clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Pittsburgh Steelers Post Season Awards, Part 2

New, 6 comments

The conclusion of our 2019 Steelers-specific “awards”

Los Angeles Rams v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

This is Part 2 of a series, revisiting preseason and midseason awards predictions. Part 1, featuring more traditional awards, can be found HERE. In Part 2, I wanted to speculate about some less traditional “awards” for the upcoming season. I’ll include the entries from the first version, plus a few new ones.

My goal, as always, is to start a few arguments in the comments section, so have at it. On with the show. Go Steelers.

Here’s the shorthand version (with my picks). Explanations and polls to follow.

People’s Choice Award: Joe Haden
Biggest Disappointment: Offense’s inability to respond to the bliz
Pleasant Surprise: Interceptions on the Rise
Weakest Link: Quarterbacking
Strongest Unit: Defensive Backfield
Unsung Hero: Chris Boswell
Biggest Loss: Ben Roethlisberger
Addition by Subtraction: Antonio Brown
Next Man Up: Benny Snell, Jr.
Leadership: Cameron Heyward
Coaching Decision of the Year: Kicking away in overtime against Baltimore
Play of the Year: Javon Hargrave sacks Baker Mayfield out of field goal range
Game of the Year (individual): Minkah Fitzpatrick against Rams
Missing Piece: Veteran Backup QB
Next Big Star: Diontae Johnson
Name We’ll All Know Next Year: Isaiah Buggs


People’s Choice Award

This is an award for guys that, every time they do something (anything), we all get stoked. I imagine Brett Keisel would have won this a few years ago, or Juju in his rookie season (with his stolen bike and his knockout hit on Vontaze Burfict). Who did you find yourself saying, “man, I love this guy!” at least once or twice per game?

Preseason Winner: JuJu Smith-Schuster (38%)
My Preseason Choice: Jaylen Samuels

Midseason Winner: Minkah Fitzpatrick (68%)
My Midseason Pick: Devlin Hodges

Poll

People’s Choice Award

This poll is closed.

  • 18%
    James Washington
    (54 votes)
  • 3%
    Kerrith Whyte
    (11 votes)
  • 7%
    Benny Snell, Jr.
    (22 votes)
  • 47%
    Joe Haden
    (140 votes)
  • 7%
    Mike Hilton
    (21 votes)
  • 15%
    Other
    (46 votes)
294 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Joe Haden

This one doesn’t have a clear winner to me. But, as the season unfolded, I found myself more and more stoked as Joe Haden came on — ending two games with INTs, making athletic pass breakups in one-on-one moments, and flashing that million dollar grin. He is a legitimate gamer and seems like a genuinely good guy. In an otherwise odd field, I’ll throw this one to Joe.


Biggest Disappointment

I’m thinking of it as an element of the team that appears to be a strength (or at least solid), but which winds up disappointing us all.

Preseason Winner: Return Game (45%)
My Preseason Choice: Backfield Creativity

Midseason Winner: Down field Passing (35%), Run Blocking (32%)
My Midseason Pick: Downfield Passing

Poll

Biggest Disappointment

This poll is closed.

  • 16%
    Offense’s ability to respond to the blitz
    (46 votes)
  • 33%
    Run Blocking
    (92 votes)
  • 12%
    Offensive Depth
    (35 votes)
  • 10%
    Tight Ends
    (29 votes)
  • 21%
    First quarter offense (esp. opening drive)
    (59 votes)
  • 5%
    Other
    (14 votes)
275 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Offense’s Ability to Respond to the Blitz

Disclaimer: I didn’t include “quarterbacking” up here because this category is about things we had high expectations for. Once Ben went down, no one could have expected much better than the 8-6 record Rudolph and Hodges led (at one point, they were 8-3!). Quarterback play is listed below under the “weakest link.”

It seemed to me the biggest collapse of the last three games came when the Bills (and then Jets and Ravens) realized they could send heat and the Steelers (Duck in particular) would fold. A vet like Ben loves a blitz because he knows someone must be open, and he has the poise and vision to exploit the mismatch. But neither Hodges and Rudolph have that poise and vision. So it was beholden on the team to adjust to help them — such as running more roll-outs, 3-step drops, draw plays, and other plays designed to take the heat off the QB and make the blitzing team pay. Instead, the Steelers kept running conventional offense and their young QBs continued to struggle (including dialing up 40+ passes against Buffalo, which put that game squarely on Duck’s shoulders). I think this was the prime contributor to their late-season nosedive and the biggest reason they missed the playoffs in 2019.


Pleasant Surprise

Preseason Winner: Interceptions on the Rise (68%)
My Preseason Choice: Interceptions on the Rise

Midseason Winner: Interceptions on the Rise (76%)
My Midseason Pick: Interceptions on the Rise

Poll

Pleasant Surprise

This poll is closed.

  • 27%
    Interceptions on the Rise
    (74 votes)
  • 40%
    Bud Dupree finding his wings
    (110 votes)
  • 3%
    Diontae Johnson solidifying the return game
    (9 votes)
  • 13%
    New players contributing only hours/days after signing with the team
    (36 votes)
  • 10%
    Going 3-0 with Duck (at first)
    (28 votes)
  • 4%
    Mike Tomlin winning a few coach’s challenges
    (12 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (2 votes)
271 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Interceptions on the Rise

I’m still rolling with Interceptions as the most pleasant surprise. The Steelers were SO bad at taking the ball away last year (and the last few years) that this change never stopped pleasing me.


Weakest Link

Preseason Winner: Second Tight End (61%)
My Preseason Choice: Kick Coverage

Midseason Winner: Passing Game (32%), Kick/Punt Returns (32%)
My Midseason Pick: Kick/Punt Returns

Poll

Weakest Link

This poll is closed.

  • 4%
    Tight Ends
    (12 votes)
  • 53%
    Quarterbacking
    (147 votes)
  • 10%
    Run Blocking
    (29 votes)
  • 23%
    Offensive Play Calling
    (64 votes)
  • 8%
    Ball Security
    (22 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (1 vote)
275 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Quarterbacking

This doesn’t seem fair, since Rudolph and Hodges had zero NFL snaps before Ben went down, and then had the terrible misfortune of little-to-no running game to lean on. But watching journeyman backups like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, and Ryan Tannehill play strong football in relief in other cities, I kept thinking that even competent quarterback play would have made the Steelers an 11 or 12 win squad. There’s no other area of the team where basic competence would have made this team a contender.


Strongest Unit

Preseason Winner: Offensive Line (54%)
My Preseason Choice: Offensive Line

Midseason Winner: Linebackers (41%), Defensive Backfield (38%)
My Midseason Pick: Defensive Backfield

Poll

Strongest Unit

This poll is closed.

  • 37%
    Linebackers
    (99 votes)
  • 44%
    Defensive Backfield
    (117 votes)
  • 16%
    Defensive Line
    (43 votes)
  • 1%
    Wide Receivers
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (1 vote)
263 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Defensive Backfield

The linebackers were strong too, but the DBs were in their own zip code. Minkah Fitzpatrick, as we all know, was a first-team all pro in his season in Pittsburgh, but Joe Haden and Steven Nelson are the best cornerback duo in Pittsburgh in at least twenty years. Meanwhile, slot corner Mike Hilton continues to play solid football, and Cameron Sutton looks like a baller in limited action as well. Terrell Edmunds has been spotty, but there’s plenty of time for him to develop. This unit is superb.


Unsung Hero

Preseason Winner: Javon Hargrave (39%)
My Preseason Choice: Javon Hargrave

Midseason Winner: Steven Nelson (51%)
My Midseason Pick: Vince Williams

Poll

Unsung Hero

This poll is closed.

  • 3%
    Vince Williams
    (8 votes)
  • 5%
    Javon Hargrave
    (15 votes)
  • 1%
    Jordan Berry
    (3 votes)
  • 52%
    Steven Nelson
    (139 votes)
  • 36%
    Chris Boswell
    (95 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (3 votes)
263 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Chris Boswell

Boswell had a hell of a year with little or no fanfare. He deserved an All Pro nod, or at least a Pro Bowl berth, but got neither. Instead, he just came out and delivered every week. He was the most reliable scoring threat on this team.


Biggest Loss

Preseason Winner: Mike Munchak (45%)
My Preseason Choice: Daryl Drake

Midseason Winner: Ben Roethlisberger (65%)
My Midseason Pick: Ben Roethlisberger

Poll

Biggest Loss

This poll is closed.

  • 79%
    Ben Roethlisberger
    (213 votes)
  • 16%
    Mike Munchak
    (43 votes)
  • 0%
    Stephon Tuitt
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Le’Veon Bell
    (2 votes)
  • 2%
    Roosevelt Nix
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
267 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Ben Roethlisberger

In another year, losing Stephon Tuitt would have qualified as a massive loss (imagine how good this defense would have been if Tuitt didn’t go down). And honestly, the thought crossed my mind several times this year that Le’Veon Bell would have been a real asset with the inexperienced QBs and short-yardage game. But honestly, there’s no real choice here. Losing Ben was everything.


Addition by Subtraction

Preseason Winner: Antonio Brown (74%)
My Preseason Choice: Antonio Brown

Midseason Winner: Antonio Brown (65%)
My Midseason Pick: Antonio Brown

Poll

Addition by Subtraction

This poll is closed.

  • 66%
    Antonio Brown
    (169 votes)
  • 12%
    Joey Porter
    (31 votes)
  • 6%
    Sean Davis
    (16 votes)
  • 13%
    Donte Moncrief
    (35 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (4 votes)
255 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Antonio Brown

I had to think hard about Donte Moncrief, who contributed significantly to losses against New England and Seattle (in fact, you could argue that Moncrief’s tip-drill that got picked off against he Seahawks was the deciding factor of the game). But at the end of the day, you could bench him if you wanted to. There’s nothing that could be done with AB except cutting him loose. If he was around this year, he’d have wrecked the team chemistry, ruined the young QBs’ fragile confidence, and likely been suspended by the league for his sexual misconduct. No thanks.


BONUS 1: “Awards” that appeared at midseason:

Pittsburgh Steelers v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Next Man Up (Best Replacement)

With the Steelers’ many injuries, I thought it made sense to recognize the guys who aren’t supposed to see the field, but come off the bench and hold down the fort.

Midseason Winner: Mason Rudolph (52%)
My Midseason Choice: Tyson Alualu

Poll

Next Man Up

This poll is closed.

  • 38%
    Tyson Alualu
    (95 votes)
  • 5%
    Mason Rudolph / Duck Hodges
    (14 votes)
  • 2%
    Deon Cain
    (7 votes)
  • 39%
    Benny Snell, Jr.
    (98 votes)
  • 12%
    B.J. Finney
    (30 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (3 votes)
247 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Benny Snell, Jr.

Lots of worthy candidates here (and probably a few I missed). But my favorite injury replacement this year was Benny Snell Jr. Snell looked a little overmatched in his early carries, but came on when he got the chance. He started two games and gained over 90 yards in both. And in games where he logged 10 or more carries, he averaged over 73 yards per game. More importantly, he got better as the games went on, doing the bulk of his damage in third and (especially) fourth quarters. It’s yet to be seen whether he could ever develop into a bell-cow back, but the player I saw this year was a perfect reliever.


Leadership

In a season like this, leadership on the field is huge. This team has been needing more of it for years. Who’s keeping these guys together?

Midseason Winner: Cameron Heyward (70%)
My Midseason Choice: Cameron Heyward

Poll

Leadership

This poll is closed.

  • 86%
    Cameron Heyward
    (213 votes)
  • 2%
    Ramon Foster
    (6 votes)
  • 2%
    David Decastro
    (5 votes)
  • 3%
    Joe Haden
    (8 votes)
  • 2%
    Vince Williams
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    JuJu Smith-Schuster
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (3 votes)
246 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Cameron Heyward

All these guys deserves recognition. But this ought to be renamed the “Cameron Heyward Leadership Award.” When a two-time All Pro tells the team, “anyone points a finger, I’ll break it off,” you’ve got yourself a leader.


Bonus Part 2: New Questions for the End of the Year

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Coaching Decision of the Year

Poll

Coaching Decision of the Year

This poll is closed.

  • 12%
    Wildcat Game Plan (against Cincinnati, wk 4)
    (29 votes)
  • 21%
    Kicking to Lamar Jackson in Overtime (against Baltimore, wk 5)
    (49 votes)
  • 3%
    Throwing deep on the game’s first play (against Chargers, wk 6)
    (8 votes)
  • 26%
    Benching Rudolph for Hodges (against Cincinnati, wk 12)
    (61 votes)
  • 12%
    Getting Kerrith Whyte and Deon Cain up to speed to contribute in 72 hours (for Bengals game, wk 12)
    (29 votes)
  • 19%
    Focusing the team’s rage in the rematch (against Cleveland, wk 13)
    (46 votes)
  • 4%
    Other
    (11 votes)
233 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: Kicking to Jackson in Overtime

This was one of my favorite coaching decisions of all time. For those who don’t remember, when the Steelers/Ravens contest went to overtime, and the Steelers won the coin toss, Mike Tomlin bet on his defense to stonewall presumptive MVP Lamar Jackson and the powerful Ravens offense (which would give the Steelers a chance to win on a field goal). And, unbelievably, they did. It was heartbreaking when a fumble gave Baltimore the ball back within field goal range. But this spectacularly gutsy moment told the Ravens that Mike Tomlin wasn’t afraid of them, and his defense rose to the challenge. I love moments like that.


Play of the Year

Poll

Play of the Year

This poll is closed.

  • 45%
    Minkah Fitzpatrick’s 96 yard Pick-6 against Indianapolis
    (108 votes)
  • 11%
    Devlin Hodges to James Washington for 79 yard touchdown against Cincinnati, three plays after entering the game
    (28 votes)
  • 2%
    Benny Snell’s 11 yard run from the 1-inch line against Cleveland
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    Joe Haden finishes off his second straight game with an interception against Arizona
    (3 votes)
  • 8%
    Diontae Johnson sets a team record with his 85 yard punt return touchdown against Arizona
    (21 votes)
  • 0%
    Devin Bush returns a fumble for a TD against the Chargers
    (2 votes)
  • 2%
    Cameron Heyward drives Quenton Nelson into Jacoby Brissett so badly Brissett is injured against Indy
    (7 votes)
  • 9%
    Minkah Fitzpatrick seals the Rams game with interception, after returning fumble for touchdown earlier
    (23 votes)
  • 5%
    Bud Dupree finishes off the Bengals with strip sack and fumble recovery
    (12 votes)
  • 10%
    Javon Hargrave sacks Baker Mayfield out of field goal range in the fourth quarter against Cleveland
    (24 votes)
235 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: Javon Hargrave sacks Baker Mayfield out of field goal range

Man, this was a hard choice. These were all awesome. I liked this one especially because the Browns seemed to have gotten a gift, taking the ball over at the Steelers 30 as they went for the heartbreaking comeback. But Hargrave wouldn’t be denied on third down. (This could really be a sequence with Snell’s 11 yard run, after the Browns punted to the boal line.) The Browns’ clear intent to injure in their TNF win over the Steelers made this especially sweet. But honestly, you couldn’t go wrong in this category. Suggest more in the comments. I’m sure I’m missing plenty.


Game of the Year (for an individual)

Poll

Game of the Year (individual)

This poll is closed.

  • 2%
    James Washington against Cleveland (4 catches, 111 yards, 1 TD)
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Jaylen Samuels against Cincinnati (26 yards rushing, 57 yards receiving, 3-3 passing for 31 yards, 1 rushing touchdown)
    (2 votes)
  • 8%
    Devin Bush against Chargers (7 tackles, 1 pass defensed, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery returned for touchdown)
    (20 votes)
  • 37%
    Minkah Fitzpatrick against Rams (4 tackles, 2 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery returned for touchdown, 1 game-sealing interception)
    (85 votes)
  • 3%
    Joe Haden against Arizona (4 solo tackles, 2 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, including game-ender)
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    James Conner against Miami (143 yards rushing, 1 touchdown)
    (2 votes)
  • 14%
    Diontae Johnson against Arizona (6 catches for 60 yards and touchdown, 1 rush for 16 yards, 1 team record 85 yard punt return touchdown)
    (34 votes)
  • 25%
    TJ Watt against Miami (3 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery)
    (57 votes)
  • 0%
    Bud Dupree against Cleveland (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, 1 pass defensed, 1 forced fumble)
    (1 vote)
  • 4%
    Cam Heyward against Cincy (6 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 QB hits, 1 forced fumble)
    (11 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (2 votes)
228 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: Minkah Fitzpatrick against the Rams

Man, good luck with this category too. Every one of these performances (and others I didn’t have room for) were all worthy here.


Missing Piece

Let’s assume Ben comes back in one piece next year. What is the highest priority for the Steelers to draft / sign / develop? In the preseason you might have said edge rusher, but then Bud Dupree lived up to his promise. At midseason, you might have said kick/punt returner, but then Diontae Johnson made 2nd team All Pro. What do you think this team needs for next year?

Poll

Missing Piece for 2020

This poll is closed.

  • 20%
    Bell Cow Running Back
    (46 votes)
  • 24%
    Veteran Backup QB
    (56 votes)
  • 2%
    Edge-Rusher Depth
    (6 votes)
  • 27%
    Starting Tight End
    (62 votes)
  • 2%
    NT/DT (to rotate with Hargrave, or replace him if he leaves)
    (5 votes)
  • 21%
    OL depth (or perhaps a new starter)
    (49 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (3 votes)
227 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: Veteran Backup QB

All of these feel important to me. But it really came down to the RB or the veteran QB for me, and it’s really a toss-up. With Rudolph or Hodges forced into relief, the Steelers needed an all star rusher to take off the pressure. Without that all star rusher (and with Ben hurt) they needed a professional-grade QB to coordinate the passing game and help open up thw rushing lanes. This year they had neither, and we saw the results.

A legit bell-cow back would be a boon, of course, but I think Steelers could win a title starting their current backfield if a legit QB were taking snaps. If anything, I think that’s an argument for getting a veteran backup QB. I’d love to see the Steelers bring in a starter who flamed out elsewhere but could handle a big moment, the way Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch did once, or even Mike Tomczak before (think: Marcus Mariota or Case Keenum, or in a perfect world, someone like Andy Dalton).


Next Big Star

Poll

Next Big Star

This poll is closed.

  • 45%
    Diontae Johnson
    (103 votes)
  • 41%
    Devin Bush
    (94 votes)
  • 3%
    Kerrith Whyte
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    Isaiah Buggs
    (3 votes)
  • 5%
    James Washington
    (12 votes)
  • 1%
    Justin Layne
    (4 votes)
  • 1%
    Deon Cain
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (2 votes)
228 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: Diontae Johnson

Johnson started the year as a promising rookie from a MAC school, fighting for the 4th receiver spot (behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Donte Moncrief). He ended it as the Steelers leading receiver by catches and yards, as well as a 2nd team All Pro kick returner. That’s a breakout star if I’ve ever seen one.


Name We’ll All Know Next Year

Poll

Next Year’s Breakout Star

This poll is closed.

  • 11%
    Justin Layne
    (26 votes)
  • 25%
    Kerrith Whyte
    (59 votes)
  • 12%
    Deon Cain
    (30 votes)
  • 21%
    Tuzor Skipper
    (50 votes)
  • 15%
    Ulysses Gilbert
    (36 votes)
  • 7%
    Other
    (18 votes)
  • 5%
    Isaiah Buggs (omitted for the first few hours - sorry)
    (13 votes)
232 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: Isaiah Buggs

This is as much about opportunity as anything; if the Steelers resign Bud Dupree (or tag him) there likely won’t be moey for Javon Hargrave. And that opens the door for Buggs, who got some rotational playing time this year already. Particularly with Stephon Tuitt’s injury history, Buggs seems likely to see snaps. Skipper is also a dark horse, since the Steelers will need a legit backup for OLB stars Watt and Dupree. But he’s behind two young stars who only need occasional spells, and doesn’t figure to pass either right away. I’ve also got a good feeling about Justin Layne, who came in raw and became a special teams regular. With Layne, there’s just too much congestion above him (he’d have to pass Cam Sutton or Mike Hilton to even be a reliever). That leaves Buggs.


Thanks for a great season, Steelers. On to next year...

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports