The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the Chicago Bears in Week 9 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: 5 receptions, 43 yards, 8.6 average, 2 TD, 13 long, 6 targets
On a day when Freiermuth met Steelers legend Heath Miller before the game, Freiermuth put a very Heath-like performance together on Monday night. Freiermuth is becoming more than just a reliable target, he is becoming one of Ben Roethlisberger’s go-to targets. For a quarterback who is known to fixate on specific receivers, having someone like Freiermuth to exploit the middle and be an extra target has opened up the offense. Freiermuth with Rader and Gentry might just be your tight end group in 2022, and it looked just fine on Monday night.
Stat Line: 21/30, 205 yards, 6.8 ave, 2 TD, 0 INT, 4 Sacks for 30 yards, 111.1 Rating
For some reason the thought about Roethlisberger’s game when the scoreboard struck zeroes was that he didn’t play well. Then you look at the box score and you see just how efficient Roethlisberger was vs. the Bears. Only 9 incompletions, and his 30 attempts fits him perfectly in my 25-35 attempt range where the Steelers will see success. The days of Roethlisberger throwing for 350+ yards might be a thing of the past, but if Roethlisberger can be this efficient, and protect the ball, week in and week out the Steelers will be tough to beat.
Stat Line: 7 tackles, 4 solo, 3 sacks, 3 TFL, 1 PD, 3 QB Hits
Every week T.J. Watt proves his worth to the team, and verifies this lucrative contract signed prior to the regular season. However, it is becoming glaringly obvious Watt is the primary playmaker on the defense right now. On a night when the Bears chose to double, and triple team, Cam Heyward, it was up to Watt to make the defensive plays. Thankfully, Watt is usually able to deliver, but you would love to see another defender not named Watt or Heyward step up and make a play from time to time.
Stat Line: 2 tackles, 2 solo, 1 pass defense, 3 QB Hits, 1 INT
As stated above, Heyward was taken out of the play on more than one occasion. This is something I’m shocked more teams don’t do regularly, but even when Heyward’s stat line was more mundane, he still made a big play when he intercepted Justin Fields. The interception resulted in a Steelers’ touchdown, and turned out to be a critical moment in the game. Heyward and Watt are the Steelers’ dynamos, and they could both be in the winners column on a weekly basis.
Stat Line: 5 receptions, 56 yards, 11.2 average, 22 long, 6 targets
Like Roethlisberger, the knee jerk reaction was Johnson didn’t play that well, but he led the team in receiving yards and had another critical play when it mattered most. Like his 50 yard catch and run vs. the Cleveland Browns in Week 8, Johnson delivered on the game-winning drive when he took a similar pass and got the offense into Chris Boswell’s field goal range.
Stat Line: 3/3 Field Goals, 2-for-3 Extra Points, 1 Fumble Recovery
Boswell made kicks of 54, 52 and the game-winner of 40. They were all beyond necessary, but the missed extra point put the Steelers in a bind down the stretch. I was close to leaving him off the list, but when I considered him making two kicks of 50+ and recovering that fumble there was no way I could leave him off the Winners list. Boswell is money in the bank, and the gaffes are few and far between. The Steelers were lucky he cleared the NFL’s Concussion Protocol and was available on Monday night. (Editor’s Note: For those who listen to my podcast, check it out below, I recorded the show late last night/early this morning and left Boswell off the list. Like I said I was close to keeping him off the list initially. It wasn’t until Tuesday morning when I made the change and the podcast was already recorded.)
4th Down/Red-Zone Offense
Stat Line: 2/2 on 4th / 3/3 in RZ
There are some areas where the Steelers’ offense can improve, but their 4th down offense and red-zone offense in Week 9 was tremendous. They were 2-for-2 on 4th and short, and they were also perfect when entering the red-zone. Winning these situational areas of the football game are critical to the team’s success, but there is more than one area where the team needs to improve. More on that in a bit.
Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr.
Stat Line: Rookies struggled throughout
The two starting rookies on the Steelers’ offensive line had been okay throughout the regular season, but they certainly struggled on Monday night. Kendrick Green was consistently driven into the backfield, and Dan Moore had his share of losses on the edge. This is to be expected for the young 3rd and 4th round draft picks, but the question now becomes if Mike Tomlin uses this performance to move Zach Banner into the starting lineup. It would require a shakeup along the line, and the coaching staff would have to view Moore as a huge weakness to make the move. Not sure I’d go that far, yet.
Stat Line: Costly Fumble
McCloud had himself a solid game returning the football, until the critical 4th quarter fumble. As I was watching the game with my wife, as McCloud received the 4th quarter punt, all I said was, “Hold onto the ball, just go down...don’t fight for extra yards.” He did neither and the fumble was compounded by the fact Chicago was able to scoop and score to make the game much tighter than it had to be. This is the type of mistake which could have coaches wondering if the production is worth the risk.
3rd Down Offense
Stat Line: 6-for-17
Anyone who reads this column regularly, or listens to the podcast below, knows I always look at the team’s third down offense as a gauge for success. My goal for the team is to be .500 or above, and they failed in this regard on Monday Night Football. The team started out great in this area, but failed miserably down the stretch. If the 3rd down offense can improve, it will help the offense become a more legitimate threat on a weekly basis.
Stat Line: 4 sacks surrendered, 5 QB Hits, 3.3 yards per carry
The Steelers had seen a steady progression from their offensive line throughout their three-game winning streak, but it is safe to say the line took a step back in Week 9. Thankfully it was in a winning effort, but maybe this was a bit of a gut check for a line who now realizes there is still plenty of work to be done. Will Week 10 be a get-right game, or will the line become more of an unknown commodity moving forward? Only time will tell...
Stat Line: Not sure what to think
The officiating was very one-sided, but outside of the Cassius Marsh taunting call and the low block call, I can’t think of too many calls which were deemed to be skewed towards the Steelers. Can Bears fans argue with their defenders consistently lining up offsides and their tackles consistently jumping offsides? The officiating was one-sided, and the Marsh call was a bit soft, but Steelers fans know all about getting hosed by the officials.
Stat Line: There is a reason people watch the Manning Broadcast
I read an article about how when Peyton and Eli Manning do their Manning broadcast of Monday Night Football almost as many people watch them as they do the live broadcast team. Now I know why. I get why ESPN would want to make the game seem as close as possible, but I’m not tuning in to hear you pump up the Bears, I’m tuning in to hear you call the game. Based on my Twitter feed from last night, I wasn’t alone in this regard. It was as bad as I can remember.
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!