The Steelers shocked a lot of doubters with their gritty divisional victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.
As always, there are plenty of takeaways to be had:
1. Slightly exaggerated
Mike Tomlin undoubtedly has some flaws as a head coach, many of which were apparent in the Steelers’ blowout loss to Cincinnati last week. However, it seems that the claims that he was losing the team’s culture and locker room may have been exaggerated. The team that beat the Ravens on Sunday looked perfectly cohesive and tough.
Tomlin certainly had work to do following the loss in Cincinnati, but he showed he can still motivate a team just fine after the victory against Baltimore. Perhaps it’s best not to overreact to a single loss, no matter how ugly it is.
2. Next man up
The Steelers have been hit pretty hard with injuries this year, and the mantra “next man up” continues to be brought up. However, the team hasn’t always lived up to the claim, with their depth being painfully bad at times throughout this season. However, for once the saying seemed to ring true. Most notable was the play of backup guard John Leglue, who was buried on the Steelers depth chart prior to the game against Baltimore. He played surprisingly well and continued to show exemplary effort, always looking for a block and helping teammates off the ground after plays. Leglue deserves credit not only for helping his team, but making the most out of what is a rare opportunity for a practice squad lineman.
Akhello Witherspoon, who hasn’t exactly had the greatest career in Pittsburgh thus far, also stepped up with some big plays in replacement of Joe Haden, while Steelers interior lineman Chris Wormley and Montravius Adams stepped up in the absence of Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu. Wormley had an impressive stat line but Adams was an even bigger surprise, with a noticeably fast get-off the line of scrimmage to go along with some nice plays.
It was nice to finally see “next man up” actually in effect after an entire season of hearing about it.
Diontae Johnson had a pretty rough drop in the end zone against the Ravens, but it’s fair to say that he made up for it with a 100 yard game with two receiving touchdowns. His route-running ability and shiftiness remain as good as ever, and despite his drop his hands have been remarkably consistent this year. His improvement in year three has been incredibly promising.
It seems as if the Steelers finally have an established WR1 on their roster. It’s been something this team has been in need of ever since Antonio Brown left. If Johnson can continue to play at this high level he could very well be “the guy” in Pittsburgh for years to come.
4. An MVP impact
T.J. Watt played one of the best games of his career on Sunday, and that’s really saying something given the performances he’s had throughout his time in Pittsburgh. Watt was unstoppable against Baltimore, recording 3.5 sacks and pressuring Lamar Jackson the entire night. What’s even more interesting is how the Steelers’ pass-rush becomes more alive when Watt is healthy. He elevates the play of the group unlike anyone else on the team. Stats aside, the incredible impact Watt makes when he plays should be one of the biggest reasons for why Watt is deserving of Defensive Player of the Year, and likely team MVP as well.
5. Running hard
Najee Harris hasn’t put up the most impressive stat lines the past few weeks, but that doesn’t mean that his play has been bad. Dealing with some subpar run-blocking once again against Baltimore, Harris made the best of the room he had to run with. His second-effort and tackle-breaking ability really shone, as he was continually gaining yards after contact. Additionally, he served as a safety valve for Ben Roethlisberger in the passing game and had some nice reps in pass protection. Harris didn’t have a 100 yard game or score a touchdown, but his effort and play have still been above the line. He’s a special young back who should continue to get better and better as his offensive line improves.
6. Settling in
Minkah Fitzpatrick has had a bit of a down year so far this season, mainly in productivity. However, he seems to be settling into his role as a playmaker on the back end of the defense once again. Against the Ravens he recorded his second straight game with an interception — recording a crucial one against Lamar Jackson, stopping a Baltimore drive in the end zone. He nearly recorded a second that was called back due to a penalty as well. Interceptions, and takeaways in general, are an inconsistent statistic, but Fitzpatrick’s ability to find the ball remains among the best in the league.
7. Big Ben’s final season
News broke a few days before Pittsburgh took on Baltimore that this season would indeed be longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s last. It was bittersweet to hear confirmed, as despite Roethlisberger’s clearly deteriorating play he has had a hall of fame-worthy career as a Steeler. Still, there was a surprising amount of negativity surrounding the announcement, so it was satisfying to see Big Ben rally his team to victory against the AFC’s #1 seed. It’s hard to tell how many wins Roethlisberger has left in his career, so it’s important to cherish each remaining victory — and what gets better, and more Roethlisberger-esque, than winning a gritty divisional game against an AFC North rival?
8. Picking up steam
The Steelers enjoyed an 11-game winning streak last season, but they fell completely apart in the last month of the season and playoffs. This season started differently, with the team playing to a losing record to start the year and currently sitting just above a .500 record. However, they have a chance to peak in the month of December for the first time in a while this season, with a few tough but very winnable games remaining in the season. If the Steelers can make the playoffs with a healthy and confident roster, they could be a dangerous team in a wide-open AFC.
It’s fair to say that the Steelers’ win over Baltimore was a much-needed confidence for the fanbase as well the team itself. It will be important for the team to capitalize on the momentum.
Don’t forget to stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for all things Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the 2021 regular season.