The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Monday when they played the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15 of the regular season. After the AFC North division game on Monday, 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...
Benny Snell Jr.
Stat Line: 18 carries, 84 yards, 4.7 average, 1 TD, 29 yard long
On a night when there were hardly no bright spots whatsoever on offense, Benny Snell did a great job when given the opportunity. It seems odd to celebrate 84 yards rushing by a running back, but it was good to just see the Steelers actually stick to the run. On top of that, Snell made the most of his opportunities.
Stat Line: 8 receptions, 59 yards, 7.4 average, 1 TD, 23 long, 13 targets
I was anxious to see Diontae Johnson and his rebound after his well documented drops. Johnson did a tremendous job, and essentially caught everything thrown his way which was catchable. One thing was clear, the Steelers’ offense is more dynamic when Johnson is in the lineup, and is clicking on all cylinders. You saw this on display Monday night, and the hope is Johnson is over his case of the drops.
Stat Line: 7 total tackles, 6 solo, 1 TFL
Minkah didn’t make the usual game-changing plays fans have gotten accustomed to seeing, but he had a tremendous game. Not only did he have the great tackle for loss (TFL) on Ryan Finley, which gave the Steelers a chance to execute the comeback, but he is seeing the field very well this year. Fitzpatrick continues to prove his worth in the Steelers’ defense on a weekly basis.
Stat Line: 20/38, 170 yards, 4.5 average, 1 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack for 12 yards, 62.4 Rating
Where exactly do you begin with Roethlisberger’s performance? It was as bad as you can imagine, and then some. Roethlisberger is the biggest factor in the Steelers’ success, and when he is off...well...you saw what happens. Do I think there is something structural with Roethlisberger’s arm? I don’t. Do I think Roethlisberger’s arm is fatigued? Absolutely. If there was ever a time to go all-in on trying to run the ball, it’s now.
Stat Line: Have to understand perception
JuJu Smith-Schuster finding himself on the loser list has nothing to do with the stat line. It has everything to do with what he does moving forward. Just a couple days after the Buffalo Bills made it clear they took notice of his dancing on the logo before the game, Smith-Schuster doubled-down on his celebration. That’s fine. I had no problem with it then, and still don’t now, but he better understand the perception to the opposition. At what point do you put your personal brand on the back burner, if it starts to ignite the team on the other side of the line of scrimmage? Will be anxious to see his response this week.
Stat Line: Carl Lawson with 2 total tackles, 2 solo, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 6 QB Hits
There had already been a strong contingent of the Steelers’ fan base which had locked in on Villanueva and suggesting he was having a poor season. The sack numbers certainly spoke for themselves, but on a national stage Carl Lawson turned Villanueva into a turnstile. Villanueva has always had his ups and downs, and when your left tackle is noticed often, typically bad things are happening. Not the best outing for Big Al.
3rd Down Offense
Stat Line: 4-for-16 on 3rd downs
The Steelers went the majority of the first half without a 3rd down conversion, and also without a first down. It was as bad as bad has been for this roller coaster of an offense through this 2020 regular season. The offense, especially in the first half, struggled on first downs, and this resulted in them facing 3rd and long (7 yards and more). This offense just isn’t built for those situations consistently, and is a large reason why they continue to struggle on those critical downs.
Stat Line: 3 Turnovers, 0 Takeaways
Coming into Week 15 the Steelers were still No. 1 in the NFL in terms of NFL turnover differential. That certainly isn’t the case heading into Week 16. Going from +11 to +8 is a fall from grace, and the fact the Steelers couldn’t take the ball away from Ryan Finley and company is almost as shocking as the Steelers giving up the ball 3 times in the first half. The key metric in this game was turnovers. Giving it away three times, and not taking it away even once.
Stat Line: 1-for-2 in the red area
The success ratio doesn’t matter to me, as it pertains to the Steelers’ red-zone offense. What matters to me is how the Steelers only were able to get into the red-zone twice against the Bengals. The offense is inept, no one is discounting that, but you would expect some marginal success against a team like Cincinnati.
Stat Line: 41 carries for 152 yards
The Steelers’ defense had to know the Bengals were going to want to establish the run to take pressure off Finley, and they were able to do it. Even when the entire audience knew the Bengals were going to run, they were able to get the job done. Throw in the fact Ryan Finley, not Lamar Jackson or Cam Newton, was able to abuse the defense with run-pass options (RPOs) is downright embarrassing. You expect the Steelers defense to make a team one-dimensional, and they couldn’t do that in Week 15. Not when Ryan Finley gets the win by throwing the ball just 13 times.
Goodness this game, and this team, was bad.