The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the New York Jets in Week 4 of regular season action. The Steelers were losers in the contest, but that doesn’t mean every player had a good or bad performance.
Players who play well can be considered ‘Winners’, while those who left a lot to be desired can be called ‘Losers’. It may sound harsh, but it is the crux of this exercise.
Let’s check in to see who fell on which side of the ledger after the latest game...
Stat Line: 6 rec., 102 yards, 17.0 average, 0 TD, 27 long, 8 targets
We knew the Pickens breakout game was coming, but no one knew when. As it turns out, it was when Kenny Pickett was called into action. The two rookies hadn’t spent much time playing together this season, but their connection was real. The back shoulder throws to Pickens were beautifully timed, and wonderfully executed. If this is just the start for the rookie receiver, I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Stat Line: 7 rec., 85 yards, 12.1 average, 0 TD, 24 long, 9 targets
Freiermuth has been the one consistent playmaker on the Steelers’ offense so far this season. Every other weapon has been neutralized, or just not shown up at times. If the Steelers decide to use the second year tight end, and that’s a big if sometimes, he has done nothing but make plays. It will be exciting to see how his role might expand with Pickett at the helm.
Stat Line: 10/13, 120 yards, 9.2 average, 0 TDs, 3 INTs, 0 sacks, 65.1 Rating / 6 rush, 15 yards, 2.5 average, 2 TDs, 7 long
Some might suggest when a player has 3 INTs on his record, putting him in the winners column isn’t warranted. I get it. But do you realize how difficult it has to be to come off the bench in the middle of the game and be ready to play? To orchestrate point-producing drives without any real repetitions throughout the week? Pickett gave the Steelers the “spark” Mike Tomlin desired, unfortunately a 10-point lead in the 4th quarter wasn’t enough.
Stat Line: 8 tackles, 5 solo, 2 pass defensed, 1 INT
Without T.J. Watt the Steelers defense looks average, except for Fitzpatrick. Minkah registered his 3rd interception of the season, in just four games. When teams don’t avoid him like the plague, like the Cleveland Browns did in Week 3, he makes passers pay. For those who were wondering “where’s Minkah?” last season...well, here he is. Unfortunately, he’s just one man on an 11-man unit which is both ravished by injuries and currently struggling.
Stat Line: 2 rec., 11 yards, 5.5 average, 0 TD, 6 yard long, 4 targets
Diontae Johnson wanted a big pay day, and he got what many feel was fair compensation for the work he’s done throughout his career to this point. However, the drops continue to plague Johnson in 2022. No, he hasn’t had a ridiculous number of drops, but when, and now how, he has dropped the ball certainly matter. The first down pass which went off his hands resulted in a Mitch Trubisky interception. Some are saying the pass was thrown too hard, or not perfect. I call B.S. on that, it should have been a catch. Johnson wanted paid like a top wide receiver, he now needs to add the production to back that up, and sometimes the routine plays matter.
Stat Line: 0 rec., 0 yards, 2 targets
I can’t remember a player of Claypool’s stature or status, and I use those terms loosely, to be held without a catch. The zero catches is disturbing on all fronts, but Claypool’s inability to really use his size to his advantage still baffles me. Watch some of the best pass catchers in the game, both past and present, and you’ll see them high-point the ball with fluidity and regularity. Claypool does neither well. The team needs to use Claypool in ways which maximize his skill set, but at the same time Claypool’s play needs to step up.
Stat Line: Another fumble, questionable decision making
Gunner O might be reaching the breaking point with being the Steelers’ return man if he keeps putting the football on the turf. Another fumble in Week 4, his second in the past three games, and Steven Sims, who has been a gameday inactive this season, could be called into duty. Throw in Olszewski’s questionable decision making as it pertains to fair catching punts, and the Steelers might be exploring other options. If Sims isn’t the guy, this is the first week Calvin Austin III is able to return to the team off Injured Reserve (IR), so the team might have options for that spot.
Stat Line: 178 total yards, 4 INTs
I’d be hard-pressed to think back to a time of Steelers football when the team struggled as much as they do to just put 200 yards of passing on the stat sheet. We, the fans, have witnessed Ben Roethlisberger throw for 400 yard games like they are nothing. Now? 200 seems like a pipe dream. Maybe this changes with Pickett now in at quarterback, but you have to hope the passing attack starts to mature, and mature quickly.
Stat Line: Zach Wilson - 18/36, 252 yards, 7.0 average, 1 TD, 2 INT, 1 sack for 4 yards, 59.0 rating
You look at the Wilson stat line, and you think, “Meh, that’s not that bad.” But it is as much as “when” as it is the overall stat line. The Steelers couldn’t get to Wilson in the second half, and he was able to make plays when it mattered most. Throw in the Steelers’ injuries in the secondary and the pass defense struggled. And they struggled at the worst possible times Sunday.
Stat Line: NYJ - 3-for-3
I’ve said it over and over again, but the Steelers can benefit from a “Bend don’t break” defense. Hold offenses to field goals, and the offense should be able to make enough plays to at least keep the team in games. When the Jets reached the red-zone in Week 4, they scored touchdowns. That isn’t a “bend don’t break” defense. If the Steelers stand a prayer in winning a game before the bye week, their defense will have to bend more than they break.
Stat Line: 4 INTs
A team who turns the ball over four time isn’t going to win often, and the Steelers fall into that category. Have to play a clean brand of football to win in the NFL.
Stat Line: 8-for-55
Speaking of a clean brand of football, it goes beyond turnovers. It also goes to penalties. The Steelers can’t shoot themselves in the foot with pre-snap penalties and illegal man downfield calls. They did both on Sunday, and it needs to be cleaned up as much as the turnovers do.
3rd Down Defense
Stat Line: 6-for-15
Just like when talking about the pass defense, the “when” matters. Statistically, the Steelers defense did a great job on 3rd downs. But when they gave up those key third down conversions matters. What might be the most troubling aspect of this stat line are the amount of third-and-long plays they’ve surrendered. Doesn’t provide much confidence heading into the murderer’s row they have coming up.
Stat Line: Many key injuries
Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstring)
Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee)
Cam Heyward (elbow & ankle)
Terrell Edmunds (concussion)
Cam Sutton (groin & hamstring)
All defense, and most in the secondary. Talk about adding insult to injury. Salt in the wound. Whatever you want to call it, but throw in T.J. Watt is still on IR, and it goes from bad to worse.
If you want a more detailed look at the above list, check out my “Let’s Ride” podcast where I outline each Winner and Loser, and MORE!