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Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Post-Season Awards, Part 3

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

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Okay, here’s the last round of post-season award votes. Part 1 and Part 2 are also available. This one will be a handful of questions that weren’t asked in the preseason or mid-year, but seemed worth a spin. Let’s just get to it.

The short-hand list:

Next Man Up Award: J.C. Hassenauer
Performance of the Year (single game): T.J. Watt vs Browns (wk 16)
Performance of the Year (full season): T.J. Watt (22.5 sacks, etc.)
Next Big Star: Najee Harris
Name We’ll All Know Next Year: Montravius Adams
Sophomore Leap (I hope): Dan Moore
Missing Piece: Quarterback
Philosophy to Update: Bell-Cow Backfield


Next Man Up (Best Replacement)

I know I criticized the Steelers depth in the previous article, but there were some bright spots off the bench too. So let’s recognize the guys who weren’t supposed to see the field, but did.

Poll

Next Man Up

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    Montravius Adams
    (42 votes)
  • 15%
    J.C. Hassenauer
    (47 votes)
  • 9%
    Chris Wormley
    (29 votes)
  • 12%
    John Leglue
    (37 votes)
  • 47%
    Ahkello Witherspoon
    (142 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
297 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: J.C. Hassenauer

I’m high on Ahkello Witherspoon lately, so I’m a bit torn on this. Also, Chris Wormley outperformed my expectations by a pretty wide margin. But center has been a mess for some time around here. Maurkice Pouncey started to decline a couple years ago (Ben covered for his wild snaps more than I think most of us realized) and Kendrick Green was slow to grasp the position (I see him as a guard long-term). But as soon as Hassenauer was pressed into service late in the year, the line seemed to settle down a bit.

They still weren’t a good line. But I (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) noticed J.C. as a positive in a position that was decidedly in the negative all year.


Individual Performance of the Year (single game)

Poll

Performance of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    T.J. Watt vs Seattle (wk 6) — 7 tackles, 3 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 3 passes defensed, 2 QB hits, 1 game winning forced fumble in OT.
    (26 votes)
  • 0%
    Chase Claypool vs Broncos (wk 5) — 6 targets, 5 rec., 130 yds, 1 TD, 59 yard long.
    (0 votes)
  • 5%
    Ben Roethlisberger vs Baltimore (wk 13) — 21 - 31, 236 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT, 111.8 rtg., two 4th quarter TD passes and one 4th quarter 2PAT in one point win.
    (15 votes)
  • 27%
    T.J. Watt vs Ravens (wk 13) — 6 tackles, 3 TFL, 6 QB hits, 1 FF, 3.5 sacks, 1 broken up pass on game-winning 2PAT.
    (75 votes)
  • 1%
    The Safeties (Minkah Fitzpatrick & Terrell Edmunds) vs Tennessee (wk 15) — 24 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 fumble recovery.
    (3 votes)
  • 10%
    Najee Harris vs. Cleveland (wk 17) — 28 car., 188 yds, 1 TD; 3 targets, 3 rec., 18 yds; two longest runs of the season.
    (29 votes)
  • 40%
    T.J. Watt vs Browns (wk 17) — 5 tackles, 3 TFL, 5 QB hits, 4.0 sacks, 2 passes defensed.
    (112 votes)
  • 2%
    Ahkello Witherspoon vs Minnesota (wk 14) — 4 tackles, 3 passes defensed, 2 INT, 45 yds, in only second start with Steelers.
    (7 votes)
  • 2%
    Ben Roethlisberger vs LA Chargers (wk 11) — 28 - 44, 273 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT, 103.7 rtg in wild near-comeback.
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (2 votes)
275 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: T.J. Watt vs Ravens (wk 13)

I was tempted by Watt’s overtime performance against Seattle, or Ben’s 4th quarter against the Ravens in this same week 13 game. But T.J. was unblockable that day. At the time, the Ravens still controlled the division (and were a front-runner for the AFC’s #1 seed). Lamar Jackson was in uniform, and Baltimore had displayed some magic earlier in the season, with big comebacks against Indianapolis or Detroit. And then T.J. just blew them apart. Six quarterback hits. 3.5 sacks. And that 2pt PAT. The Steelers absolutely don’t win that game if he’s not on the field. Full-stop.


Individual Performance of the Year (full season)

Poll

Season of the Year

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    T.J. Watt — NFL record tying 22.5 sacks in only 15 games; NFL leading 39 QB hits, NFL leading 21 TFL, NFL leading 3 opponent fumbles recovered.
    (228 votes)
  • 3%
    Najee Harris — Team rookie record 1200 rushing yards, team rookie record 1667 total yards, NFL rookie record 381 touches without a fumble.
    (9 votes)
  • 5%
    Ben Roethlisberger — NFL leading six 4th quarter comebacks (4th all time for a single season), NFL leading seven game winning drives (2nd all time for a single season), both of them team records.
    (15 votes)
  • 5%
    Cam Heyward — Team leading (tied) nine passes defensed from interior of defensive line; 10.0 sacks; 1 big-guy interception.
    (15 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (1 vote)
268 votes total Vote Now

Performance of the Year (full season): T.J. Watt

Man, I really struggled with this. It’s easy to hand it to T.J. (and I, obviously, did), but in terms of game winning drives and 4th quarter comebacks, Ben just had the second best year a quarterback has ever had. It was also by far the best year a Steelers quarterback has ever had, and (obviously) his best year. Lots of the talking head community seemed to relish laying into Ben for not being 29 anymore, but given what he had to work with (the terrible line, the inconsistent WRs, the new OC), he was far more impressive than he’s been given credit for. (As per usual.)

But then there’s T.J. Watt. Punching in his stats above, I noted that Watt had broken the sack record in 15 games because he’d sat out two contests in their entirety. But we all know he missed several halves as well. By my count, he missed somewhere around 2.5 full games (on top of those two in which he didn’t dress). That means 22.5 sacks in 12.5 games. Maintain that pace over the full 17-game season and he’d have had 30.5 sacks.

So, you know, it was a good year for Trent Jordan.


Next Big Star

Poll

Next Big Star

This poll is closed

  • 71%
    Najee Harris
    (192 votes)
  • 1%
    Alex Highsmith
    (4 votes)
  • 23%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (64 votes)
  • 0%
    Ahkello Witherspoon
    (2 votes)
  • 2%
    Dan Moore
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
270 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: Najee Harris

How much more is there to say about Najee Harris? Let me add this: with a slight upgrade to the offensive line, a slightly more dangerous downfield passing attack to take the heat off, and some luck with injuries, this kid ought to be an All Pro many times over. He was probably a Pro Bowl snub this year (he finished 4th in the NFL in both rushing and yards from scrimmage, and didn’t fumble once in the regular season). Now imagine that talent and production from a guy in a good offense...


Name We’ll All Know Next Year

Poll

Name We’ll All Know Next Year

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    Montravius Adams (NT)
    (105 votes)
  • 5%
    Derrek Tuszka (OLB)
    (15 votes)
  • 8%
    John Leglue (OL)
    (22 votes)
  • 28%
    Isaiah Loudermilk (DL)
    (75 votes)
  • 1%
    Cody White (WR)
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Rico Bussey (WR)
    (5 votes)
  • 12%
    Buddy Johnson (ILB)
    (33 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (7 votes)
265 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: Montravius Adams

Isaiah Loudermilk gave me some pause. Derrek Tuszka was fun to watch, torpedoing Baker Mayfield in week 17. But ultimately, I have a suspicion Adams is on the way up. For one thing, he played pretty well for a guy that got picked up mid-season. Secondly, the Steelers don’t seem likely to invest in another Casey Hampton to clog the middle. So Adams’ position seems relatively secure. And finally, with a whole year to prep for (possibly) starting, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him improved by this fall. If Stephon Tuitt ever comes back, I have a feeling the defensive line is going to be okay.


Sophomore Leap

How big of a leap are we talking about here? Well, Troy Polamalu went from not starting a game in 2003 to All Pro in 2004. Antonio Brown went from 16 regular season catches in 2010, to the first man with 1,000 yards receiving and 1,000 yards on returns in the same year, in 2011. Or, at the very least, T.J. Watt went from 7.0 sacks as a rookie to 13.0 in year two. A genuine leap.

Poll

Sophomore Leap

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Najee Harris
    (18 votes)
  • 31%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (83 votes)
  • 20%
    Dan Moore
    (55 votes)
  • 14%
    Kendrick Green
    (37 votes)
  • 1%
    Buddy Johnson
    (5 votes)
  • 8%
    Tre Norwood
    (22 votes)
  • 4%
    Isaiah Loudermilk
    (13 votes)
  • 10%
    Pressley Harvin
    (28 votes)
  • 0%
    John Leglue
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Rico Bussey
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    Cody White
    (0 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (0 votes)
264 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: Dan Moore

The easy ones to point to are Harris and Freiermuth, but those two are already playing at a high level. What would a legit sophomore leap look like for Najee? 2,000 yards rushing and 120 catches? That might be asking a bit much.

Instead, I’m looking at Dan Moore, who seemed stronger and stronger as the season went on at left tackle. He held his own against some of the most monstrous pass rushers in the game, allowing much-hyped Myles Garrett only one sack in two contests despite almost no extra blockers slotted to his side. And he did so with a revolving door of fellow linemates and two OL coaches. I have a feeling Big Dan is the real thing. It’s possible he’s already peaked, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him lock down a starting spot on the line for a decade.


Missing Piece

Poll

Missing Piece

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Quarterback
    (114 votes)
  • 26%
    Center
    (70 votes)
  • 7%
    Anchor Left Tackle
    (20 votes)
  • 5%
    Shutdown Corner
    (15 votes)
  • 0%
    Second Pass Rusher
    (2 votes)
  • 4%
    Nose Tackle
    (12 votes)
  • 8%
    Thumper Inside Linebacker
    (22 votes)
  • 1%
    Big Play Slot Corner
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Contested Catch Wide Receiver
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    Backup Running Back
    (2 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (3 votes)
265 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: Quarterback

I don’t think this is much of a surprise. But there are a number of question marks beyond quarterback. Some of these might already have answers on the team — Alex Highsmith might emerge next year the Bud Dupree did in 2019; Dan Moore and Montravius Adams might live up to my hopes as long term solutions on the lines; Chase Claypool might spend the off-season following Larry Fitzgerald around Phoenix so some of that “contested catch magic” rubs off. But some of these are more vexing.

If QB was settled, slot corner was probably my big worry (I think Mike Hilton’s absence has been under-reported this year). But until further notice, the field general is the most obvious vacancy.


Philosophy to Update

This team is in a staggering transition, all the sudden. Ben Roethlisberger and Keith Butler are leaving, and Kevin Colbert appears to have two feet out the door too. This opens up an opportunity to update some philosophical positions. You don’t want to change everything (this is a successful team). But are there some schemes and philosophies that the Steelers employ that you’d like to see them change this year?

Poll

Philosophy to Update

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Bell Cow Backfield
    (33 votes)
  • 32%
    Pass Short/Run Long
    (76 votes)
  • 3%
    Exotic Blitzes over Fundamentals
    (8 votes)
  • 6%
    Jet Sweeps & Pre-Snap Motion
    (15 votes)
  • 10%
    Soft Zones over Press Man
    (26 votes)
  • 21%
    Promoting from within (coaching staff)
    (52 votes)
  • 7%
    Draft and Develop (instead of working free agency)
    (17 votes)
  • 2%
    No contract negotiation during the season
    (6 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (4 votes)
237 votes total Vote Now

My Pick: Bell-Cow Backfield

Man, this is a tough one for me. I hate “pass-short/run-long,” but I have a feeling that’s been a manpower problem rather than a philosophy — Ben’s declining agility and the O-Line’s inability to protect him. Similarly, the soft zones have always struck me as a necessary evil (you can’t run a press-man coverage if your corners will get burned). But the one that really gave me pause was the “exotic blitzes over fundamentals.” The Steelers inability to wrap up tackles or stay in lane-assignments is beyond frustrating. And I think it’s a core reason they struggle against the run (alongside the departures of Tuitt and Alualu and Vince Williams, of course).

In the end, I’m hoping for less of a bell cow backfield because (a) I think you can run exotic blitzes AND exhibit good fundamentals, so, while I prefer fundamentals, this doesn’t have to be a choice. And (b), Najee Harris is special, and I don’t want to see him run into the ground.

Najee is young, and has the potential to power this offense for a long time, so let’s’ not panic about running off his wheels just yet. But he was the only runner on the team last year who amassed 100 yards on the ground. That’s ridiculous. If the team is going to keep feeding him the ball at this rate, they need a DeAngelo Williams on the bench, who can pick up and go at a moment’s notice. Otherwise, they need to rethink this philosophy.


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

And with that, I’m all question’d out. Bring on the off-season. Thanks for the memories, Steelers. See you next year.