3 Takeaways from Steelers' Week 18 Win vs. Browns
Mike Tomlin's 16th year as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach resulted in another winning season. The team finished 9-8, marking the 13th time it has ended above .500 during Tomlin's tenure. In the other three years, it went 8-8.
Although Pittsburgh avoided its first losing campaign under Tomlin, it wasn't enough to push it into the playoffs. The Steelers ended the 2022 season with a 28-14 win over the AFC North rival Cleveland Browns at Acrisure Stadium, but they missed out on the postseason due to a tiebreaker for the AFC's third and final wild-card berth.
The Miami Dolphins also finished 9-8 and captured the No. 7 seed because they defeated Pittsburgh 16-10 in a Week 7 matchup in South Florida.
Here are three takeaways from the Steelers' season-ending Week 18 victory.
Second Half Provides Positive Momentum
Entering their Week 9 bye, the Steelers were 2-6 and trending toward a losing season. They had made a quarterback change (from veteran Mitchell Trubisky to rookie Kenny Pickett) and were underperforming in various areas while also dealing with injuries to some key players.
The second half of the 2022 campaign went much better for Pittsburgh. It went 7-2 after its bye, ending the season with four consecutive wins and six victories in its final seven games.
The Steelers went from being close to the foot of the AFC standings to being a legitimate wild-card contender. They just couldn't quite climb out of the hole they had put themselves in early in the year.
"I think it will take a little bit of time to understand and come to terms with it, because I feel like we were just starting to play some really damn good football," Pittsburgh linebacker T.J. Watt told reporters.
Even though the Steelers missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2019 season, their late surge provided some optimism for the future. They'll also have positive momentum heading into the offseason, when they can continue to improve their roster and add complementary players around their young core.
And again, Tomlin proved he can get the most out of his team. That's what he's done throughout his time in Pittsburgh, and it's what he'll likely continue to do.
Young Offensive Players Are Strong Core to Build Around
Pickett's debut NFL season may have been a bit inconsistent, but he flashed his potential at times.
The 24-year-old passed for 2,404 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions, making some big throws that were crucial to the Steelers pulling out wins down the stretch.
Another offensive rookie who shined in his first year in Pittsburgh was wide receiver George Pickens, who had 52 catches for 801 yards and four touchdowns.
The 21-year-old capped his first season with a solid showing against Cleveland, notching three catches for 72 yards and a TD. He could be Pickett's top target in the Steelers' offense for years to come.
Early in the season, running back Najee Harris was struggling and not nearly as productive as he was throughout his 2021 rookie campaign.
However, the 24-year-old was much more effective down the stretch, and he rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown (his 10th of the season) in Pittsburgh's finale win.
"We can see how our future is," Harris said, per The Athletic's Mark Kaboly. "We're young, but we're also really talented, and I think that for us to come together through all of the adversity we had earlier in the year, especially to finish out the season the way we did—it's motivation for us. We should be hungry for next year."
As these young offensive playmakers gain experience, they should continue to improve, which will likely make the Steelers offense even stronger. That's an exciting thing for them for 2023 and beyond.
Pass Rush Needs Watt Healthy to be Successful
When Watt missed seven games early in the season due to a partial pectoral tear, it became even clearer just how important he is to the Steelers' defensive front. Without him, Pittsburgh struggled to put pressure on opposing QBs.
The 2021 Defensive Player of the Year is one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, and he makes the unit much more formidable when he's on the field.
That showed again Sunday, when the Steelers sacked Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson seven times, with Watt collecting a half-sack. Alex Highsmith led the way with 2.5 sacks, while Cameron Heyward notched two.
In 10 games, Watt finished with 39 tackles, 5.5 sacks and two interceptions. He also provided tremendous leadership to the rest of the Pittsburgh defense.
The 28-year-old has three years remaining on his contract. As long as he can stay healthy, he should continue to play at a high level throughout the length of that deal (and probably beyond).
If that's the case, the Steelers' pass rush will likely be a strength for them moving forward.