The old cliche in football, at least at the professional level, is that you want to be hitting your stride and playing your best overall football late in the season, hopefully leading to a run through the playoff bracket.
While the Pittsburgh Steelers ultimately didn’t make the playoffs this season, they closed the season in rather impressive fashion, going 7-2 down the stretch to finish 9-8, looking like one of the better teams in the league late in the season. Granted, some of those wins came against poor teams overall, but you can only control what’s in front of you on a week by week basis, and that’s exactly what the Steelers did.
That close to the season and the performances by a number of key guys, including rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett and rookie receiver George Pickens, second-year running back Najee Harris, the offensive line, T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Cameron Heyward and team MVP Minkah Fitzpatrick has Steelers owner and President Art Rooney II rather excited about the future in the Steel City.
Speaking with a select group of reporters Thursday in his year-end State of the Steelers address, Rooney said that the future appears bright, thanks to the way the team closed the season after starting out 2-6 and entering the Week 9 bye week on a rather low not.
“I think the number one thing I want to see from a team is get better as the season goes on, you should be your best team at the end of the season,” Rooney said to reporters Thursday, according to a tweet from 93.7 The Fan. “I think we did that. We are excited about the future because of that.”
The Steelers certainly found their game on both sides of the football in the second half of the season, leading to the success in the wins and losses column overall.
After struggling to run the football and take care of the ball in the first half of the season, the Steelers turned into one of the top rushing attacks in the NFL, rushing for more than 140 yards per game in the second half of the season as Harris and undrafted free agent Jaylen Warren really thrived behind an offensive line that took some time to gel overall before really taking off in the second half of the season.
Add in some late-game heroics from Pickett, who certainly looks like the guy moving forward, and a return to dominance for the highest-paid defense in football thanks to the return to health of T.J. Watt, and it’s quite clear that the Steelers were really starting to play their best football and might have been a tough out in the playoffs based on play style.
That run in the second half has Rooney feeling rather good overall about a team that underwent significant changes last offseason with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger and longtime GM Kevin Colbert.
“The second half of the season was encouraging. Obviously, there are a lot of things to improve on,” Rooney added, according to a tweet from Steelers.com’s Dale Lolley. “But I liked the way we kept fighting down the stretch.”
The fight and the overall determination in the second half of the season to climb back into playoff contention as the Wild Card was rather impressive and deserves to be commended. Tomlin never lost the focus of his team and never struggled to motivate them or get them prepared for games in the second half of the season.
Improvements still need to occur though, more specifically scoring more points offensively. But what transpired in the second half of the season has caused plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the black and gold.