3 things that went right for Steelers offense, 3 that new offensive coordinator must fix
Mike Tomlin is going outside of his comfort zone — and the organization — to find his next offensive coordinator. Not since Todd Haley was hired in 2012 have the Steelers looked beyond the walls of 3400 South Water Street for the person in charge of leading the offense. The new coordinator’s task will be to improve an offense that ranked No.
25 in yards and No. 27 in points in 2023. No team in the postseason could be found with offenses ranking lower than the Steelers in those areas.
Still, the cupboard isn’t completely bare, and the Steelers have most every starter already under contract, quarterback Mason Rudolph being the big exception. With that in mind, here are three things the new coordinator will find that worked and didn’t work from the 2023 season: What worked 1. The running game Year 2 of the Najee Harris/Jaylen Warren running back tandem was better than the first, and they became the fourth set on teammates in franchise history to each surpass 1,000 yards from scrimmage in a season.
Harris finished with 1,035 yards rushing and 1,205 overall. Warren wasn’t far behind with 784 rushing yards and 1,154 from scrimmage thanks to his 61 receptions for 370 yards. Harris churned past the 1,000-yard mark for the third year in a row.
And while that has become a watered-down stat thanks to the 17-game schedule, Harris still was just one of 12 runners to reach 1,000 yards for the season. He did so while having his snaps reduced to a career-low 569 and 53% of the plays because of the way the Steelers incorporated Warren into the offense. Warren played 519 snaps, or 49% of the plays.
This 1-2 punch joined the Detroit Lions’ duo of Jahmyr Gibbs (1,261 scrimmage yards) and David Montgomery (1,132) as one of the best in the league. The Steelers can keep the tandem intact for two more years if they exercise Harris’ fifth-year option, which is another issue altogether. 2.
The big play Remember the 2022 season, when the Steelers had just two touchdown passes from outside the red zone, and it wasn’t until the season finale that they had a scoring play of longer than 30 yards? Despite all the struggles before and after Matt Canada was calling the plays, the Steelers found ways to be more explosive in 2023. They had eight touchdown passes that went for at least 20 yards, including five that were at least 60 yards in length. That was true whether it was Rudolph or Kenny Pickett throwing the ball.
The Steelers took more chances down the field, resulting in the type of big gains that were missing the previous season. 3. New faces on O-line While the offensive line as a group took too long again to find its footing, the Steelers benefited from the addition of Isaac Seumalo at left guard and the insertion of first-round pick Broderick Jones into the lineup.
Seumalo provided a steadying presence along the interior and became the line’s leader with his no-nonsense demeanor and veteran leadership. Seumalo managed the bumps and bruises he took up front by playing every game for just the third of his eight NFL seasons. He proved to be worth the three-year, $24 million contract the Steelers gave him in free agency.
Jones fit in nicely even though he played out of position at right tackle when he moved into the lineup at midseason. What didn’t 1. Distribution of wealth One of the qualities Tomlin said he wants to see in his new offensive coordinator is the ability to “utilize all the talent that we have at our disposal.
” Too often that wasn’t the case in 2023. As productive as Harris and Warren were, perhaps the Steelers were too reliant on their running backs. Whether it was Canada or the Eddie Faulkner/Mike Sullivan duo at the helm, the Steelers all too frequently didn’t get all their pieces involved.
Consider that George Pickens went eight consecutive games without reaching 100 yards. Or that Diontae Johnson didn’t have a single 100-yard game out of the 13 he played. A true No.
3 receiving option never materialized. Allen Robinson had just 280 receiving yards, and Calvin Austin disappeared after his 72-yard touchdown catch at Las Vegas, finishing with 17 catches for 180 yards. The Steelers need to find more legitimate pass-catching options — and use them — in 2023.
2. Tight end touches Injuries limited Pat Freiermuth to 12 games, and he finished with 32 catches for 308 yards. He also didn’t have a touchdown catch after September.
Aside from the Faulkner/Sullivan debut in Cincinnati when Freiermuth had nine receptions for 120 yards, he wasn’t a factor in the offensive game plan. And it wasn’t like he was being pushed for targets at his position. Connor Heyward had 34 targets — or two per game — and rookie Darnell Washington had 10.
Freiermuth is scheduled to enter the final season of his rookie contract. Unless the new coordinator decides to involve him more prominently in the offense, Freiermuth won’t deserve an extension. 3.
O-line holdovers One factor that could lead to improved quarterback play, whether it’s Pickett or Rudolph playing, is for each snap to start with a well-placed snap. That didn’t happen enough in Mason Cole’s second year at center. The Steelers could elect to move on from Cole, who is due a $1.
5 million roster bonus, or provide competition from a draft pick. The Steelers will almost certainly sever ties with longtime right tackle Chuks Okorafor, whose release would bring an $8. 75 million savings.
The Steelers have been reluctant to replace left tackle Dan Moore Jr. , even though Jones was drafted to be the quarterback’s blind side protector. Moore had another season in which his subjective Pro Football Focus ranking was among the worst at his position.
His grade, in fact, was the lowest of his three-year career even though he seemed to make fewer mistakes than in prior seasons. Joe Rutter is a TribLive reporter who has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since the 2016 season. A graduate of Greensburg Salem High School and Point Park, he is in his fifth decade covering sports for the Trib.
He can be reached at jrutter@triblive. com. .