The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the Denver Broncos in Week 5 of regular season action. The Steelers were winners in the contest, but that doesn’t mean every player had a bad performance.
Players who play well can be considered ‘Winners’, while those who left a lot to be desired can be called ‘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 first game of the preseason...
Stat Line: 23 carries, 122 yards, 5.3 average, 1 TD, 20 long / 2 receptions, 20 yards, 5 targets
Najee Harris was due for this game. You can just tell every time he touches the ball, he is a threat for a big play. It only took the offensive line coming together to give him some space to operate. More on the offensive line in a bit, but Harris was the most dominant runner the Steelers have seen since Le’Veon Bell was with the Steelers. He was also the last 100 yard rusher for Pittsburgh since James Conner did in last October vs. the Cleveland Browns. It was also nice to see the Steelers get Harris involved in the passing game in a way that wasn’t a check down pass.
Stat Line: 15/25, 253 yards, 10.1 average, 2 TD, 0 INT, 120.9 Rating
This stat line is something I can get behind. Roethlisberger throwing the ball less than 30 times, and playing a clean brand of football. If the Steelers can duplicate this type of balance on offense, and have success, they will be a tough team to beat with their defense. With the Steelers not turning the ball over, and having those time-consuming drives, can pay huge dividends for this team moving forward.
Stat Line: 5 receptions, 130 yards, 1 TD, 59 yard long, 6 targets
Can Chase Claypool just play the Broncos every week? If so, he would put up some huge numbers. After torching Denver as a rookie in 2020, he duplicated that with his Week 5 performance. Claypool stepped up without JuJu Smith-Schuster available, and torched the Broncos’ defense. 5 catches on 6 targets is impressive, throw in 130 yards and a touchdown and you have yourself a winning performance.
Stat Line: 147 yards on 35 carries, 4.2 average / 253 yards passing, 1 sack surrendered and 2 QB Hits
Players always say they don’t listen to the television, radio or read articles, but when in post-game interviews all they talk about is proving the “doubters” and “haters” wrong, you see the first claim is a bold-faced lie. Regardless, the Steelers’ offensive line showed out on Sunday, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. They are trending in the right direction, but now comes the time when they have to consider how they will inject Zach Banner into the lineup when he is healthy enough to return.
Stat Line: 6 total tackles, 6 solo, 2 Pass Defenses, 1 INT
Yes, Pierre was burned by Courtland Sutton for a touchdown, but he also made some huge plays too. His tackle on Javonte Williams saved a touchdown, and his game-clinching interception sealed the win for the Steelers. I think sometimes fans should remember Pierre was an undrafted player in 2020, and still extremely young. It takes a lot for a player like Pierre to put that touchdown behind him and keep playing at a high level. Next time the hope is Pierre doesn’t have to give up a big play...
Stat Line: 2 receptions, 72 yards, 1 TD, 50 yard long, 2 targets
For the second straight game, the Steelers started with an opening drive touchdown. For the second straight game, that pass was to Diontae Johnson for the score. When looking at Johnson’s stat line, what was even more shocking than the 50 yard long reception, was the two targets. Johnson is usually Ben Roethlisberger’s primary target, but not Sunday. Still, Johnson made the most of his time with the ball in his hands.
Stat Line: 10 total tackles, 5 solo, 1 TFL
Some fans are suggesting Minkah Fitzpatrick isn’t making the splash plays he was earlier in his Steelers tenure. But I think he is making plays, they just aren’t in the shape of turnovers. Fitzpatrick is taking more chances in the secondary, and also covering for other players has had him out of position on more than one occasion. However, Fitzpatrick has also shown a tremendous ability to come down to the line of scrimmage and make plays as a tackler. The game-changing plays will come, but let’s not pretend he is just another safety. Far from it.
3rd Down Offense
Stat Line: 7-for-12
Anything over .500 in this category is good, in my opinion, and this is the first game of 2021 the Steelers’ have been above that water mark. The Steelers’ running game put the offense in manageable down and distances, and it paid off for the Steelers’ third down offense.
Special Teams Battery
Stat Line: Boswell - 2/2 FGs and 3/3 XPs / Harvin - 62 yard long and 59.5 average on 2 punts
Sometimes special teams can be lost in a win, but not in Week 5. Chris Boswell nailed a 51-yard kick with room to spare, although it was negated by a penalty, and Pressley Harvin was booming both punts. Yes, he only punted twice, but the 62 yard kick was needed in a big way. A great day for both specialists.
4th Down Defense
Stat Line: 3-for-4
On the same drive the Steelers defense surrendered three straight fourth down conversions. I understand they are in the prevent defense, but getting off the field on any of those would have ended the game. Granted, they made a stand when it mattered most, but this is an area you had to see a team fail.
Big Play Defense
Stat Line: Another game giving up the big play
Another week, another game with big plays surrendered on defense. First it was Henry Ruggs and the Raiders, then it was JaMarr Chase and the Bengals, then Randall Cobb and the Packers. This week it was both Javonte Williams, 49-yard run, and Courtland Sutton. The Steelers’ defense is great, but it does have a need to limit the big plays. With the Steelers’ offense struggling, the big play is the one thing the defense can’t surrender.
If you want a more detailed look at the above list, check out my “Let’s Ride” podcast where I outline each Winner and Loser, and MORE!