The 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers rookie class experienced their first divisional road contest against the Cleveland Browns on Halloween afternoon. There have been numerous first time experiences for the Steelers impressive crop of newcomers; but Sunday's showdown in an arena renowned for a seating section known as the Dawg Pound that once loved nothing more than pelting the opposition with dog treats, had to have been an unforgettable experience. Especially when they strolled out victorious, sporting a three game winning streak.
In what has become a regular occurrence, the rookies were key contributors in a victory that not only got them out of the AFC North basement, but left them with a winning record for the first time since Week 1. Back in the early portion of training camp, I surmised that we might be witnessing the infancy stages of another legendary Steelers draft class.
That statement is starting to look more and more prophetic by the week. Let's take a quick look back at the past weeks performances.
RB Najee Harris
Harris seems to reveal another tool from his arsenal by the week. Early in the season, with the revamped offensive line struggling mightily, Harris displayed his incredible power and determination to drag defenders forward for positive yardage.
When it quickly became apparent he was the Steelers biggest offensive threat, he adjusted accordingly by utilizing his excellent receiving skills to remain effective, enjoying a record setting day for a Steelers RB in the process.
As the young Oline has improved, so has Harris effectiveness and productivity. His instincts and vision navigating through traffic are elite, his athleticism allows him to soar over congestion near the line of scrimmage, and he even showed the ability to step up in pass protection against the Browns.
Simply put, Harris has been too good to take off the field. How good is too good? He was just named the Offensive Rookie of the Month for October. Even though the young man would run through a wall for a first down, the Steelers need to protect him from himself by spelling him on occasion. It's up to the RB depth guys to pick up the slack.
TE Pat Freiermuth
I stated in last week's Rookie Review article that Freiermuth will catch anything in the vicinity with his reliable hands. He promptly went out Sunday, in a pressure packed fourth down situation in a AFC North showdown, and proved me right. What a catch! An incredible display of hand eye coordination and determination. The type of play that future legends often make.
Freiermuth has not only ascended to TE1 for the Steelers, but he has assumed JuJu's former roles of trusted slot receiver and security blanket. Roethlisberger's confidence and chemistry with the young TE is growing by the week.
Freiermuth is the apparent solution to the slot dilemma. Diontae Johnson lacks the physique and toughness to make a living in the slot, while Chase Claypool hasn't shown the reliable hands to complete contested catches in traffic. Both guys could make occasional appearances in the slot based on matchups, but Muth is the logical answer.
He has the size, strength, and athleticism to both create and exploit mismatches with regularity. Similar to Harris, Freiermuth consistently drags defenders for additional yardage. He continues to show he is the total package, both on and off the field. Also similar to Harris.
C Kendrick Green
Another talented youngster who's game is blossoming on the biggest stage, right before our very eyes. Green, a converted guard I should remind you, has grown by leaps and bounds from the inevitable struggles of the early season. Now we can clearly see why the Steelers were so enamored with his potential.
He has the sudden explosiveness, coupled with elite balance and grip strength, necessary to effectively reach blocks on the first and second levels. His motor and intensity is non-stop, and he appears to stay in battle mode. His anchor continues to improve with experience.
He has solidified the interior of the offensive line, teaming with Kevin Dotson and Trai Turner to give the Steelers the ability to move bodies and create the push necessary to convert short yardage plays and extend drives. He has the potential to be the next in a long line of Pro Bowl caliber centers for the Black and Gold.
LT Dan Moore Jr.
It should have come as no surprise that Moore was no match for the Browns superstar edge rusher Myles Garrett. There are precious few Pro Bowl left tackles capable of matching up one on one with Garrett, and his insane athleticism. Garrett seemingly won every matchup with Moore almost instantly off his initial move, so much so that PFF gave Moore a zero pass blocking grade. That's totally misleading however, as it pertains only to their initial encounter each play.
As has been the case all season, Moore continued to battle admirably through the whistle, if for nothing more than getting in Garrett's way on occasion. Although Garrett did register a single sack, he didn't have the dominating impact on the outcome of the game that many feared or predicted. That has to help build Moore's confidence, the fact he was able to hold his own against the most dominant pass rushing DE the NFL has to offer.
He wasn't great, but he was good enough to get the job done, and help his team walk away victorious. He will only grow from the experience.
ILB Buddy Johnson
Another healthy scratch for the talented young man trapped in a numbers game at the position.
DE Isaiahh Loudermilk
Loudermilk is the prototypical Steelers DE, both physically and mentally. He understands his assignments, and he faithfully executes them. He stepped up his game yet again against arguably the best offensive line in the NFL, especially in the running game.
He is starting to not only tie up blockers and maintain gap control, but actually impose his will enough to disrupt running lanes. He was being counted on to help limit the Browns league leading rushing attack, and he came through bigtime.
DB Tre Norwood
Back in the early stages of this season; when it became apparent that the Steelers would be utilizing a slot by committee approach, and that Norwood would be a vital member of said committee, I surmised that his usage would fluctuate each week according to matchups. That assumption is proving to be accurate.
Norwood only saw 7 snaps on defense in a overly physical slugfest, one focusing primarily in the trenches. Arthur Maulet saw the majority of snaps, with seldom used backup SS Miles Killebrew even seeing his most snaps on defense this season. Although Norwood only saw 7 snaps, he did make the most of his limited action, recording 2 solo tackles on the afternoon.
Although his usage has been anything but consistent, the good news is his overall performances have been.
P Pressley Harvin lll
Truth be told, if you would have told me that the Steelers were going to run a trick play with one of their kickers, I would have immediately assumed it would be Harvin. After all, he did throw a TD pass in college on a fake punt for the Georgia Tech Rambling Wreck. Alas, it was not meant to be.
Harvin continued to display his Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde tendencies befitting a Halloween affair. Although he had a 56 yard boomer in the game, he also had a couple of sub 40 yarders. One came at the least opportune time, late in the fourth quarter, but at least there wasn't a complete shank at any point.
I am not going to evaluate his kickoff abilities, as that is definitely not something he gets paid to do. Thankfully.