Replacing legendary NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was never going to be an easy job for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mitch Trubisky was the player most people expected to be entrusted with the starting role after signing a two-year contract with the Steelers in March.
The subsequent decision to select University of Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett with the 20th pick overall in the 2022 NFL Draft threw a spanner in the works.
However, head coach Mike Tomlin went with Trubisky and he is reportedly pleased with what he has seen from the 28-year-old to date.
This is despite seeing his team post a 1-2 record in their first three games – a run that includes a dismal defeat against AFC North rivals Cleveland Browns.
Tomlin’s decision to back Trubisky has surprised several respected pundits, but former Steelers star Santonio Holmes believes it is the right move to make.
“I think Trubisky definitely fits the role of QB1 one right now, and coach Tomlin has made that decision,” he told Betway.
“There are legitimate reasons why, and it’s his job to lose. The next man up, just definitely be ready. Injuries happen – God forbid anything to happen to Trubisky.
“He’s wearing a very pretty-looking number, the number 10. I like to see that number 10 do well and throw his hands up for touchdowns and victories, just as much as you saw me throwing my hands up.”
Trubisky’s inability to get the Steelers’ offense firing has not been helped by some average performances from their wide receivers.
Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and George Pickens are the players who have been tasked with providing attacking threat for the Steelers this season.
None of the trio have performed consistently during the early part of the campaign, but Holmes believes they have the ability to improve as the season progresses.
“Right now, giving these guys a grade between one and five, you’re gonna put them in the middle – a three,” added Holmes.
“They have the experience from Diontae, they have the size from Claypool, and with Pickens being able to play inside and outside, that gives him a dual threat to stretch the field on both sides.
“I really see these guys having some fun this year If we can keep our running back healthy, and be able to run the ball as much as we’d like, those passing lanes will open up for our receivers.”
While the Steelers will want more from their wide receivers over the next few months, there have been several glimpses of what they bring to the table.
That was undoubtedly the case against the Browns in Week 3, when Pickens made an incredible one-handed 36-yard reception in the first quarter.
Pickens’ catch led to a five-yard touchdown run by running back Najee Harris, but was not enough to prevent the team from slipping to a disappointing 27-19 defeat.
The 21-year-old’s remarkable effort highlighted why people have been raving about him and Holmes believes he will only get better with more experience under his belt.
“He’s becoming a pro,” he said. “Obviously, his name has been talked about, and for good reason. I’m excited to see what he brings to the table this year.
“There’s a lot of weapons on the field, but keeping guys healthy, starting with the O-line up front, being able to protect Trubisky, giving him a chance to read his targets.
“Each of those guys has to play off each other’s back. Don’t go in with the mindset of being selfish, it’s all about playing together as a group.”
One of the biggest issues the Steelers must overcome if they want to be successful is finding a way to win without T.J. Watt in their line-up.
The Steelers are now 0-6-1 in their last seven games where Watt has been inactive or injured and he is not due to return to action for several more weeks.
Watt dominated defensively in the Steelers’ solitary victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, but a pectoral injury forced him off the field just before the end of the game.
The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year has not needed surgery, but he may not be back until the Steelers host the New Orleans Saints in November.
The upcoming fixture list has not been kind to the Steelers, with four of their next five matches against teams that have started the season well.
Tomlin’s team are expected to beat the New York Jets this weekend, but face a difficult schedule during the rest of October.
Games against the Buffalo Bills (A), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (H), Miami Dolphins (A) and Philadelphia Eagles (A) will test how well the Steelers can cope without Watt.
However, if they can somehow arrive at the Saints game with a 4-4 record, they would be well placed to mount a strong bid to reach the play-offs.
Welcoming Watt back into the fold would be a massive boost and could make the Steelers genuine contenders when the post-season comes around.
Holmes has been hugely impressed by Watt and believes he could be in the conversation to be chosen as the MVP this season.
Whether that is realistic given the 27-year-old’s recent absence is up for debate, but Holmes is no doubt about what he brings to the Steelers’ defensive unit.
“I would want to go with a defensive player (for the MVP award), somebody like Watt,” he said. “The more you do for a defense, and for a team, the better your chances are of winning.
“And the majority of the time the person that leads the charge for that team deserves to be in that position.
“So, if you can win Defensive Player of the Year and become an MVP for your organisation – that deserves an MVP vote in my in my book.”