The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they hosted the Cleveland Browns in Week 13 of the regular season. After the AFC North divisional 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 12...
Stat Line: 16 carries, 63 yards, 1 TD, 3.9 ypc
Without James Conner it didn’t seem as if the Steelers would have much of a ground game, but then Benny Snell returned from his knee injury and has seemingly saved the day. It isn’t flashy, but Snell’s hard-nosed style is just what the Steelers’ offense needs at this juncture. Sometimes three yards and a cloud of dust isn’t a bad thing, and Snell has provided that for this depleted offense. His first down run backed up in their own end was a thing of beauty. When Conner returns a running back by committee looks a lot more reasonable now.
Stat Line: 14/21, 221 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT,
Hodges finally had the handcuffs taken off him and was allowed to start slinging the ball around. Once this happened, the offense started to open up. Down 10-0, Hodges was able to orchestrate two drives to tie the game 10-10 heading into halftime. Those drives, and that second quarter, might have saved the season for the Steelers. I don’t think there is any doubt who is the starter moving forward for the black-and-gold.
Stat Line: 4 catches, 111 yards, 1 TD, 27.8 ypr
Washington has been tremendous in the absence of JuJu Smith-Schuster, but how much of this is part of his development, or quarterbacks just throwing him the football? Hodges looked to Washington for big plays, his calling card in college, and Washington picked up the rookie quarterback. Just like Snell, when Smith-Schuster returns Washington’s development/capabilities will only help the offense even more.
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 INT
Joe Haden should have at least four interceptions on the year, and it was great to see him get the game-clinching INT against his former team. The Steelers defense is becoming an elite group, and everyone has their hand in the pile. It just so happened Haden was the latest player to come up with a big play when the team needed it.
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 QB Hits
Watt has become a mainstay on the winners list, and rightfully so. The man is playing at a Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) pace. His consistent pressure has made the entire defense look better, both in the pass rush as well as the secondary. At this point, when Watt records just one sack fans are wondering what happened? And that is a good problem to have...
Stat Line: 6 tackles, 4 solo, 1.5 sacks, 1.5 TFL, 1 pass defense, 2 QB Hits
Bud Dupree continues to impress in 2019, and is setting himself up for a huge payday this offseason one way or another. But let’s not talk about that just now. Instead, let’s talk about how Dupree and Watt are by far the best pass rushing duo in the NFL right now. Now doubt about it. If the offense wants to chip or double Watt, it will leave Dupree with a one-on-one matchup. Dupree has already set a career high in sacks, and the Steelers are on the verge of having two double-digit sack getters this season.
Stat Line: Stacking wins
The Steelers were left for dead at 0-3, and again when they were 1-4, but the Steelers kept grinding. It didn’t matter who was injured, or who was at quarterback, the Steelers have continued to stack wins. The Steelers have won 7 of their last 9 games, and are in sole possession of the 6th spot in the AFC Playoff Picture. Tomlin deserves credit for this team’s play.
Stat Line: 1 reception, 14 yards, 5 targets
A very rookie performance for Johnson on Sunday. Whether it was the false start penalty, the 15-yard personal foul penalty, the drop or running out of bounds late in the game, this is one Johnson will want to forget. I’m sure he will turn the page quickly, and better days are certainly awaiting Diontae Johnson.
Stat Line: Questionable play calling
I hope Randy Fichtner learned something after Week 13. Hodges spoke about how critical the two-minute drive was in getting him comfortable and in rhythm with his receivers. Fichtner’s run-run-pass approach in the first quarter wasn’t just boring to watch, but detrimental to the offense. Compound that with a strange 1st and 10 pass play which resulted in an interception, and fans have been scratching their heads over the play calling. There can be a happy median between pass happy and run heavy. Fichtner needs to find it...