The Steelers Week 15 home victory over the Tennessee Titans was the least impactful game of the 2021 NFL season for the Steelers strong rookie class. The Titans are a talented and well coached team, who would have taken over the top spot in the AFC Conference if they would have emerged from Heinz Field victorious last Sunday.
The Steelers rookies are still trying to find their identities and develop into reliable contributors on the NFL level. Prior to the Titans game, each week was a hodgepodge of strong and inconsistent performances from the group.
Sunday's Titans game was the first time that the Steelers rookies were hardly noticeable. Let's take a quick glance back at the results.
RB Najee Harris
Harris had his worst game as a professional against the Titans. The Titans have a outstanding defensive line, and one of the top run defenses in the league, so his struggles were to be expected. The Steelers struggling offensive line was once again unable to open running lanes for Harris, who often appeared indecisive on the afternoon. Up until recently, Harris has been consistently able to plow forward through shear power and determination for positive yardage, even if many were 2 and 3 yard gains. He admirably tries to display the patience necessary to allow lanes to develop, but this has resulted in numerous east and west runs, rather than the required north and south variety. He has also struggled recently to get on the same page with Roethlisberger in the passing game, especially on check downs and screens.
On a positive note, Harris has a workmanlike 311 total touches thus far on the season, with zero fumbles. That is unbelievable ball security which should never be taken for granted.
TE Pat Freiermuth
Freiermuth appeared focused and ready for action Sunday, presumably extra motivated by the last second TD reception that he was unable to complete against the Vikings. The young man always plays hard mind you, but he was running with a purpose even more so it seemed in this game.
He appeared destined to have a big game in the early going, but then disaster struck. He was blasted by two defenders as he miraculously completed the catch for a first down. He was knocked out on the field, and then out of the game with his second concussion in the last few weeks.
Hopefully he will clear concussion protocol soon, and get back on the field, where the Steelers desperately need his talents and abilities. He is developing a real rapport with Ben Roethlisberger.
C Kendrick Green
Green definitely had his hands full against the Titans powerful defensive line. He held up surprisingly well in pass protection, although there were still communication issues, but was unable to generate much push in the running game. On the bright side, there were no issues with his snap placement against the Titans, a little over a week since his snapping snafu nightmare versus the Vikings. As Ben Roethlisberger so accurately pointed out at his midweek presser, it's only fair to acknowledge his marked improvement if we have already raked him over the coals for his subpar performance the week prior.
Many were unimpressed or failed to notice the improvement, but it shows the determination and work ethic needed to improve at one's craft in my opinion. These attributes are especially important for a young man still wet behind the ears at the center position. His struggles with technique and communication were to be expected, but his athleticism and intensity seem to suggest a bright future.
LT Dan Moore Jr.
Moore continues to improve by the week. This improvement has been evident both on the field, and in his PFF grades each week. Early in the season, he struggled with pass protection, both against bull rushers and speed guys. As he has gained experience, his performance and confidence have blossomed. His aggressiveness in the running game has been impressive recently.
Moore began the preseason as a swing tackle project, was determined by the coaches to be the best option at LT after presumed starter Chukwuma Okorafor was injured at camp, and then struggled as the not quite ready for primetime starter. To his credit, Moore has taken the less than ideal situation and made the best of it. Moore now appears to be a potential building block along the Steelers offensive line.
ILB Buddy Johnson
One week after receiving his first few snaps on defense as a Pittsburgh Steeler, Johnson was forced to miss the Titans game due to a foot injury suffered at practice. The Steelers could really use Johnson's services this week against the Chiefs, with ILB Devin Bush currently in COVID protocol, making his availability far from certain.
DE Isaiahh Loudermilk
Loudermilk continually strives to be an immovable object, but has made positive strides in disengaging from blockers and in collapsing the pocket. He did both rather well against the Titans. He tied his career high with 2 solo tackles in his limited action, and managed to pressure the QB on a couple of occasions. The Milkman is still incredibly raw, but has proven to be serviceable as a unexpected rotational player.
DB Tre Norwood
Norwood has been MIA in the last few games, mainly because as a situational specialist his particular services haven't been needed. It would be optimal if the Steelers offense improved enough moving forward to consistently put points on the scoreboard, therefore allowing the Steelers to fully utilize Norwood's skill set. At this point of the season, that scenario doesn't seem likely or even possible.
P Pressley Harvin lll
Harvin has one of the worst cases of the yips for a punter that I have ever seen. He hasn't really struck the ball cleanly for weeks. His drop is all over the place, to the point he doesn't appear to have a clue about directional punting. He hasn't been able to combine hangtime with distance. His struggles are as much mental as they are physical at this juncture. It was reported earlier this week that his father is dealing with a terminal illness, which really does explain a lot. The Steelers are standing behind their talented young punter, showing him their full support. I would expect no less from the greatest franchise in the NFL.