The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they hosted the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16 of the regular season. After the big AFC showdown 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: 34/49, 342 yards, 7.0 average, 3 TDs, 0 INT, 1 sack for 9 yards, 109.4 rating
First half Roethlisberger was nothing to write home about. He was struggling like he had the previous three weeks en route to throwing for just 90 yards through two quarters. However, second half Roethlisberger looked more like the quarterback fans have known, and loved, since 2004. A huge second half erased the bad from earlier in the game, and has the team, and fans, riding high...for now. Roethlisberger’s performance could have earned him some much needed rest in Week 17.
Stat Line: 3 tackles, 3 solo, 2 sacks, 1 TFL, 1 QB Hit, 1 Forced Fumble
You know a player has reached another level when they register a game like Watt had vs. the Colts and the general consensus from the fan base was, “Yeah, Watt was good.” What might be the most impressive aspect of Watt’s game is how no matter what else happens, he continues to produce. His stats since entering the NFL speak for itself:
.@_TJWatt is the:— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 28, 2020
• 1️⃣st player in #SteelersHistory with 14.0+ sacks in multiple seasons
• 7️⃣th player to register at least 15.0 sacks & 24 TFL in a single season since 1999
• 1️⃣4️⃣th player in NFL history with at least 14.5 sacks in back-to-back seasons pic.twitter.com/6IlziVOd6J
Stat Line: 8 receptions, 75 yards, 9.4 average, 1 TD, 39 long, 14 targets
To find the reason why Johnson is in the winner column you have to go back to the narrative surrounding him entering the Week 16 game vs. the Bengals. Drops, drops and more drops was all anyone talked about. What has he done since then? He stepped up in a big way the past two weeks, and no catch was larger than his lone touchdown reception in the second half which changed the game. Johnson might not be perfect, be he is a key cog in the Steelers’ offense. When he is on, they are a different unit.
Stat Line: 9 receptions, 96 yards, 10.7 average, 1 TD, 25 long, 13 targets
Smith-Schuster was just four yards away from cracking the 100 yard plateau, something he has only done once since Antonio Brown left the Steelers. However, it doesn’t mean Smith-Schuster hasn’t been a valuable member of the offense. I would argue Smith-Schuster is one of the most valuable players on the Steelers’ offense, and he proved that with some tough catches, and tough yards. After a dropped touchdown reception early in the game, he made up for the drop with a huge touchdown reception which brought the Steelers back within striking distance. A huge performance in a huge game.
Stat Line: 4 tackles, 2 solo, 2 pass defenses, 1 Fumble Recovery, 1 INT
With all of the Steelers’ impending free agents, it is becoming clear Hilton should be at, or near, the top of the list. Not only has Hilton had a great season, he seems to finally be 100% after his shoulder injury which had him miss several games in the middle of the season. Hilton has been having a Devin Bush-like season where the football just seems to find him. His fumble recovery was close to being returned for a touchdown, and his interception was a turning point in the game. Hilton is earning some money this season, whether it is in Pittsburgh or somewhere else.
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 2 solo, 1 sack, 1 pass defense, 1 TFL, 2 QB Hits
This was a game I wasn’t sure Tuitt would find his way on the winners list, then you looked at the box score and it changed my mind. His sack, pass defense, tackle for loss and ability to harass Philip Rivers was something the Steelers desperately needed. Was/is Tuitt still dealing with lingering effects of COVID-19? Is he banged up? No one really knows, but it was good to see Tuitt snap out of his funk. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, Tuitt has registered 10 sacks this season.
Stat Line: 1 Forced Fumble and Recovery / 1 INT
The Steelers’ takeaways had dried up last week, but they came back in a big way vs. the Colts in Week 16. Their two takeaways were a huge component of the Steelers’ win. In fact, without Watt’s strip sack, and Hilton’s recovery/return, the Steelers’ offense would likely have been shut out in the first half. The Steelers’ 27 takeaways are tied for first in the NFL, and their +10 in turnover differential is now tied for second in the league.
2nd half adjustments
Stat Line: 3 points surrendered, 21 points scored
What happened? What changed? Was the comeback more about what the Colts stopped doing, like running the football, or what the Steelers did? At this point, I don’t care. The Steelers’ second half was tremendous, and the coaches and players deserve credit for the bounce back. In the tale of two halves, the Steelers stood tallest when it mattered most.
Stat Line: 20 yards rushing on 14 attempts
The Steelers only ran the ball 14 times, so it wasn’t as if they ran it 35 times and only had 20 yards rushing, but at the same time only seeing 20 yards on the ground is disheartening. The weakness of the Colts’ defense was/is their secondary, and it shouldn’t shock anyone the Steelers threw the ball to win in Week 16. Also, when trailing by 17 points, teams typically have to become one dimensional to pull off the comeback. With that said, the Steelers are fortunate, and the run game continues to be a mystery.
3rd Down Offense
Stat Line: 4 for 11 in those situations
The Steelers’ first half offense certainly hurt this statistic, but the last time I checked there are four quarters in a game, not just two. Even though the Steelers’ second half rebounded nicely, if they want to do any damage in the playoffs, they will need to improve their 3rd down offense, especially in short-yardage situations.
1st half offense and defense
Stat Line: 21 points surrendered, 7 points scored
Nothing was working for the Steelers in the first half of this game, and the team’s early game struggles continue. Everyone has some type of excuse for what is going on with the Steelers’ starts to games, but what is clear to everyone is how it must change quick or the Steelers’ playoff run will be just that — quick.
Stat Line: 127 yards on 28 carries, 4.5 average
Most weeks I answer questions from opposing SB Nation sites, and everyone asks what is the code to crack the Steelers’ defense. I always say the same thing — you have to be able to run the ball on them. Throughout the season the Steelers defense has struggled to stop the run, and that certainly was the case against Jonathan Taylor and the Colts in Week 16. The Steelers now give up 106.1 yards per game on the ground, which is 8th in the league, their lowest ranking out of the major four categories. If the defense can make teams one dimensional, it plays right into the hands of their elite pass rush.