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2021 Pittsburgh Steelers Midseason Awards, Part 2

The Pittsburgh Steelers are halfway through their 2021 season, and it is time to hand out some midseason awards!

Chicago Bears v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

This is Part 2 of our midseason awards check-in. Part 1 (which appeared on Thursday morning) included the more familiar nods, such as MVP or comeback player of the year. This edition will be comprised of, let’s call them creative categories — inventions that seem relevant to the team, but which the league doesn’t recognize on its own.

As always, I’ll give a little explanation, followed by a poll, and then my choice below. Feel free to argue it out in the comments (that’s the real purpose of this stuff anyway). Otherwise, let’s just get to it.

The shorthand list (and my choices):

People’s Choice Award: Pat Freiermuth
People’s Goat “Award”: Chuks Okorafor
Biggest Disappointment: Takeaways
Pleasant Surprise: Short Yardage
Weakest Link: Skill Depth
Biggest Loss: Tuitt/Alualu
Unsung Hero: Chris Boswell
Second half riser: Minkah Fitzpatrick
Most Interesting Question Mark: Stephon Tuitt
Biggest Wish for (the rest of the) Regular Season: 4-0 division record in back half


People’s Choice Award

This is a good place to start. I think there are guys that, every time they do something (anything), we all get stoked. Think of fans chanting “Heeeeeath” even after he retired. Or how Brett Keisel’s beard became a sensation. Who do you say, “man, I love this guy!” at least once or twice per game?

Poll

People’s Choice Award

This poll is closed

  • 45%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (295 votes)
  • 27%
    Najee Harris
    (178 votes)
  • 26%
    Cam Heyward
    (172 votes)
  • 1%
    Tre Norwood
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (3 votes)
655 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Pat Friermuth.

Muuuuuuth.


People’s Goat “Award”

These aren’t necessarily stars, and they’re not bums – they’re perfectly good players who are just detested for some reason. Think Kordell Stewart, or Rashard Mendenhall, or pre-2019 Bud Dupree.

Poll

People’s Goat Award

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    Devin Bush
    (177 votes)
  • 14%
    Chuks Okorafor
    (94 votes)
  • 11%
    Benny Snell
    (75 votes)
  • 7%
    Joe Schobert
    (49 votes)
  • 15%
    Eric Ebron
    (97 votes)
  • 17%
    Ben Roethlisberger
    (111 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (25 votes)
628 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Chuks Okorafor. I considered Benny Snell for this (I simply don’t understand the hate for that guy), but he doesn’t play nearly as much as Chuks. Meanwhile (a) I thought Chuks was pretty good last year, and (b) the whole O-Line has improved a lot, and Chuks is a part of that. I’m not enough of an offensive line guru to really say much more, but I have a feeling that he’s better than most of us give him credit for. That doesn’t mean he’s a Pro Bowler, but that’s not what this list is.


Biggest Disappointment

This is not really an “award” of course. I’m thinking of it as an element of the team that we expected to be a strength (or at least solid), but has disappointed so far.

Poll

Biggest Disappointment

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    Pass Coverage
    (151 votes)
  • 10%
    Run Defense
    (63 votes)
  • 22%
    Mid-range passing game
    (137 votes)
  • 39%
    Takeaways
    (245 votes)
  • 2%
    Pass Rush
    (14 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (12 votes)
622 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Takeaways.

Fumbles are a fickle mistress, but interceptions ought to be a little more controllable. And the Steelers are absurdly bad at making them. What’s weird to me is that they were excellent in this area the last two seasons – finishing first or second in the league in INTs, overall takeaways, and turnover differential. They used to be dreadful at takeaways (eight picks in 2018), so if they’d have suddenly gotten a million INTs in 2019, then regressed to the mean last season, I’d understand. But that takeaway success lasted two seasons. It sure seemed like a trustworthy trend. And yet….


Pleasant Surprise

This is the opposite of the Biggest Disappointment: the area that we were most concerned about based on recent history, but that has been be a strength this season.

Poll

Pleasant Surprise

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Time of Possession
    (15 votes)
  • 31%
    Offensive Line Improvement
    (195 votes)
  • 23%
    Short Yardage Offense
    (142 votes)
  • 40%
    Tight Ends
    (248 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (11 votes)
611 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Short yardage offense.

The Steelers are apparently the best team in football on 3rd or 4th and short. I don’t remember that ever being true, even when they had bruisers at running back. I think Najee has helped A LOT – both in terms of converting himself, and making teams account for the rush. Whatever the case, though, this is a welcome turn.


Weakest Link

This one is probably self-explanatory. In choosing the options, I decided to emphasize units rather than individual players, since players could be replaced if they aren’t measuring up. For example, if we thought the weak link last year was “RB,” it wasn’t just James Conner; it was all the guys behind him too, who couldn’t beat him out.

Poll

Weakest Link

This poll is closed

  • 36%
    Offensive Line
    (219 votes)
  • 12%
    Secondary
    (73 votes)
  • 10%
    Tackling
    (61 votes)
  • 30%
    Downfield Passing
    (182 votes)
  • 9%
    Skill Depth
    (58 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (6 votes)
599 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Skill depth.

I’m a little nervous with the backups on the Steelers WR room and RB room. The tight ends are deep, but I’ve been pretty underwhelmed with the wide receivers not named Claypool or Johnson. James Washington is a legit NFL starter, but simply hasn’t played like one. And RayRay McCloud is a kick returner, not an offensive weapon. Meanwhile, the running backs seem talented, but they clearly don’t have Mike Tomlin’s or Matt Canada’s faith. If Najee goes down, I don’t know what this team looks like.


Biggest Loss

Poll

Biggest Loss

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Bud Dupree
    (29 votes)
  • 13%
    Pouncey/DeCastro
    (80 votes)
  • 1%
    Vince Williams
    (8 votes)
  • 3%
    Juju Smith-Schuster
    (24 votes)
  • 4%
    Steven Nelson
    (27 votes)
  • 71%
    Tuitt/Alualu
    (436 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (3 votes)
607 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Stephon Tuitt & Tyson Alualu

Having either of these guys available would change the defense tremendously. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised by Chris Wormely’s contributions this year, and Henry Mondeaux is starting to make plays too. It’s a deep bench behind them as well. But Alualu was a real space-eater and a veteran who knew how to play; and Tuitt is a bonafide star. Either of them would be game-changers on an already good defense.


Unsung Hero

This is also probably self-explanatory, but let’s say the Unsung Hero is a secret weapon of sorts – a player who doesn’t get his due in the talking head world, or even sometimes down here among the fans, but who does the damned job and does it well.

Poll

Unsung Hero

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Joe Haden
    (65 votes)
  • 10%
    Ben Roethlisberger
    (59 votes)
  • 56%
    Chris Boswell
    (329 votes)
  • 0%
    Robert Spillane
    (5 votes)
  • 7%
    Terrell Edmunds
    (44 votes)
  • 7%
    Cam Sutton
    (41 votes)
  • 4%
    Kevin Dotson
    (25 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (13 votes)
581 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Chris Boswell.

Boz is hardly “unsung,” but I think we forget how great he is. It’s easy to think of Boswell as more or less the same as Jeff Reed or Sean Suisham (both of whom were very good). But Boz is in a class by himself. If Justin Tucker wasn’t also playing at his peak, Boz would be generally considered the best kicker of the era. He’s the #4 most accurate kicker in NFL history for his career. If you discount his 2018 slump, he’s #1. And after the Bears game, we know he recovers fumbles too.


Second half riser

This is a “projection” award. Who do we think is due for a big uptick in highlights and meaningful plays? Who’s on the rise in the second half of the season?

Poll

Second Half Riser

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Chase Claypool
    (29 votes)
  • 23%
    Alex Highsmith
    (133 votes)
  • 27%
    Minkah Fitzpatrick
    (159 votes)
  • 24%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (141 votes)
  • 11%
    Devin Bush
    (63 votes)
  • 7%
    Ben Roethlisberger
    (42 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (2 votes)
569 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Minkah Fitzpatrick

Though he’s started slow again (like last year) Minkah has been better this season than the numbers indicate. Moreover, I think he’s starting to play with a little bit of fire in the belly. He had the look of a man in search of blood against Chicago. It’s possible that he’s been helping out more with the Steelers young DBs (something he wouldn’t have had to do when Mike Hilton and Steve Nelson were on the field) but that responsibility should recede as the season goes on. I’m looking for Minkah to surge in the second half of the year.


Most Interesting Question Mark

This one could mean a lot of different things — it might be the guy who doesn’t get on the field much, but seems really good; or the one who seems talented but isn’t delivering yet; or maybe the one who seems to be coming on (and makes us wonder how good it’s about to get). It’s the mystery we’re most interested in unlocking.

Poll

Most Interesting Question Mark

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Taco Charlton
    (69 votes)
  • 3%
    Karl Joseph
    (21 votes)
  • 13%
    James Washington
    (74 votes)
  • 63%
    Stephon Tuitt’s return
    (352 votes)
  • 6%
    The young/new DBs
    (36 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (5 votes)
557 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Stephon Tuitt

I’ve already tipped my hand previously, that I think Tuitt (with Tyson Alualu) is the biggest loss of the season. That he MAY return at some point is a giant question mark. And if he were to come back at even 75% of his usual form, this defense would take a huge leap forward, I think. Now, if he came back with enough time to get in game-shape for the post-season, well...


Biggest Wish for the (rest of the) Regular Season

I’m not including “Steelers win the Super Bowl” because that’s too easy. I’m also not including any of the steps along the way (like “Steelers win out” or “Steelers get the 1-seed”). Those things are all too obvious – we all want them. Instead, these options are a little more modest, and therefore both likelier and more debatable.

Poll

Biggest Wish for the (rest of the) Regular Season

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    4-0 remaining division record
    (172 votes)
  • 12%
    T.J. Watt getting DPOY award
    (69 votes)
  • 12%
    Defense surging in sacks and takeaways
    (69 votes)
  • 26%
    Offense catching fire more consistently
    (146 votes)
  • 15%
    Win-streak to close the year
    (86 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (4 votes)
546 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: 4-0 remaining division record.

I always wish for this because the AFC North is almost always the best division in the league (or at least has an argument for it). A 4-0 finish this year means a sweep of the Ravens down the stretch, as well as completing the sweep of the Browns, and getting revenge against the Bengals. Moreover, the Steelers have Cleveland and Baltimore in their final two weeks – that would be momentum heading into the playoffs. Sweep the rest of this division, and you’re one of the best teams in the conference. That’s my wish.


See you in the comments. Go Steelers.