The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8 of the regular season. After the AFC North 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 8...
Stat Line: 11 tackles, 10 solo, 1 TFL, 2 Pass Defenses, 1 INT, 1 TD
If Spillane made a name for himself in Week 7 after his huge hit on Derrick Henry, he further cemented his place in Steelers’ lore with his pick six of Lamar Jackson on the Ravens’ first offensive possession. On top of that, Spillane was a tackling machine on Sunday in Baltimore. Spillane might not be the future for the Steelers at ILB, but he might just be able to fill Vince Williams’ shoes when his time is up in Pittsburgh.
Stat Line: 21/32, 182 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT, 2 Sacks, 101.3 Rating
The first half wasn’t pretty, but not all of the first half struggles were on Roethlisberger. Some questionable play calls, drops and Chase Claypool’s fumble dampened the offense in the first half. In the second half Roethlisberger answer the question of whether he can throw the offense on his back and win a game. He did just that, mainly with an empty backfield, against one of the league’s top defenses. Roethlisberger has proven he is more than capable of winning a championship over the past seven games.
Stat Line: 7 receptions, 67 yards, 8 targets
This season hasn’t been easy for Smith-Schuster. With the way the Steelers are spreading the ball around on offense, Smith-Schuster has been stuck with the underneath routes, and the punishment those receptions entail. Either way, you haven’t heard a peep out of Smith-Schuster in a negative way, and he is slowly carving out a role for himself within this new-age offense. Smith-Schuster led the team in receiving, and while he didn’t hit pay dirt, he was a huge part of the offense’s success in Baltimore.
Stat Line: 4 receptions, 48 yards, 1 TD, 5 targets
This seemed like Ebron’s coming out party as a member of the Steelers. Ebron has scored touchdowns before this season, but you saw Ebron be a difference maker. Ebron has always been a mismatch nightmare throughout his career, and it seems like the Steelers might finally be seeing how to use Ebron to make their offense even more dynamic. Ebron’s blocking has also been a huge bright spot for a player who was considered to be a lackluster blocker in his previous two organizations.
Stat Line: 9 tackles, 8 solo, 2 sacks, 3 TFL, 3 QB Hits
This offseason I talked about how Tuitt is a monster, and the reason why the Steelers won’t miss Javon Hargrave. Tyson Alualu has done his part in making the loss of Hargrave seem like nothing, but Tuitt has been nothing short of fantastic this season. In a game where Alualu was lost due to injury, and Cam Heyward was in and out of the lineup in the waning minutes of the game, it was Tuitt who stepped up in a big way, and the team really needed it. Tremendous performance.
Stat Line: 5 tackles, 3 solo, 1 sack, 5 QB Hits
Watt could find his name on this list almost on a weekly basis, and he deserves it after his Week 8 performance. It isn’t easy holding down the edge against Lamar Jackson, but you will struggle to find a player who does it better. Watt didn’t have his usual TFL numbers this week, but was a menace in the backfield all game.
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 1 pass defense, 1 INT
This game saw the Steelers deploy a unique defensive game plan with Highsmith, Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt being used on the field at the same time. This increased playing time resulted in more opportunities to make plays for Highsmith, and he didn’t disappoint. Outside of his usual special team duties, Highsmith created his first turnover when he intercepted Jackson in the second half. It was a huge turning point in the game, and tilted the contest in the Steelers’ favor. The future looks bright for Mr. Highsmith.
Stat Line: 7 tackles, 4 solo, 1 pass defense, 1 forced fumble
There have been plenty of Steelers fans who have been critical of Fitzpatrick this season, and I’ve been one of them. Fitzpatrick wasn’t perfect in this game, but he certainly had a part in some big plays in the win Sunday. It was Fitzpatrick’s hit which jarred the ball loose on the fourth down play where Lamar Jackson wasn’t able to get the line to gain. His pass defense on the game’s final play is also noteworthy and sealed the win for the Steelers. He hasn’t been the play maker fans got used to in 2019, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t making plays.
Stat Line: Winningest minority coach in NFL history
A shout out to Mike Tomlin, not just for the 7-0 start, but for him becoming the winningest minority coach in NFL history. The win Sunday broke a tie with Tony Dungy making him the leader in the category. For all the fans who hate Tomlin, for whatever reason, you have to give credit when credit is due. And Tomlin deserves a ton of credit for what he has done with this team through the first 8 weeks of the season.
Winning the Turnover Battle
Stat Line: 4 Baltimore turnovers to Pittsburgh’s 1
If I were to tell you the Steelers were to lose in yards gained, time of possession, first downs, plays run and gave up over 260 yards on the ground you would think the Steelers would have lost. But they got 4 turnovers which turned the tide. These plays come in bunches, and they needed every one of them at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday. It wasn’t pretty, but it was what the team needed to stay perfect.
Stat Line: Gave up 263 yards rushing
On the Post-Game Podcast, we were grading the Steelers’ rushing defense. My co-hosts were generous and gave them B grades suggesting they made stops when necessary, but not me. I gave them a D- for the fact they were gashed repeatedly throughout the game. Even in the fourth quarter when the Ravens were trailing, they were still able to stick with the run and move the ball with ease down the field. I understand the Ravens’ offense is difficult to defend, and losing Tyson Alualu hurts, but you expect better from a team who was touted as the league’s best rush defense in the NFL.
First Half Offense
Stat Line: Scored ZERO first half offensive points
I honestly don’t know what Randy Fichtner is thinking sometimes. Not just with general play calling, but with the opening scripts to the games. Outside of the Steelers scoring on the opening drive in Week 7, the offense has been slow out of the gates. It was nice to see Fichtner and Roethlisberger finally let things loose and sling the rock around the yard to win. It was obvious it needed to happen, and if they didn’t do that they would have lost the game. There is plenty of room for growth in the offensive starts to these games.