The Pittsburgh Steelers‘ signing of Mitch Trubisky on an essentially “prove it” deal has been met with a mix of wild-eyed enthusiasm, and cautious optimism from Steeler Nation. I root hard for whoever is on the field in Black and Gold. Good things will always happen, no game is out of reach and Pittsburgh will find a way.
I was elated my junior year in high school in 1984 when Mark Malone found a way to beat the Los Angeles Raiders in the final game of the season to make the playoffs at 9-7 and I was convinced we would win the Super Bowl when we came from behind against Denver in the divisional round to win 24-17. Ultimately, I was crushed when Dan Marino thumped us a week later and remember actively rooting for San Francisco to beat the Miami Dolphins, which they did because only my beloved Steelers could beat the 1984-85 49ers.
A cast of rotating characters became either scrappy underdog heroes like Bubby Brister or Tommy Maddox who fall into this category. Tragic figures who seemed like they would lead the Steelers on the elusive drive for five like Neil O’Donnell and Kordell Stewart, occupy this space, but fell short. Truly awful performers who we rationalized away as they couldn’t possibly do worse the next week like Kent Graham and Mike Tomczak, leap to mind, but they weren’t the only ones. Which brings us full circle back to Mr. Trubisky. I certainly hope that he becomes our third elite quarterback in the Super Bowl era, but I would certainly settle for scrappy underdog hero. However, in the most optimistic version of ranking the AFC quarterbacks I can muster, Mitch Trubisky is ranked 14th among AFC quarterbacks. See the chart below:
|2022 AFC QB Rankings|
|1||Pat Mahomes||5||Justin Herbert||9||Ryan Tannehill||13||Zach Wilson|
|2||Josh Allen||6||Deshaun Watson||10||Matt Ryan||14||Mitch Trubisky|
|3||Joe Burrow||7||Lamar Jackson||11||Trevor Lawrence||15||Tua Tagovailoa|
|4||Russell Wilson||8||Derek Carr||12||Mac Jones||16||Davis Mills|
This is my opinion of course, and you could certainly disagree on the order of 11-14, but the quarterbacks immediately ahead of Trubisky, all rookies showed flashes in 2021 that they will be solid starters. While Trubisky could outperform them, initially I just can’t put him ahead of them. The good news is that being 14th in the AFC still puts him in the top 18-20 quarterbacks in the league as outside of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Matt Stafford, the NFC has a lot of questions at the QB position. It also is possible with all this exceptional QB play that we do not see any team runaway and hide with 12-13 wins.
Parity is the Steelers friend in 2022. The Steelers formula this season should be ball control with an improved running game and a return to smash mouth defense that centers around stopping the run. The miserable run defense in 2021 will be tested early and often in 2022 and if the Myles Jack addition and return of Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt restore the once vaunted run defense to a top 10 unit, the lower end of the current crop of AFC quarterbacks is not the death sentence it was in seasons prior. If all of the AFC is beating each other causing a glut of 10-7 and 9-8 teams, the Steelers could follow the Tennessee Titans formula over the last couple of years by becoming what these high-flying offenses hate to face. Physical run first offenses that can beat you over the top with big plays when you put 8 in the box. The Titans have Derrick Henry, a big strong Alabama product who has been the best back in football recently and an extremely physical defense. The Steelers have Najee Harris, another big strong Alabama product who with a little help from a revamped line, will be among the best backs in football in 2022, and if all goes as planned, an extremely physical defense.
That formula paired with Mitch Trubisky throwing 25-30 times per game with 1-2 big plays in the passing game every week may not put him in the top 10 of a gifted AFC quarterback arms race, but it could have the Steelers winning 10-11 games and finishing in the top 7 of the AFC playoff race. That race is all that Steelers fans really care about.
What do you think, Steeler Nation? Optimistic, myopic or just plain loco? Please comment below or follow me on Twitter or Instagram @thebubbasq.