The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the Cleveland Browns in Week 8 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: 4 receptions, 44 yards, 1 TD, 7 targets
Freiermuth having a big game is a bit of validation for me. For the past few weeks, when I did the Q&A with the opponent’s SB Nation site, most ask some type of question about a player who could make a big impact who isn’t really being talked about. I have said Freiermuth for weeks, and he finally came up big. While the team focused on the rookie tight end early in the game, it was his touchdown reception which was a thing of beauty. The concentration displayed was impressive, and fans got a look at what the tight end unit will look like without Eric Ebron. And it wasn’t bad.
Stat Line: 22/34, 266 yards, 7.8 average, 1 TD, 0 INT, 2 sacks, 98.4 rating
On Friday’s “Let’s Ride” podcast, I posed the question of if we’d ever see “Big Ben” again. While Roethlisberger’s game wasn’t perfect, this was as close to seeing that vintage Roethlisberger that fans have seen in a long time. The 50-yard pass to Diontae Johnson was the type of play which has defined Roethlisberger’s career. With the box loaded, Roethlisberger hit Johnson on target and in stride, and it clinched the victory. When Roethlisberger’s had the time, he has delivered, and if the offensive line can continue their solid play maybe we should expect more of these type of performances from Roethlisberger.
Stat Line: 26 carries, 91 yards, 1 TD / 3 receptions, 29 yards, 3 targets
Najee Harris looks like a seasoned veteran, and unlike earlier in the season, he is getting a chance to make plays at or beyond the line of scrimmage. This, like Roethlisberger, is a product of the offensive line. When Harris has the space, he is exceptional. Throw in the team using him as a viable option as a receiver and the Steelers did not whiff on their first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Stat Line: Nick Chubb: 16 carries, 61 yards / Browns: 96 yards total
The Steelers’ defense had a tough task ahead of them going into Week 8. The Browns’ offense averaged over 170 yards per game on the ground, and the Steelers held the team to 96 yards. It was only the Browns’ second time this season not cracking 100 yards as a team. Even undermanned, the Steelers’ defense got huge contributions from players like Chris Wormley, Henry Mondeaux and more to slow down the Browns’ rushing attack.
Stat Line: 32 carries, 115 yards, 3.6 yards per carry, 1 TD
Remember when the Steelers were dead last in rushing yards per carry and yards per game last season? They aren’t in the top half of the league after Week 8, but they certainly aren’t the laughing stock of the league in this regard anymore. On top of that, they are improving by the week. This might be the most pleasurable aspect of this 2021 Steelers team to watch develop. It had seemed like the Steelers would never be a balanced, power run team anymore, but it is looking like they are finding their footing.
Stat Line: 4 total tackles, 3 solo, .5 sack, 2 QB hits
Cam could be on this list every week, but he did his best “Wreck It” Heyward on Sunday when he was absolutely blowing up the offensive line of the Browns. His stat line might not be extraordinary, but he was as disruptive as ever vs. the Browns. Without Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, the Steelers need Heyward at his best, and he isn’t letting them down.
Stat Line: 6 tackles, 4 solo, 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL, 3 QB Hits, 1 Fumble Recovery
Growing up as a golfer, if my brother or I were playing great my father would always say, “Don’t wake them up...they’re unconscious!” That is how I feel Watt is playing, out of his mind. Even when he is getting chipped and double teamed, he is finding a way to make a play. On Sunday he didn’t just get to Mayfield on more than one occasion, but also was tremendous in run support. The Steelers paid Watt handsomely, and he is showing he is worth every cent.
Fake Field Goal
Stat Line: Hate the entire sequence
This is a play which has all Monday Morning Quarterbacks going crazy. Some hate everything about it, while others just hate it because the play didn’t work. I wasn’t a fan of it based on the fact I didn’t want to see the Steelers pass up points, especially with them getting the football to start the second half. People hate Tomlin for sometimes living in his fears, yet when he gets aggressive that same crowd kills him. You can’t have it both ways. I wasn’t a fan of the call, the injury to Chris Boswell just compounded the decision.
3rd Down Offense
Stat Line: 4-for-13
I look for .500 for the third down offense, and the Steelers’ offense falls short once again. Winning these key downs is huge for the Steelers, and there is still room for improvement.
Stat Line: 8 penalties for 65 yards, and horrible from start to finish
I don’t even know where to start. Whether it is the non-call on Chris Boswell being hit late, and high, or the phantom holding call on a nose tackle or any number of other calls which were, or weren’t, called. When officials feel the need to inject themselves into the game is when things get out of control. That is exactly what happened in Cleveland in Week 8.
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!