The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday night when they hosted the Buffalo Bills in Week 15 of the regular season. After the AFC conference game on Sunday, it is time to see who performed well, and who left a lot to be desired.
Improvement was evident in some ways, and hopefully will continue, but the judgement process must go on. Players who play well can be considered ‘Winners’, while those who left plays on the field can be deemed ‘Losers’. It may sound harsh, but it is the crux of this exercise.
Let’s check in to see who fell on which side of the ledger after Week 15...
Stat Line: 4 tackles, 3 solo, .5 sack, 2.5 TFL, 1 PD, 2 QB Hits
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ stud outside linebacker showed out on prime time, making his case for the Defensive Player of the Year award. Sadly, it wasn’t enough to give the Steelers the win, but Watt’s play was a huge bright spot for the Steelers on the night where there weren’t many.
Stat Line: 8 tackles, 5 solo, 1 PD, 1 QB Hit
The Steelers defensive captain was every bit as dominant at T.J. Watt was in this game, and maybe more. Heyward controlled the line of scrimmage, stuffed the run and made life miserable for Josh Allen in the pocket. Heyward’s play was a huge positive for the Steelers when they needed their leader to show the way.
Stat Line: 5 receptions, 83 yards, 11 targets
When Chris Berman and Tom Jackson did NFL Prime Time every Sunday evening, they used to say the same thing about Cris Carter, “All he does is catch touchdowns!” I feel they could say the same thing about James Washington and his big plays made down the sideline. Washington has made plays left and right for the Steelers over the second half of the season, and is becoming a very reliable target for the anemic Pittsburgh offense.
Stat Line: 8 carries, 42 yards / 4 catches, 9 yards, 1 TD
The Steelers welcomed Conner back to the lineup Sunday night, and he didn’t disappoint. Whether it was his 15 yard run on the team’s first possession, or his nifty catch and run for the team’s lone touchdown, Conner proved why he is still the starter for the Steelers at running back. There might be more capable bodies in the backfield now with players like Kerrith Whyte and Benny Snell, but Conner is still the No. 1.
Stat Line: 5 punts 43 yards, 0 touchbacks, 0 inside the 20
Berry had been having himself an incredible season, but Sunday night was a dud. His first shanked punt resulted in the Bills’ first touchdown, and the Steelers just couldn’t get the field-flipping punt they needed from the Australian kicker. Maybe this was a blip on the radar, but Berry returned to 2018 form in Week 15.
Stat Line: 23/38, 202 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT, 4 Sacks
Hodges had done one thing great during the 3-game winning streak. Protect the football. That certainly didn’t happen vs. the Bills defense on Sunday. Hodges was confused by the Bills multiple looks on defense, and his failure to manipulate the pocket resulted in sacks, fumbles and forced passes. Just a dud of a game for the Duck.
Stat Line: 4 INTs, 1 Fumble Lost, 4 Fumbles total
The Steelers had 5 giveaways in Week 15, but could have had a total of 9 had they lost all the fumbles they had during the prime time game. Kudos to the Bills’ defense, but the Steelers offense certainly didn’t do much to protect the football. This game left you wondering if the offense just turned the ball over 3 times, and not 5, would they have won the game? I’d make that argument considering the horrible timing of turnovers like the fumble immediately following Steven Nelson’s interception.
Stat Line: Why?!
The Wildcat was fun in Week 4 when the Steelers got their first win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football. Then came the Jaylen Samuels interception vs. the Baltimore Ravens the following week. We thought it was dead and gone, but you underestimate Randy Fichtner. Fichtner continues to go back to the well that is the Wildcat formation, and it came back to bite them again when Maurkice Pouncey’s low snap threw the entire play off. The result? A botched handoff and fumble immediately following a critical takeaway by the defense. The Wildcat formation has hit its shelf life...time to put it away for good.
Stat Line: 5 receptions, 62 yards, 7 targets, 2 fumbles, 1 fumble lost
I really like Diontae Johnson, and feel is going to have a really special career in Pittsburgh. But there are things he has to learn before he can get to that point. The first, and most important, is to protect the football. This wasn’t the first time Johnson has put the ball on the turf, and something which desperately needs to change in the coming weeks/years. Johnson is electrifying, but can also be downright frustrating to watch at times. Such is life as a rookie, but hopefully he learns from his mistakes.