would be making it harder than it needs to be.
  • Inside linebacker turns out to be different but not necessarily better. This seems an unlikely development in the wake of what we’ve seen in the preseason. But after a parade of potential Ryan Shazier replacements that’s included Jon Bostic, Mark Barron, Joe Schobert, Myles Jack, Devin Bush and Robert Spillane, skepticism is appropriate until the three new ILBs, Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts and Kwon Alexander, prove otherwise.
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  • Outside linebacker T.J. Watt gets hurt and misses a significant portion of the season again, and the backups that look so promising now fail to cut the mustard. That shouldn’t be the case with veteran Markus Golden and rookie Nick Herbig in reserve, but you never know until you know.
  • The offensive line depth gets tested beyond the capabilities of backups with upside but no experience. The Steelers love the long-term potential of No. 1 pick Broderick Jones and rookie Spencer Anderson’s five-position versatility. But Nate Herbig is the only backup offensive lineman who has actually played in the NFL. If they take a couple of hits up front early, they could be in trouble. And after the starting five stayed healthy throughout the entirety of last season, the Steelers are due for some missed time along the offensive line.

2023 Atl 0824kr 1392None of the above is meant to suggest the upcoming regular season shouldn’t be greeted with enthusiasm and great expectations.

Just remember to sprinkle in a little perspective.

Particularly with San Francisco looming.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section