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Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 Midseason Awards, Part 2

Part 2: Non-traditional Awards

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Round two. Below is a series of non-traditional “awards” to hand out at midseason, and a check-in on our preseason projections for these same categories. A more traditional version of this list went live this week as well, but this one is a little more off the path.

As usual, I’ll include a short descriptor for each award, and an argument for my own choice. Then there will be a poll to see where Steelers Nation believes the hardware belongs. After that, we hash it out in the comments.

Let’s go.

The Shorthand Version:

People’s Choice Award: Jaylen Warren
People’s Goat “Award”: Chuks Okorafor
Biggest Disappointment: Third down offense
Pleasant Surprise: Rookie contributions
Weakest Link: Cornerbacks
Unsung Hero: Mason Cole
Biggest Loss: T.J. Watt
Addition by Subtraction: JuJu Smith-Schuster
Biggest Wish for Regular Season: Winning record in division

Bonus/New Questions

Put Me In Coach: James Pierre
Just One Band-Aid: Run Blocking
Surprise, Surprise: Kenny Pickett starts to get it
Not That You Asked: Fundamentals are more important than tricks


People’s Choice Award

These are guys that, every time they do something (anything), we all get stoked. Think of fans chanting “Heeeeeth” even after he retired. 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?

Poll

People’s Choice Award

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Kenny Pickett
    (29 votes)
  • 31%
    George Pickens
    (111 votes)
  • 32%
    Pat Freiermuth
    (117 votes)
  • 25%
    Jaylen Warren
    (91 votes)
  • 1%
    Connor Heyward
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (2 votes)
356 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Kenny Pickett
Preseason poll winner: Pat Freiermuth (36%), George Pickens (26%), Pickett (23%)
My Midseason Choice: Jaylen Warren

Yikes, already a tough one. If Connor Heyward did more in the offense, I’d probably give it to him. But as it is, Warren is an easy guy to root for, and happens to look a little bit better than Najee Harris so far. My guess is that people are more into his game than anyone else.


People’s Goat “Award”

I’ve asked this one a couple times; it’s one of my more favorite questions for the polls. I consider it an opportunity for Steelers Nation to admit that we’re not always fair to our own. Winners of this “award” don’t have to be stars, but they’re at least decent ballplayers. And we’re usually harder on them than we probably should be.

Poll

People’s Goat "Award"

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Chuks Okorafor
    (74 votes)
  • 7%
    Pressley Harvin
    (25 votes)
  • 4%
    Kenny Pickett
    (13 votes)
  • 14%
    Najee Harris
    (44 votes)
  • 15%
    Diontae Johnson
    (49 votes)
  • 21%
    Devin Bush
    (68 votes)
  • 5%
    Robert Spillane
    (18 votes)
  • 7%
    Other
    (23 votes)
314 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Benny Snell
Preseason poll winner: Devin Bush (40%)
My Midseason Choice: Chuks Okorafor

There’s a case to be made for Bush, and frankly I’d have probably given it to Chase Claypool if he was still a Steeler. But I’ll go with Chuks. The Steelers RT was a common whipping boy last year, but probably wasn’t anywhere near as bad as everyone thought. And this year, I haven’t heard his name much at all (which is the highest complement you can pay to an offensive lineman). You could argue that I’m really crediting him for last year, but I still think it makes sense.


Biggest Disappointment

I’m thinking of this “award” as a elements of the team that we expected to be strengths (or at least solid), but which have frustrated us this year. That is, it’s not just “something they’re bad at”; it’s something we genuinely thought would be good, but isn’t.

Poll

Biggest Disappointment

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Pass Coverage
    (18 votes)
  • 36%
    Running Offense
    (114 votes)
  • 9%
    Third down defense
    (30 votes)
  • 4%
    Penalties
    (13 votes)
  • 5%
    Rush defense
    (18 votes)
  • 17%
    Downfield Passing Offense
    (54 votes)
  • 18%
    Pass Rush (minus T.J. Watt)
    (59 votes)
  • 2%
    Other
    (9 votes)
315 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Takeaways
Preseason poll winner: Rushing Offense (58%)
My Midseason Choice: Third down offense

There’s nothing that’s harder for me to stomach in football than a 3-and-out. And the Steelers are dreadful in this area. I don’t have the 3-and-out numbers, but this team is only converting 33% of third. It was only two years ago they were converting at 42%. “Pass rush minus T.J.” was the other one I wrestled with, but ultimately the 3rd down offense is way too frustrating (to me).


Pleasant Surprise

This is the opposite of the Biggest Disappointment: the area that we were most concerned about based on recent history, but that has played better than expected.

Poll

Pleasant Surprise

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Rookie Contributions
    (171 votes)
  • 29%
    Offensive Line
    (87 votes)
  • 6%
    Bench Depth
    (18 votes)
  • 2%
    Halftime Adjustments
    (6 votes)
  • 6%
    Other
    (18 votes)
300 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Mid-range Passing
Preseason poll winner: Rush Defense (23%), Mid-range Passing (23%), Deep Passing Offense (20%), First Quarters (15%)
My Midseason Choice: Rookie contributions

I don’t think I expected the rookies to be silent this season, but I’m impressed with how many have exceeded my expectations already. DeMarvin Leal was better than I thought (before he got hurt); George Pickens is everything he was advertised to be; Jaylen Warren looks better than Najee Harris half the time; and while a bunch of people jumped down my throat for praising Kenny Pickett in the last article, I maintain he looks to have a bright future as well. If Calvin Austin hadn’t gotten hurt, this could have been one of the best rookie classes in a long time.


Weakest Link

With this category, I decided to emphasize units rather than individual players, since players could be replaced if they aren’t measuring up. For example, if we thought the weak link last year was “running backs” it wasn’t just Najee Harris; it was all the guys behind him too, who couldn’t beat him out.

Poll

Weakest Link

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    Defensive Line
    (21 votes)
  • 42%
    Cornerbacks
    (125 votes)
  • 4%
    Running Backs
    (14 votes)
  • 9%
    Inside Linebackers
    (27 votes)
  • 30%
    Offensive Tackles
    (89 votes)
  • 5%
    Other
    (17 votes)
293 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Offensive Line
Preseason poll winner: Offensive Line (85%)
My Midseason Choice: Cornerbacks

I hope to be proven wrong about this in the season’s second half (when T.J. Watt can help force some rushed throws) but for now, the coverage team looks really vulnerable. Cam Sutton has been okay — I want to give him some cred — but Akhello Witherspoon has been really disappointing, and Levi Wallace seems like he’s just filling a chair. If there’s a Sauce Gardner type available where the Steelers draft this year (Kalee Ringo?), I really hope Omar pulls the trigger.


Strongest Unit

Poll

Strongest Unit

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    Wide Receivers
    (33 votes)
  • 6%
    Defensive Line
    (20 votes)
  • 6%
    Special Teams
    (18 votes)
  • 43%
    Safeties
    (128 votes)
  • 1%
    Inside Linebackers
    (4 votes)
  • 30%
    Tight Ends
    (91 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (3 votes)
297 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Wide Receivers
Preseason poll winner: Wide Receivers (55%)
My Midseason Choice: Safeties

Yes, I’m aware that there are multiple units that were on the “weakest unit” and “strongest unit.” This has been a mixed season. In any case, the safeties are not doing double duty for a reason. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds — is there any starting tandem on this team that you feel more confident about? Not me.


Unsung Hero

Poll

Unsung Hero

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Mason Cole
    (55 votes)
  • 47%
    Terrell Edmunds
    (137 votes)
  • 1%
    Miles Killibrew
    (5 votes)
  • 23%
    Myles Jack
    (67 votes)
  • 8%
    Larry Ogunjobi
    (25 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (2 votes)
291 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Terrell Edmunds
Preseason poll winner: Terrell Edmunds (35%)
My Midseason Choice: Mason Cole

Cole has been a major stabilizing force on the O-Line. After Maurkice Pouncey’s spotty final year, and the failed Kendrick Green experiment, the new center has been a quiet anchor. No one talks about him at all; perfect unsung hero.


Biggest Loss

Poll

Biggest Loss

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Joe Haden
    (10 votes)
  • 19%
    Ben Roethlisberger
    (57 votes)
  • 0%
    JuJu Smith-Schuster
    (2 votes)
  • 69%
    T.J. Watt
    (204 votes)
  • 6%
    Stephon Tuitt
    (20 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (1 vote)
294 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: Joe Haden
Preseason poll winner: Joe Haden (44%)
My Midseason Choice: T.J. Watt

On some level, I still consider this Joe Haden’s award — I think the defensive backfield would be dramatically improved by a 2020 or 2021 Joe Haden on the edge. And while I like the moxy and leadership from Kenny Pickett, I also think Big Ben would have this team at 6-2. But in the end, there’s really only one answer, right?


Addition by Subtraction

The opposite of “Biggest Loss,” this one is about getting rid of dead weight. It doesn’t have to be mean-spirited, though it probably sounds that way. The big question is: who’s departure is helping the Steelers the most?

Poll

Addition by Subtraction

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Keith Butler
    (23 votes)
  • 8%
    JuJu Smith-Schuster
    (25 votes)
  • 27%
    Adrian Klemm
    (78 votes)
  • 31%
    Joe Schobert
    (88 votes)
  • 16%
    Chase Claypool (projected)
    (46 votes)
  • 6%
    Other
    (19 votes)
279 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: JuJu Smith-Schuster
Preseason poll winner: Adrien Klemm (29%), Joe Schobert (22%), JuJu Smith-Schuster (21%)
My Midseason Choice: JuJu Smith-Schuster

I know JuJu is having a killer year in Kansas City. I know he was a likeable guy in Pittsburgh. I liked him myself (as a tough possession player, especially). But his interest in self-branding was one part distraction and one part “opponent bulletin board gold.” I don’t think he was good as a veteran mentor for Chase Claypool, and I don’t think he would have been good for George Pickens. He was a good, tough wideout, and those don’t grow on trees. But I think the Steelers are better off without him.


Biggest Wish for Regular Season

I never include “Steelers win the Super Bowl” because that’s too easy. We all want that. Instead, these options are a little more modest, and therefore both likelier and more debatable.

Poll

Biggest Wish for Regular Season

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Winning Record in the Division
    (18 votes)
  • 26%
    Offense Catches Fire
    (77 votes)
  • 6%
    Defense turns back into 2019-20 version
    (19 votes)
  • 4%
    Beat Deshaun Watson
    (14 votes)
  • 35%
    High Draft Choice
    (103 votes)
  • 10%
    Strong Finish
    (30 votes)
  • 9%
    T.J. somehow gets 10+ sacks in half a season
    (26 votes)
287 votes total Vote Now

My Preseason Choice: 6-0 Division Record
Preseason poll winner: 6-0 Division Record (22%), No Season-Ending Injuries (18%)
My Midseason Choice: Winning Record in Division

Are any of you superstitious, because we seem to have cursed the Steelers with our two biggest preseason wishes for the year. Yikes. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen again...


A Couple New “Awards”


“Put Me In, Coach”

This is for the player you want to see more of, sooner rather than later.

Poll

Put me in, Coach

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Miles Boykin (on offense)
    (16 votes)
  • 26%
    Damontae Kazee
    (75 votes)
  • 25%
    Mark Robinson
    (73 votes)
  • 18%
    Stephen Sims (on offense)
    (53 votes)
  • 9%
    James Pierre
    (27 votes)
  • 9%
    Isaiah Loudermilk
    (26 votes)
  • 4%
    Other
    (12 votes)
282 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: James Pierre

I thought Pierre was a little disappointing last season, but he’s looked good in relief in recent weeks. Sometimes it’s all about timing. Maybe if he starts to get some more snaps now, he’ll prove to be starter-worthy. (Kazee also gave me pause, but I like the Steelers safeties, so the urgency is higher with Pierre for me.)


“Just One Band-Aid”

This is the area that you think “if the Steelers could just make a leap in this one area, the whole season would turn around.”

Poll

Just One Band-Aid

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Interceptions (offense)
    (6 votes)
  • 8%
    Takeaways (defense)
    (23 votes)
  • 42%
    Run Blocking
    (117 votes)
  • 9%
    Big Play Prevention (defense)
    (26 votes)
  • 5%
    Fewer OL Penalties
    (16 votes)
  • 29%
    Downfield Passing
    (82 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (4 votes)
274 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Run Blocking

All of these would be outstanding, but I actually think the running game is the key to almost everything else. If the Steelers had a more impressive and reliable run game, there wouldn’t be nearly as much pressure on Pickett and the passing game. Moreover, there would be longer, more sustained drives, giving the defense better rest time and allowing them to attack more aggressively with less need to carry the team. Everything comes back to the ability to sustain, and that’s about running the ball.


“Surprise, Surprise”

This is for the unlikely (but not totally impossible) development you’d be most excited about if it happened in the final nine weeks.

Poll

Surprise, Surprise

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Running game blows up (think 120/gm through final nine weeks)
    (41 votes)
  • 3%
    Takeaways start coming at 2019 levels (2-3 per game)
    (9 votes)
  • 8%
    George Pickens explodes with 800 yds in last 9 weeks
    (22 votes)
  • 20%
    Steelers win out
    (55 votes)
  • 2%
    William Jackson makes 5 INTs
    (8 votes)
  • 44%
    Kenny Pickett starts to get it (think, 300yds, 2 TDs per game on average)
    (119 votes)
  • 2%
    Defense pitches multiple shutouts in final 9 weeks
    (8 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (5 votes)
267 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Pickett starts to get it

Similar to the running game above, if the passing game picked up, everything would get much easier. But is more about next year. If Pickett suddenly started looking unequivocally like a young Dan Marino, every off-season move would be clearer. You’d hire a new OC based on what could develop your young QB. You’d draft and spend to maximize the window in which he was on his rookie contract. Everything could happen with more clarity.


“Not That You Asked”

Last question: this is the one piece of advice you’d give the Steelers coaching staff, if they asked.

Poll

Not that you asked

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Focus on tackling (defensive asst’s)
    (5 votes)
  • 1%
    Put the DBs on the Jugs Machine (defensive asst’s)
    (5 votes)
  • 18%
    Fundamentals are more important than trickery (offensive asst’s)
    (49 votes)
  • 49%
    Mix up the playcalling, for god’s sake (offensive asst’s)
    (130 votes)
  • 16%
    Start Jaylen Warren until Najee is back to normal (offensive asst’s)
    (44 votes)
  • 9%
    Double George Pickens’ targets immediately (offensive asst’s)
    (24 votes)
  • 1%
    Other
    (4 votes)
261 votes total Vote Now

My Choice: Fundamentals are more important than trickery (offensive asst’s)

I’ve long thought the trickery and pre-snap motions that Matt Canada prefers are gimmicky. And they seem to not only be ineffective, but to be causing penalties (how many “ineligible man downfield” calls are we going to see this year...). The best offenses, historically, haven’t been super complicated; they’re just really well run. I’m thinking of the Peyton Manning Colts, the Greatest Show on Turf, even the Steelers’ own potent Killer B’s offenses. You need an offense that maximizes the talent you’ve got, and that is built around crisp routes, good blocking, and well-timed calls. This offense is full of guys under 25; there’s a lot of development possible here. Quit making it all harder than it has to be.


Okay that’s all from here. See you in the comments.

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