The enigma that is the Pittsburgh Steelers and their 6-3 record

2RYXMDX Houston, Texas, USA. 1st Oct, 2023. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) takes the snap during the game between between the Houston Texans and the Pittsburgh Steelers at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX on October 1, 2023. (Credit Image: © Erik Williams/ZUMA Press Wire) EDITORIAL USAGE ONLY! Not for Commercial USAGE!

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been outgained by opponents in each of their nine games in 2023. They have a -26 point differential. Their highest-scoring game came without finding the endzone on offense. They haven’t won a game by more than seven points, and all of their losses are by double digits.

That same team has a 6-3 record, owns the top wild-card spot in the AFC through Week 10 and is a game back of the division lead and the second overall seed.


The Steelers have been the biggest enigma in the NFL in 2023. Most metrics suggest they should be, at best, a .500 team. Yet, through nine games, they have the same record as the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks — all teams expecting to make deep playoff runs.

Pittsburgh has played the fewest offensive snaps through Week 10 (558) and scored the sixth-fewest points (156). The team's 62.4 PFF offense grade is the fifth-worst mark in the league. And their -0.093 expected points added figure ranks ninth worst, while only 40% of their plays generate positive EPA, which ranks sixth worst.

After an extremely productive preseason in which he led a touchdown drive every time he hit the field, second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett has struggled in the regular season. His 63.6 passing grade ranks just 26th out of 38 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks, and his more traditional stats aren’t overly impressive. He has completed 157 of 269 passes for 1,654 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions to go along with just eight big-time throws and seven turnover-worthy plays. Steelers passers this season have thrown the second-fewest catchable targets (196), better than only the Tennessee Titans.

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Steelers receivers haven’t helped much, either, as their cumulative 64.0 receiving grade ranks fifth worst, although the unit has forced 44 missed tackles on receptions. Still, they tend to go down quickly, as their cumulative 322 yards after contact is better than only the Giants’ 314 and the Cardinals’ 321.

Pittsburgh's ground game is average in most categories, ranking 13th in EPA per play (-.049) and 17th in team rushing grade (73.8). They are averaging 4.1 yards per carry, which also ranks 17th, yet are tied for 10th with 31 explosive runs (runs of at least 10 yards). Some 31.7% of the team's rushing yards are coming before contact, which may suggest that the run blocking has been good, yet 26.3% of their runs have been stuffed (tackles for loss or no gain), which is the fifth-worst mark in the NFL. Pittsburgh's run-blocking unit ranks 20th in PFF grade (59.0).

Pass blocking has been a major issue for the Steelers, as their cumulative 46.9 grade is the second worst in the NFL, making them the only unit with a better mark than the injury-riddled Giants. Only seven sacks have been charged to offensive linemen, but the unit has the fourth-most lost repetitions that didn't become pressure. Overall, the Steelers’ offensive line has allowed 107 total pressures, which is tied with the Browns for 17th.

So, if a team with a sub-par offense is 6-3, the defense must be great, right? Well, that’s also a mixed bag in Pittsburgh.


The Steelers' pass rush is very good, for starters. They rank in or near the top 10 in numerous categories, including sacks (31, ninth), hits (37, 11th), hurries (140, sixth), total pressures (208, seventh), win rate (48.9%, eighth), pass-rush productivity score (30.3, eighth) and pressure rate (38.5%, eighth). In fact, T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith’s 89 combined pressures are the most by any duo in the NFL. A dominant pass rush has been a staple of this franchise for generations, and the 2023 squad has kept it going once again.

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But every other aspect of the Steelers' defense has question marks. The run-defense unit lacks consistency. Nothing speaks to that more than their having the fourth-most positively graded run-defense plays and the fourth-most negatively graded run-defense plays. They rank seventh with 147 run stops (runs that go two or fewer yards without gaining a first down or scoring), yet their average depth of tackle is 4.29 yards (seventh worst).

Opposing offenses are airing it out against the Steelers. Through Week 10, they are tied with the Bengals for most yards per reception allowed (12.5) and have surrendered the second-highest average depth of target (9.8).

One would think that a team that gets targeted deep so often would struggle, yet the Steelers are the only team in the NFL where fewer than 50% of targeted throws against them are deemed open (48.3%), which has contributed to them allowing just an 86.3 passer rating.

The Steelers do have some things working in their favor — namely, turnovers. They are +10 in turnover margin, which is tied with the Bengals for the best in the NFL through Week 10. The offense has thrown just six interceptions — only four from Pickett, who hasn’t been picked off since Week 4. They have also lost just two fumbles.

Of the six teams the Steelers have beaten, only the Ravens are generating positive EPA per play. And with eight games remaining on their schedule, Baltimore is the lone opponent averaging positive EPA per play. With the way things have gone through Week 10, there’s a path for the Steelers to land a very high seed this postseason.


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