Could This Be Mike Tomlin's Best Team in Years?
Despite being a wild card team in 2021, the Pittsburgh Steelers probably should not have been able to sneak into the post-season given their 42-21 drubbing in the first round to the Kansas City Chiefs. Since that time, Mike Tomlin and his staff have made significant changes to the roster via free agency signings and the NFL draft.
In reviewing those changes and additions, the 2022 team could very well be one of Tomlin’s best teams ever. While the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals who also won the AFC title are considered by many to be the favorites in Pittsburgh’s division the Baltimore Ravens and perhaps the Browns may also be ahead of Pittsburgh when ranked.
With a solid draft and some key free agent acquisitions, this is ABSOLUTELY not the same team from last season. With Ben Roethlisberger retired, Steelers fans enter a new era not sure yet who the next franchise quarterback is. Mitch Trubisky came onboard via free agency and while his short career thus far has been up and down he is an established starter in the NFL and will have to hold off the challenge of Pittsburgh’s overall #1 draft pick from this year, Kenny Pickens who stays home after his collegiate career at the University of Pittsburgh.
While some Black and Gold fans are super excited about the drafting of Pickens, two free agents have me very encouraged about the chances of success for the Steelers in 2022. For his first six seasons in the NFL, Myles Jack played for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was a standout linebacker there averaging 85 tackles per season and nearly 56 solo tackles per campaign. He adds two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery for a touchdown that went for a distance of 81 yards in 2017. Jack is a tackling machine and combined with T.J. Watt, Devin Bush, Alex Highsmith, Robert Spillane, and Ulysees Gilbert, just to name the key men at linebacker, Pittsburgh's unit there instantly becomes way better.
The other name added to the roster that Steelers fans should be smiling about is Levi Wallace. Still very young at 27 and with just four seasons under his belt, this former Buffalo Bill has six interceptions in his four seasons but also has registered 219 tackles from the cornerback positions, 171 of those solo tackles. In his sophomore season he started all 16 games but because of an injury started in only 12 the following year. Last season he started all 17 games. Expect Wallace to be in a corner position as a starter come opening day.
Wait, there’s more about free agency. Also signed were James Daniels and Mason Cole. Daniels comes in from the Chicago Bears where he started 48 of 54 games and is an established solid center. At 6’4” and 327 pounds he appears to be the Steelers' next starting center. Playing alongside him will be Cole. Also, a center who played his first three seasons in Arizona before putting in one season with the Vikings, Cole could be finding himself playing elsewhere on Pittsburgh’s o-line this season. Another big man at 6’5”, 298, the addition of these two giants makes Pittsburgh’s offensive line much better and was a definite needy area in the off-season.
While Levi Wallace is a great addition, the Steelers made the decision not to bring back veteran Joe Haden who became a free agent. Perhaps Wallace is considered to be his replacement but Pittsburgh may end up being a bit weak at the corner. Cameron Sutton has made progress improving his game but aside from those two others vying for playing time will be Justin Layne, Arthur Maulet, James Pierre, Ahkello Witherspoon, Tre Norwood, Carlins Platel, Chris Steele, and Linden Stephens. Of that group, Platel and Steele are rookies.
Supporting the corners are the safeties and that group has more talent than the corners. The safeties are comprised of Terrell Edmunds, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Karl Joseph, Damontae Kazee, Miles Killebrew, and Donovan Stiner. In front of the secondary and linebackers is the front defensive line with Cameron Heyward leading the way. Tyson Alualu brings a wealth of NFL experience but there is a big-time buzz about the potential of rookie DeMarvin Leal out of Texas a&M.
Heading into this summer’s training camp the spotlight will primarily be on the quarterback position and who becomes Ben Roethlisberger’s replacement. With “Big Ben” stepping down as the franchise quarterback, veteran Mitch Trubisky was signed out of free agency and the former Bears and Bills signal-caller has had a checkered career thus far. Believing he would automatically become the starter even though Mason Rudolph had been holding the clipboard for Roethlisberger for years, now Trubisky must not only fight off Rudolph but Pittsburgh’s first overall pick from the draft, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett. Some believe Pickett may just win the starting job when opening day arrives. Once Trubisky was signed, Rudolph had no chance to start and with the addition of Pickett, he may not even dress for some games.
Ben Roethlisberger probably stayed playing two seasons too long but now that he is on the sidelines, either Trubisky or Pickett will have some pretty good weapons and the bolstered o-line will help them find success. JuJu Smith-Schuster is no longer a Steeler but a very good Diontae Johnson returns and Tomlin and his offensive staff are very high on rookie draft pick George Pickens. That would be a fun call at some point to hear “Pickett to Pickens.” Chase Claypool needs to tone down his arrogance and play some ball as in the offseason he was declaring himself as one of the NFL’s best at receiver.
With a better offensive line, sophomore Najee Harris should be able to improve on his rookie campaign that saw him rush for 1,200 yards and score seven touchdowns. Complementing Harris will be Anthony McFarland who has yet to reach his full potential as well as Benny Snell. Trey Edmunds has shown flashes of brilliance but needs more consistency.
So just how will the Steelers fair in the 2022 season? Keep this in your mind as food for thought…Mike Tomlin has NEVER had a losing season in 15 years. That’s impressive. His teams have finished at .500 three times and he has a career-winning percentage of .643. For coaches who have been at the helm for at least 10 seasons or more, only 11 other coaches have a better won/loss percentage and there are some historic names and hall of famers on that list.
Tomlin finds himself in a very elite group when it comes to winning percentage with names like John Madden, Vince Lombardi, George Allen, George Halas, Don Shula, Paul Brown, and Bill Belichick among those top 11 coaches. As far as victories, Tomlin ranks 18th all-time but will surely climb that list before he calls it quits. With 46 more victories, he will put himself in the top 10 all-time. Will he surpass the late and legendary Chuck Noll one day and become the winningest head coach in Pittsburgh Steelers history? That depends on how long he stays on the sidelines. Noll finished with 193 wins and Tomlin enters the 2022 season with 154.
As for the three head coaches Pittsburgh has had since 1969 which is just incredible as other teams sift through head coaches over and over, Tomlin sports the best winning percentage besting Noll’s .566 mark and Bill Cowher’s .623. Tomlin’s 154 career wins are also better than Cowher’s 149. As any Steelers fan knows, Chuck Noll won four Super Bowls, Bill Cowher won one and lost one, and Tomlin has been there twice winning the first time and losing to the Packers in a return performance.
So the question remains, given the 2022 schedule can Mike Tomlin’s team register another winning season? Better yet, will they be playoff-bound again? In 15 seasons, the Steelers under Mike Tomlin have missed the postseason just five times. In the playoffs, however, Tomlin’s record is under .500 albeit barely at 8-9. Here’s who the Steelers face this forthcoming season:
- September 11: at Bengals
- September 18: vs Patriots
- September 22: at Browns
- October 2: vs Jets
- October 9: at Bills
- October 16: vs Buccaneers
- October 23: at Dolphins
- October 30: at Eagles
- November 20: vs Bengals
- November 28: at Colts
- December 4: at Falcons
- December 11: vs Ravens
- December 18: at Panthers
- December 24: vs Raiders
- January 1: at Ravens
- January 7/8: vs Browns
In doing a quick rundown of the schedule and making a quick prediction on a final record for Pittsburgh, I can see the Steelers winning nine or 10 games on this schedule if they stay healthy. That would give Mike Tomlin yet another winning season. It’s a credit to Tomlin that he has yet to finish under .500. Even the greatest head coaches have suffered at last one losing season. The man with the most wins, Don Shula experienced just two sub-par .500 campaigns in 33 years. George Halas who had an unfathomable 40-year head coaching career went through just six losing seasons during that lone tenure.
Bill Belichick considered by many to be the greatest coach ever, has seen six seasons that his team finished with a losing record. That includes the time he was coaching the Cleveland Brown. Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher spent 15 years with the Steelers the same as Mike Tomlin had three under .500 seasons. Chuck Noll? Seven losing campaigns. It remains to be seen how this season pans out for the Pittsburgh Steelers but the outlook is promising.