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Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Postseason Awards, Part 2

With the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers season over, it is time to take a look at who was able to win some postseason awards.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

This is Part 2 of a series looking at Pittsburgh Steelers awards after the 2021 season, revisiting preseason and midseason awards predictions. Part 1, featuring more traditional awards, can be found HERE. In Part 2, I wanted to speculate about some less traditional “awards” for the upcoming season. I’ll include the entries from the first version, plus a few new ones.

My goal, as always, is to start a few arguments in the comments section, so have at it. On with the show. Go Steelers.

Here’s the shorthand version (with my picks). Explanations and polls to follow.

People’s Choice Award: Cam Heyward
People’s Goat Award: Chase Claypool
Biggest Disappointment: Run Defense
Pleasant Surprise: Resilience
Weakest Link: Depth
Unsung Hero: Big Ben
Biggest Loss: Stephon Tuitt


People’s Choice Award

This is a good place to start. I think there are guys that, every time they do something (anything), we all get stoked. Think of fans belting “Heeeeeth” after every catch. Or how Brett Keisel’s beard became a sensation while he was playing Pro Bowl level. Who do you expect to say, “man, I love this guy!” at least once or twice per game?

Preseason Winner: Pat Freiermuth (36%), Najee Harris (34%)
My Preseason Choice: Pressly Harvin

Midseason Winner: Pat Freiermuth (45%)
My Midseason Pick: Pat Freiermuth

Poll

People’s Choice Award

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Cam Heyward
    (233 votes)
  • 23%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (83 votes)
  • 8%
    Najee Harris
    (29 votes)
  • 1%
    Corliss Waitman
    (7 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (4 votes)
356 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Cam Heyward

It was harder to come up with candidates for this than I expected. But coming up with a winner was easy. Cam is a three-time All Pro who is also chronically underrated. Chris Collinsworth called him a future Hall of Famer this year, and I sure hope so too. His strength, hustle, technique, and leadership are unparalleled. And he seems like a really good guy. He’s one of the easiest players to root for in sports.


People’s Goat Award

These aren’t necessarily stars, and they’re not bums – they’re perfectly good players who are just detested for some reason. Think Kordell Stewart, or Rashard Mendenhall, or pre-2019 Bud Dupree.

Preseason Winner: JuJu Smith-Schuster (29%), Terrell Edmunds (22%)
My Preseason Choice: JuJu Smith-Schuster

Midseason Winner: Devin Bush (28%)
My Midseason Pick: Chuks Okorafor

Poll

People’s Goat Award

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Ben Roethlisberger
    (39 votes)
  • 26%
    Chase Claypool
    (95 votes)
  • 4%
    Bennie Snell, Jr.
    (16 votes)
  • 6%
    Chuks Okorafor
    (22 votes)
  • 33%
    Devin Bush
    (119 votes)
  • 8%
    Kendrick Green
    (31 votes)
  • 3%
    Joe Schobert
    (13 votes)
  • 5%
    Other
    (19 votes)
354 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Chase Claypool

All of these guys are legit contenders for this award. And Claypool certainly underperformed (and annoyed) this season. But he’s young, and I’ve got a feeling he’s going to show very differently next year — with a new quarterback, a better offensive line (allowing him to run those deep routes), and another year of maturity.


Biggest Disappointment

I’m thinking of this as an element of the team that appears to be a strength (or at least solid), but which winds up disappointing us all.

Preseason Winner: Pass Coverage (39%)
My Preseason Choice: Pre-Snap Motions

Midseason Winner: Takeaways (39%)
My Midseason Pick: Takeaways

Poll

Biggest Disappintment

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Tackling
    (62 votes)
  • 5%
    Depth
    (19 votes)
  • 1%
    Pre-snap motion
    (6 votes)
  • 1%
    Pass rushers not named T.J Watt
    (4 votes)
  • 68%
    Run Defense
    (238 votes)
  • 3%
    Punting
    (12 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (6 votes)
347 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Depth

My first impulse was to pencil in rush defense, but given the manpower losses (Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Mike Hilton, Bud Dupree, Vince Williams), no one could have expected much from this unit. They were worse than expected (by a good margin) but they were gonna struggle.

Meanwhile, I was baffled by the Steelers’ backups. The guys who seemed to be most impressive were guys who came straight off the couch (Montravius Adams, John Leglue); meanwhile the backups that seemed most solid (or even exciting), failed to impress. Melvin Ingram, James Washington, James Pierre, B.J. Finney, Mason Rudolph, Karl Joseph, Dwayne Haskins, and all the running backs except Najee Harris. What happened when those guys saw the field? Not much. I even like several of these players (I was stoked when Finney came back, for example), but there just wasn’t enough there once the front lines when down.

(Side note: this is why my hope for this draft is a series of downward trades. I’d be happy to leave the first round altogether, and then wind up with like eight day-2 picks.)


Pleasant Surprise

Preseason Winner: Deep Passing (32%), Short Yardage Offense (26%), Strong Finish (26%)
My Preseason Choice: Short Yardage Offense

Midseason Winner: Tight Ends (40%), Offensive Line Improvement (32%)
My Midseason Pick: Short Yardage Offense

Poll

Pleasant Surprise

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Tight Ends
    (163 votes)
  • 2%
    Short Yardage Offense
    (8 votes)
  • 6%
    Secondary
    (22 votes)
  • 28%
    Resilience
    (97 votes)
  • 12%
    Replacement Players
    (43 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (4 votes)
337 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Resilience

Maybe I’m cheating with something as vague as “resilience,” but I’m thinking about the mental toughness and never-say-die of this team.

Elsewhere I’ve noted that Big Ben led the league in 4th quarter comebacks and game winning drives this year, with career highs in both categories (six and seven, respectively). He’s only led the league in both categories twice — 2017 (with three and four) and 2004 (with four and five). Those were excellent Steelers teams; they went 13-3 in 2017, and 15-1 in 2004. If they had zero 4th quarter comebacks in either year, both squads would have still posted double-digit victories. This year, the team would have been 3-13-1 without those late-game heroics. And instead, they made the playoffs. That’s the story of a team that never gave up. (And that doesn’t even mention those two spectacular comebacks that they couldn’t quite close — particularly what would have been an NFL record 29 point comeback against the Vikings.)

This was not a great team, but it was a really really tough one.


Weakest Link

Preseason Winner: Offensive Line (47%)
My Preseason Choice: Offensive Line

Midseason Winner: Offensive Line (37%), Deep Passing (31%)
My Midseason Pick: Skill Depth

Poll

Weakest Link

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Offensive Line
    (239 votes)
  • 5%
    Deep Passing
    (17 votes)
  • 21%
    Run Defense
    (73 votes)
  • 0%
    Skill Depth
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Tackling
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
336 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Run Defense

This was oddly easy for me. These were all disappointments, but run defense was clearly the worst thing this team had on offer. Now, as we all know, the losses of Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu (to say nothing for Mike Hilton) tied these guys’ hands. But I don’t think anyone expected the Steelers run defense to be as helpless as they were. (It’s an absolute miracle they made the playoffs anyway, given how bad this element was.)


Unsung Hero

Preseason Winner: Ben Roethlisberger (37%)
My Preseason Choice: Terrell Edmunds

Midseason Winner: Chris Boswell (57%)
My Midseason Pick: Chris Boswell

Poll

Unsung Hero

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Terrell Edmunds
    (41 votes)
  • 47%
    Chris Boswell
    (156 votes)
  • 19%
    Ben Roethlisberger
    (65 votes)
  • 4%
    Joe Haden
    (15 votes)
  • 4%
    Cam Sutton
    (16 votes)
  • 7%
    Chris Wormley
    (25 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (9 votes)
327 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Ben Roethlisberger

It’s hard to call someone “unsung” when he has a gigantic city-wide “thank you” game, in which his goodbye overshadows career games by both Najee Harris and T.J. Watt. But Ben took so much grief this year, and he was simply better than he got credit for. No doubt he is a shadow of his former self (watch some old highlights sometime — he was an absolute monster for years). But given his situation — with the terrible OL, the disappointing receivers, the new (and clumsy) offensive coordinator, and the spotty run support — any quarterback would look rougher than normal.

More importantly, Ben is the single biggest reason this team made so many spectacular comebacks this season. His second half performances were often just outstanding. But even when he wasn’t playing superhero, he kept the team loose when (as Mike Tomlin epicly put it) everyone else [got] tight.”

He may be the most underrated player of the era, and he’s an unsung hero for me.


Biggest Loss

Preseason Winner: Mike Hilton (42%)
My Preseason Choice: Mike Hilton

Midseason Winner: Stephon Tuitt/Tyson Alualu (72%)
My Midseason Pick: Stephon Tuitt/Tyson Alualu

Poll

Biggest Loss

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Mike Hilton
    (28 votes)
  • 1%
    Bud Dupree
    (5 votes)
  • 52%
    Stephon Tuitt
    (169 votes)
  • 19%
    Tyson Alualu
    (62 votes)
  • 0%
    Vince Williams
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Steven Nelson
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    JuJu Smith-Schuster
    (5 votes)
  • 10%
    Maurkice Pouncey
    (35 votes)
  • 4%
    David DeCastro
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
323 votes total Vote Now

My Postseason Pick: Stephon Tuitt

Boy, this one is tough. Watching Mike Hilton in the playoffs has been depressing. So has remembering Vince Williams blow up running plays ...or Maurkice Pouncey pull on the edges ...or JuJu make catches in traffic ...or...

But Tuitt is the biggest loss. If he’d have lined up across from Cam Heyward, the defense would have looked entirely different. Tuitt would have solidified the rush defense visibly. He’d have rushed the passer like a grizzley (remember, he had 11.0 sacks in 2020). He’d have occupied blockers to allow Alex Highsmith more free rushes. And he’d have created more opportunities for the Steelers to create pressure without blitzing (allowing for more DBs on the field, and perhaps less Devin Bush in coverage on WRs).

Tuitt has always been injured too much, but he’s really that good.


Okay, one more set coming. Stay tuned for Part 3: A couple of new questions for the off-season...