The Pittsburgh Steelers will be aiming for their best season since the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger this year, seemingly having the pieces in place to make a playoff run after narrowly missing out on a spot in the postseason in 2022.
Head coach Mike Tomlin had maintained his record of never having a losing season since taking over as the head coach of the franchise back in 2007. Now heading into 2023 he’ll be looking for more than just a positive record, with the quarterback of the future Kenny Pickett and his arsenal of wide receivers looking ready to do some damage as they challenge for the AFC North.
Significant Roster Changes
While the likes of cornerback Cameron Sutton and linebacker Devin Bush both exited in free agency this offseason, the Steelers brought in plenty of talent to bolster their ranks.
Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was the biggest signings of those additions, joining the likes of T.J. Watt on the defensive line having signed a three year, $28 million contract.
Pittsburgh added guard Isaac Seumalo, who started on the offensive line for the Philadelphia Eagles last season during their Super Bowl run, and 24 year old guard Nate Herbig adds depth to the position having previously been with the New York Jets.
Cole Holcomb fills the void left at linebacker by Devin Bush, and offers a bigger body and a better run stuffer to the position as Pittsburgh look to regain their authority on the defensive side of the ball. Elandon Roberts adds to that mission at linebacker, having been a standout tackle machine for the Miami Dolphins most recently. They weren’t done there either, adding veterans Kwon Alexander, more of a traditional linebacker, and Markus Golden, who will add a high level of experience as an outside backer in the Steelers scheme.
Finally, Pittsburgh favored a deal with veteran Patrick Peterson overpaying Cam Sutton to stay and play corner. The deal was worth $7 million a year as opposed to the $11 million Sutton got to go and play in Detroit, and that could work out to be good business for the Steelers if Pat Pete is still playing at a high level for the next couple of years.
2023 NFL Draft
Pittsburgh traded up in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft when they noticed the offensive line talent starting to fly off the board. They landed Georgia tackle Broderick Jones with the pick, who will be expected to take over at left tackle for the franchise and protect Kenny Pickett’s blindside for the long term future.
Jones is a young talent who has a remarkably high ceiling, and should create a tonne of space as a downhill blocker in the run game for Najee Harris and the Steelers backs.
The Steelers basically landed two first rounders this year too, selecting Joey Porter Jr. with the 32nd overall pick, which was the very first pick on day two of the draft.
Porter Jr. is an athletic corner with great size and length to transition into the pros, and comes from a family close to the Steelers hearts with his father being an All Pro linebacker with the franchise back in the early 2000s.
His son will now continue that legacy, and could be a day one starter for the Steelers in 2023. He’ll learn a tonne from Patrick Peterson, who is one of the best corners of a generation, and should be a great future pick for the franchise.
Pittsburgh continued to add depth on defense with a very promising looking interior defensive lineman in Keeanu Benton going later in round two, and Nick Herbig being selected in round four.
Their third round pick, six foot seven tight end Darnell Washington, was one of the biggest talking points of this year’s draft. He’s a remarkable blocker and basically adds a sixth offensive lineman to the Steelers line, but is largely unproven as a pass catcher. If the Steelers can unlock his potential through the air, then they might have got themselves an all time steal.
2023-2024 Pittsburgh Steelers Key Matchups and Dates
The Pittsburgh Steelers will face their divisional rival Baltimore Ravens in Week 5 on October 8th, and again in the final game of the regular season in Week 18.
Last season the Cincinnati Bengals dominated the AFC North, but it was the Ravens who fought Pittsburgh off to finish above them and ultimately land themselves a spot in the playoffs while the Steelers sat at home.
Both games were very closely contested last year, and the two sides split the series 1-1. This year however, the Ravens are healthier, and quarterback Lamar Jackson will be hoping to play a full season.
While the Bengals might be tough to catch right now for the top spot, Pittsburgh needs to beat out the Ravens in a loaded AFC race for the playoffs.
While the Bengals are the strong favorite to claim the AFC North this season, Pittsburgh will have two opportunities to prove a point during the regular season this year.
While the Steelers split the series with the Bengals in 2022, their defending against Joe Burrow and the dangerous Cincinnati offense has been a mixed bag. Across those two games last season Burrow threw for 693 yards and six touchdowns, but also threw six picks. Reinforcements in the secondary with Patrick Peterson and rookie Joey Porter Jr. should make life harder for the likes of Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, and winning at least one of these two matchups again this season will help to legitimize the Steelers as a playoff team.
San Francisco 49ers
The Steelers divisional rivals in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Baltimore are all of course very important matchups for the franchise this season, however, before any of those take place Pittsburgh has an opportunity to upset one of the two teams that made the NFC Championship last season.
The San Francisco 49ers are considered to be one of the best teams in football this year, and along with the Philadelphia Eagles, they have great odds of making it to the Super Bowl.
The Niners are great on offense, great on defense, and could easily win 13+ games this season as they begin a redemption tour following a miserable exit against the Eagles in the 2022 NFC Championship game.
Pittsburgh will host them in Week 1, and if they emerge victorious, the conversation about Kenny Pickett and the future Steelers could gather a lot of momentum in a hurry.
2023-2024 Season Forecast
The Pittsburgh Steelers could really surprise a lot of people in the 2023 NFL season. This team has some elite talent, with T.J. Watt leading the defense as a three time First Team All Pro and former Defensive Player of the Year. Watt has the ability to change the outcome of a game all by himself, and the volume of defensive reinforcements that the Steelers have brought in over the course of the offseason could make them really tough to play against this year.
The rest of it will depend on Kenny Pickett and the offense. The offensive line needs to improve this year to allow for a much improved run game and time for Pickett to find his receivers. Again, reinforcements in rookie Broderick Jones and free agent guard Isaac Seumalo should help to accomplish that.
Wide receiver George Pickens could have a major breakout year this year having gathered a tonne of hype during the build up to the regular season getting underway. If he’s as good as advertised then the franchise have two very strong wideouts and a great supporting cast at their disposal.
Record Prediction: 10-7, lose in the Wildcard Round of the playoffs
I have the Steelers going 10-7 this season and potentially squeezing into the playoffs as a low seed. While they’ve made several improvements and look to be better put together than they were last season, the AFC is still jam packed, and there’s very little room for error.
Kenny Pickett is still young, and when you look at the other quarterbacks in the AFC it’s tough to put his name in the top six or seven. This is a conference that contains Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailoa and now Aaron Rodgers.
Pittsburgh will need to perform well against major AFC opposition in order to position themselves well down the stretch, and a 10-7 record might just be enough to fight their way into a road game in the wildcard round of the playoffs.
The Steelers have won nine games in each of the last two seasons. In 2022 they went 9-8, and in 2021 they were 9-7-1.
The addition of first round tackle Broderick Jones is big for the franchise, as well as the additions of veterans Patrick Peterson and Larry Ogunjobi on defense via free agency. Joey Porter Jr. should also make a major impact in his first season in the league.
T.J. Watt is the best player on the Steelers roster by a longshot, and will be looking for his fourth First Team All Pro selection and potentially another shot at the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. On offense, George Pickens could be the guy to make a real difference in 2023.
The Steelers matchups against divisional rivals in Baltimore and Cincinnati mark the biggest games of their calendar. The Cleveland Browns might be a little off the pace this season, and so Pittsburgh needs to ensure strong results against their strongest competition in the division if they want to make the playoffs.