There’s a lot of reasons why the Pittsburgh Steelers may be a year or two away from really becoming Super Bowl contenders again. Quarterback Kenny Pickett is entering just his second season, and the Steelers have several new projected starters on defense.
Furthermore, the Steelers reside in the vaunted AFC North, where all four teams believe they are playoff contenders this year.
But the Steelers being a year or two away was not the message head coach Mike Tomlin conveyed on the first day of OTAs. Instead, he put his team on notice.
“(Tomlin) was real big on taking this championship this year,” Johnson told The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly when talking about Tomlin’s message to the team on May 24. “We brought in a lot of players this year, so we are feeling really good about this season.”
“We have one goal in mind,” Pickett told Kaboly.
That goal isn’t to return to the playoffs or end the team’s playoff win drought. It’s to win the Super Bowl.
Mike Tomlin Sets Standard High at OTAs
It’s important to not overhype Tomlin’s call for a championship. Every team should share that goal and set the standard high even after a disappointing season.
Throughout Tomlin’s 17-year tenure, the standard has been the standard with the Steelers.
But Tomlin’s championship or bust mentality on the first day of OTAs is still noteworthy because the path even to the playoffs could be a very difficult one for the Steelers.
This year, to even earn a wild card spot, the Steelers might be competing with the Baltimore Ravens, Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets.
All four of those teams, like the Steelers, could arguably be better in 2023 than 2022.
That’s not even considering the Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars. They each enter this season as favorites in their division.
Tomlin Stressing Fast Start to 2023 Season
With such a formidable group of teams in the AFC, there doesn’t figure to be much room for error in 2023. That includes in September.
Tomlin’s Steelers own a share of the 11th-best September record in the NFL since 2007 at 28-25-1 (.538 win percentage). That’s a respectable mark, but Tomlin’s win percentage during the other four months of the regular season are all above .620.
The Steelers are traditionally middle-of-the-road early in the season until finding their stride for the stretch run. That happened last year, as the team finished 9-8 after starting 2-6.
But the 2-6 hole helped prevent the Steelers from making the postseason in 2022. This year, Tomlin is stressing not falling into such a big hole early in the season.
“He said, ‘We gotta go,’ and we do,” linebacker Alex Highsmith said Tomlin told the team on May 24. “One thing about the NFL is there are a bunch of good teams, so you can’t warm up. We have a good division, so if we want to come out on top, we must start fast.”
The Steelers will have to earn it if they do indeed “start fast” in 2023. While they only play two playoff teams from last year in the first five weeks, the Steelers will have two division matchups and two road trips to different time zones during that span.
They also host the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1.