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Wednesday Warning: The Steelers, the three Chinese curses, and the Pickett-led offense

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BUFFALO (KDKA) - Welcome to the Wednesday Warning - each Wednesday, KDKA-TV Sports' Josh Taylor takes you through what you need to know for that upcoming Sunday's Steelers game. 

There are likely dozens of creative ways to sum up the Steelers' season so far at the estimated quarter pole, but perhaps I could contribute one in the form of the three famous Chinese curses: May you live in interesting times, may you be recognized by people in high places, and may you find what you're looking for.

Needless to say, a 1-3 record to start the season while anticipating four upcoming games against division leaders (two of them, Miami and Buffalo, are tied for first place in the AFC East with Miami currently holding the tiebreaker) would classify as interesting. It also doesn't make things any less dull when two of those three losses came by four points or less, but yet, here the Steelers stand in need of answers and solutions in short order.

It also goes without saying the Steelers' current situation on offense has been recognized by league analysts and pundits across the league, with the root of the discussion dating all the way back to training camp as to whom the starting quarterback should be. Now, having made a change after halftime last week against the New York Jets from veteran free agent signee Mitchell Trubisky to this year's first-round pick, Kenny Pickett, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has handed control of the offense to the rookie, hoping to continue the "spark" Tomlin says Pickett provided in the second half of a 24-20 loss. But with that decision looms all the gravity of the third curse: may you find what you're looking for, or in the case of a subset of the fan base, may you get what you ask for.

That isn't to say Pickett being named the signal-caller for this offense is a curse; far from it, actually. The curse is this unit's lack of scoring punch and ability to control the ball throughout games. It currently ranks in the bottom third of the league in points scored, total offense, passing offense, average drive time and average yards gained per drive. Add to that a rookie making his first professional start against the league's second-best scoring defense, best total defense and best passing defense, and it feels like even more of a nefarious wish.

May you be recognized by people in high places.

Some may claim history is on Pickett's side, considering this fun little stat the NFL's research team found: the last rookie quarterback to beat the league's number one pass defense in his first career start was Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

But those of us old enough to remember will quickly recall that rainy Sunday night in Miami with double-digit winds, a forecast that followed two hurricanes "Jeanne" and "Ivan," respectively. The weather conditions were so far from ideal for football, a forever-lasting image from that game is a punt that fell from the air and then stuck directly in the mud without bouncing.

The Steelers won that game, 13-3, having rushed for 153 yards (101 by Duce Staley on 22 carries) and thrown for 161 as a team. The Steelers defense also sacked Dolphins' quarterback A.J. Feeley three times and intercepted him twice, while also limiting Miami to 52 yards rushing on 29 carries.

While Roethlisberger's first victory in 2004 seems like quite a heroic accomplishment and makes for a fun story, it was really more of an intervention of fate and a favorable matchup.

Pickett, however, will not have the benefit of the league's top-scoring defense at his back, opposing a career journeyman who started 18 games for three different NFL teams, or the remnants of back-to-back catastrophic storms since Sunday's game will be played at Highmark Stadium - ahem, the other Highmark Stadium - in western New York, significantly further away from the Tropic of Cancer.

Instead, Buffalo's offense will be led by Josh Allen, a preseason favorite for the league's MVP award and the catalyst for the Bills being an odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl.

May you live in interesting times.

The truth is it's hard to find a piece of historic evidence - recent or previous - to support the Steelers offense in this matchup, especially of late.

Dating back to last season's playoff loss in Kansas City, in three of their last five games, the Steelers' first touchdown has either been scored by or aided by the defense. T.J. Watt's fumble recovery gave the Steelers a 7-0 lead over the Chiefs during last season's Wild Card round.

Minkah Fitzpatrick opened the season's scoring with an interception return for a touchdown in Week 1 against Cincinnati, and last week Fitzpatrick's second-quarter interception against the New York Jets put the Steelers' offense on the Jets' 4-yard-line, setting up Pickett's first career touchdown run on a one-yard sneak three plays later.

Kenny Pickett's biggest challenge in this game isn't Buffalo's top-ranked defense; it's picking his own offense up off the mat, and he got off to a strong start with two rushing touchdowns in the second half against the Jets at Acrisure Stadium. But a fourth-quarter interception gave the Jets the ball on their own 35-yard-line with 3:34 remaining, and quarterback Zac Wilson led a 10-play drive that ended with the game-winning, two-yard touchdown run by Breece Hall.

Last week was just the latest example of a Steelers offense that can't open games (zero first-quarter touchdowns), and also can't close them (two fourth-quarter touchdowns).

Fixing both of those problems will take more than just Pickett.

The Steelers must be able to rely on a run game that has gotten increasingly more efficient, including a combined 92 yards on 21 carries last week by running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. If the offense can find a similar rhythm with them and then use it to open up the middle of the field, perhaps we'll see more performances similar to tight end Pat Freiermuth's seven receptions for 85 yards and rookie wide receiver George Pickens' six catches for 102 yards against the Jets.

The Steelers have invested their first and second-round picks from each of the last two seasons on their current starting quarterback, running back, tight end, and one of their top wide receivers. They will need them all to work together if they have any hope of this offense surpassing 20 points scored in a game, which they still have yet to do.

Of the bottom 10 offenses in the league in scoring (the Steelers are currently 23rd at 18.5 points per game), only one of those teams, the Dallas Cowboys, has a record above .500. The Cowboys' defense has also allowed the third-fewest points at 15.5.

To expect that to be sustainable going forward is not only virtually impossible, it's also highly unreasonable.

The Steelers' defense has drawn criticism for its inability to hold teams in the fourth quarter this season, and rightfully so.

They've allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown in three out of four games so far. But the offense has also failed to score a touchdown in the final 13 minutes of regulation in all four games this season, and it cost them the lead in two of them.

Damning the defense for failing to stop opposing offenses from closing out games while also absolving the offense for failing to close out games themselves rings both hollow and loud.

An offense has essentially one job: to attack. That essential element has all but disappeared when it's needed most, so we probably shouldn't be surprised when the ability to fend off another team's scoring attack disappears also.

The Steelers defense has had to do two jobs for this team this season: both prevent points and help score them. They need to be able to go back to doing only one job by having the offense finally show up to do their own.

Hopefully, that's where Pickett comes in, and even then, he can't do it by himself.

May you find what you're looking for.

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