The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they hosted the Cleveland Browns in the Wild Card round of the AFC Playoffs. After the big AFC North 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 the playoff loss...
Stat Line: 13 receptions, 157 yards, 12.1 average, 1 TD, 33 long, 19 targets
Say what you want about JuJu Smith-Schuster off the field, but on the field he has put together a really solid season. And that solid season was capped off with a great performance in what could be his last game in a Steelers uniform. Sure, he was targeted a lot, but he has made all the tough catches this entire season. If this is the last game for Smith-Schuster in Pittsburgh, he went out on a really good performance.
Stat Line: 11 receptions, 117 yards, 10.6 average, 0 TD, 19 long, 16 targets
When some fans were wondering if Diontae Johnson was the new Limas Sweed, as it came to dropping the football, Johnson seems to have proven those drops were just a blip on the radar. A bump in the road, if you will. Many want to compare Johnson to Antonio Brown, but that is silly. Antonio Brown is a rare beast, and while Johnson has some similarities, he has a lot to learn, and prove, before being considered an top tier receiver. With that being said, he is still young and has a very promising career ahead of him.
Stat Line: 5 receptions, 59 yards, 11.8 average, 2 TDs, 29 long, 7 targets
I could have put James Washington here, he did have more yards than Claypool in the game, but Claypool proved a lot to me during this game. Claypool will be called upon to make a huge jump in production in Year 2, and he has proven he is capable of making those tough plays necessary to avoid the “one trick pony” label. Claypool has the physical skill set to be dominant, and with a full season under his belt the sky is the limit for the rookie.
Stat Line: 47/68, 501 yards, 7.4, average, 4 TDs, 4 INTs, 85.5 Rating
Yes, Roethlisberger threw for 500+ yards. Yes, Roethlisberger completed an NFL record 47 passes. Yes, Roethlisberger’s 4 interceptions were a reason why he had to throw the ball that much, and a large reason why the Steelers lost the game. The Steelers have, and always will, go as Roethlisberger goes. Sadly, he went the wrong direction too many times. Is this the end of the road for Roethlisberger? I doubt it, but you never know.
Stat Line: Bad snaps
Pouncey’s poor snaps have been an issue for a while now, dating back to 2019, but they reared their ugly head at the worst possible time. The snap which sailed over Roethlisberger’s head to start the game wasn’t the only poor snap Pouncey had this game, or this season. Roethlisberger has bailed out his battery mate on more than one occasion, and when you compound the bad snap with getting pushed around in the run game you have to wonder about Pouncey’s latest contract and how long he has left in Pittsburgh.
Not going for it on 4th-and-1
Stat Line: Living in your fears
I am not one who typically second-guesses coaching decisions, but Mike Tomlin’s decision to punt the ball to the Browns in the fourth quarter when facing a 4th and 1 was about as gutless as they come. For a coach who always says he doesn’t “live in his fears” that is the epitome of living in your fears. Tomlin said after the game the decision was about the defense being hot and he didn’t want to mess with that momentum. You know who else was hot? The offense, and you basically said you didn’t trust them to get a yard in the biggest game/moment of the season.
Playing Feiler and Spillane the entire game
Stat Line: I mean, come on
I was really happy to see Matt Feiler and Robert Spillane return to the lineup, but I was not happy to see them start and play the vast majority of the game. I haven’t seen the snap totals yet, but I am pretty sure Feiler played the entire game, and Spillane only came off the field in specific sub packages. I can’t imagine this was part of the plan, considering both Spillane and Feiler had not been in the lineup for over a month, to thrust them into the lineup without hesitation raises red flags.
Stat Line: The offense was a roller coaster ride, but what happened to the defense?
The Steelers’ offense had been a roller coaster for the month of December, and then some, but it was the defense fans thought would carry this team to postseason success. Maybe that is why the feeling I get after this game is more disappointment over the Steelers’ defense, compared to the offensive miscues. The Steelers defense didn’t sack Baker Mayfield once, and they didn’t even register a quarterback hit. Not even one. That is as disappointing as it gets.
Stat Line: 127 yards surrendered
When anyone would ask me how you beat the Steelers, the answer is simple. Get a lead, run the football. The weakness of this defense continues to be their rush defense, and that was evident again in the playoffs. Not just the 127 yards, but when the Steelers gave up those yards. When the defense needed a big stop, they just weren’t able to deliver. They were always chasing in some way, and it all started with their inability to slow down Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and Mayfield on the ground.
Ridiculous Passing Numbers
Stat Line: 47/68, 501 yards doesn’t equal winning
There is a tendency to look at Roethlisberger’s ridiculous passing numbers and say, “Man, what a game.” But the reason why he had to throw the ball 68 times, and had to throw for 501 yards is because of his 4 interceptions and multiple miscues by the entire team. No team who has ever seen any type of success in the NFL has ever gone into a game and said, “To win this game we are going to throw it nearly 70 times.” That isn’t a recipe for success, and it isn’t sustainable. The Steelers were their own worst enemy at times this season, and it reared its ugly head at the worst possible time.