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6 Winners and 3 Losers after the Steelers 24-22 loss to the Browns in Week 17

After every game there are players who play well, and those who don’t. This is where the ‘Winners and Losers’ column comes from.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they traveled to FirstEnergy Stadium to play the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 of the regular season. 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 Week 17...

Winners

Chase Claypool
Stat Line: 5 receptions, 101 yards, 20.2 average, 1 TD, 41 long, 11 targets

We all know Claypool is a monster, but the past month we’ve seen Claypool struggle more than excel. Maybe it was a different quarterback, maybe it was a good mismatch or maybe it was just a desire to want to prove himself before the playoffs. Whatever the reason, Claypool looked as dynamic as he has this entire season. If the Steelers want to do anything in the postseason, they don’t just need Claypool to be a threat, they need him to be a playmaker.

Diontae Johnson
Stat Line: 3 receptions, 96 yards, 32.0 average, 0 TD, 47 long, 4 targets

While Claypool was seeing the majority of targets, it was Johnson who quietly had a big day. 96 yards on just 3 catches, and only 4 targets, was a very non-Diontae Johnson day. Johnson is accustomed to a ton of targets from Ben Roethlisberger, and getting into a rhythm early. Johnson also isn’t always known for his deep play ability, but when you look at the catches he made in Week 17, and throw in the huge touchdown catch he had in Week 16 and Steelers fans might need to start changing the narrative surrounding Johnson and the type of receiver he can be.

Alex Highsmith
Stat Line: 9 tackles, 6 solo tackles, 1 sack, 1 QB hit, 1 TFL

All eyes were on Highsmith in this game with T.J. Watt sitting on his couch back in Pittsburgh. Without much depth, thanks to Cassius Marsh being put on the COVID-19/Reserve List, Highsmith has plenty of chances to prove himself. He did just that by leading the team in tackles, and had a hand in three sacks. He had one himself, but twice his pressure forced Baker Mayfield into sacks for his teammates. Highsmith is a budding playmaker for the Steelers, and with Bud Dupree out for the year it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Mason Rudolph
Stat Line: 22/39, 315 yards, 8.1 average, 2 TD, 1 INT, 1 sack for 8 yards, 89.2 Rating

My what four quarters can do. After the game the tune from the Steelers’ fan base surrounding Rudolph sure has changed. Granted, his performance might have just convinced fans he is a solid backup, but that is a far cry from the “he should be sent out of town” talk fans have had since he got the opportunity to be the starter in 2019. Rudolph showed tremendous improvement, in my opinion, and his poise in the pocket was noticeable. In fact, he looked like he was a completely different quarterback, and that is good news for the Steelers.

No Injuries
Stat Line: No major injuries

The goal for this week was simple: avoid major injury. The Steelers did just that in Week 17 in Cleveland. Sure, when Chase Claypool was getting his foot/ankle looked at on the sideline fans might have had some concern, but Mike Tomlin said after the game there were no major injuries. Mission accomplished.

Creativity with using Dobbs
Stat Line: Dobbs stats: 4/5 passing for 2 yards, 2 rushes for 20 yards

Dobbs didn’t light the world on fire, but the Steelers deploying Dobbs in a unique way, combined with Tomlin saying the team could certainly dress three QBs in the playoffs, will have the Browns having to plan and prepare for Dobbs. Tomlin might have just been blowing smoke, but it will force Cleveland to spend time, and energy, preparing for this unique look from the Steelers. I wish the Steelers would have thrown more with Dobbs, other than shovel passes, to keep the defense honest, but if Tomlin isn’t just blowing smoke, this could be a valuable tool for the Steelers in the playoffs.


Losers

Two-Point Conversion Play/Overall Creativity
Stat Line: Where’s the creativity?

Leading up to the game Sunday everyone, including us here at BTSC, were talking about how the Steelers’ had a rare opportunity Sunday to put whatever offense they wanted on the field. With no Ben Roethlisberger even on the sideline, it was Randy Fichtner’s offense. Period. What did we see? Ben Roethlisberger’s offense. The lack of creativity was disheartening, and it was topped by the two point conversion play. When you have Joshua Dobbs as an option, and the Steelers’ weapons, a rub route looking for a slant is as basic as it gets. Again, with nothing to lose, the Steelers went predictable...which is the Randy Fichtner special.

Rush Defense
Stat Line: 31 carries, 192 yards, 6.2 average

If the Steelers have any hopes of winning their first playoff game since 2016, they will need to do a better job stopping the run. This isn’t a new issue, and has been an ongoing issue throughout the season. However, with Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt returning to the lineup in the Wild Card rematch with the Browns, the hope is they can limit Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and the running of Baker Mayfield. If not, it could be another one-and-done postseason for the black and gold.

Officiating
Stat Line: Ever heard of a penalty called holding?

I get how the NFL has told officials they shouldn’t be calling holding. I understand they want more offense. However, at what point are you taking away from the product? There were blatant holding calls which went uncalled, but the play I want to talk about wasn’t a holding call. It was the reception along the sideline which was successfully challenged by Mike Tomlin. The first look at a replay showed the receiver didn’t get two feet in bounds before his elbow hit out of bounds, but two side judges were unable to see this in real time. It cost Tomlin a challenge, and it shouldn’t have. Calls get missed, like the roughing the passer on Mason Rudolph, and this loss wasn’t solely on the officials, but you expect better.