The Steelers made the AFC Playoffs in 2021, a product of an expanded playoff field, and the muddled and ugly playoff field in the AFC this year. The Steelers pulling off a playoff berth despite their injuries and struggles at too many positions is a great story in itself. Let’s look at the snap counts from Week 18, and what players helped pull off the win over Baltimore to eliminate them from the playoffs and put the Steelers in position to make it.
The offensive line and quarterback played the entire game, even if the Steelers are down 3 of their 5 starters right now, and that consistency continues to be a positive factor in Steeler wins.
The biggest news of the day is those 76 snaps listed above are not the last snaps Ben Roethlisberger will take for the Pittsburgh Steelers. One more game of Ben Roethlisberger, however it ends, is a good thing.
With Najee Harris missing a good chunk of the game, Benny Snell played 29 snaps, and while he used to struggle a lot in limited playing time, Snell seems to have adapted to the role, and his best work was right after he came into the game. Kalen Ballage also received 7 snaps, but his one carry was snuffed out from the start for no gain.
The receivers continued their normal balance without James Washington, with Cody White getting a few snaps as the No. 4 receiver, while Ray-Ray McCloud again showed a knack for making just enough plays to maintain his 3rd receiver spot. Chase Claypool wasn’t the most efficient performer on the field, but his runs and knack for getting first downs continue to hold value, even as his value has shrunk with the deep passing game’s decrease in significance in 2021.
The best position on the field for the offense in Week 18 was the tight end group, with Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry combining for 92 yards on 14 targets, their 6.6 yards per target was much better than the wide receiver production as they came first and third in yards, and only Najee Harris had a better yards per target than either of the tight ends.
Pat Freiermuth looks like the player we hoped he would be, and Zach Gentry has become a very good blocking tight end who is filling a similar role to Jesse James in the passing game. The Steelers did not neglect the position in Week 18 as they had in other weeks, and it showed up on the stat sheet, and on the scoreboard.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds and Cameron Sutton all played 100% of the snaps, but the 4th DB wasn’t Joe Haden this week, but Akhello Witherspoon. Joe Haden has been injured and has struggled a bit getting back to 100% recently, but it still surprised me to see Joe Haden completely out of the rotation early on.
Akhello Witherspoon played the starting role from the start of the game, with Joe Haden coming in with Tre Norwood on dime snaps. Each time Arthur Maulet left the game, Haden would join the nickel package as the outside CB in his normal spot, and Cameron Sutton would slide into the slot. Haden looked good while he was in, but his health and ability will be something to watch for in the Wild Card game, as it will definitely have an impact on his offseason and any contract options he has to continue his career.
Devin Bush returned and moved to the top of the inside linebacker snaps, and his speed showed up multiple times as he ran down Tyler Huntley to close off angles and limit his running. Joe Schobert was eased back into action with a reduced snap load after missing the Week 17 win over Cleveland.
Lastly, the defensive line again struggled a good bit, with Chris Wormley, Montravius Adams and Henry Mondeaux all having a tough game against the run. Isaiah Loudermilk continues to show little in pass rush, but is the No. 4 defensive lineman because of his better run defense. Henry Mondeaux only played 7 snaps, but managed to fight off several Ravens to recover T.J. Watt’s forced fumble early in the game.
The Steelers weren’t pretty in their Week 18 game against Baltimore, but they got the win, and things fell their way on their way to an extra game. I don’t think anyone will be favoring the Steelers in the Wild Card game, but they have earned their spot and will get a second shot at the Kansas City Chiefs.
What a season.