The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the Carolina Panthers in Week 15 of regular season action. The Steelers were winners 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: 10 catches, 98 yards, 9.8 average, 0 TD, 19-yard long, 10 targets
Some fans can’t stand Johnson, and he can be a polarizing character, but his performance vs. Carolina was the best of the season thus far. 10 catches on 10 targets is as perfect as a day can come, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t issues. The personal foul on Johnson could have killed a drive, but thankfully the offense was able to overcome the penalty. Outside of Johnson’s penalty, he played a tremendous game, one which deserves recognition. I still can’t believe he hasn’t scored a touchdown yet, but his performances have been slowly improving every week. That’s an encouraging proposition moving forward.
Stat Line: 17/22, 179 yards, 8.1 average, 0 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack 10 yards, 100.4 rating / 6 carries, 9 yards, 1 TD
The Steelers quarterback position is as polarizing as politics. Some who pull for Pickett likely were rooting for Trubisky to stumble, but the veteran did the opposite. He backed up his Week 14 interception filled outing with a solid outing which saw him make good, and educated, decisions with the football. Trubsiky didn’t kill the team, and it paid off in a unit capable of moving the ball and finishing drives with touchdowns, not field goals. A great performance for Trubisky.
Stat Line: 4 sacks, 6 QB Hits
The Steelers’ pass rush hasn’t been nearly what it was under Keith Butler, but for a brief second in Carolina it looked similar to those style of defenses. T.J. Watt looked like he was getting back to being healthy, and Cam Heyward looked rejuvenated and was making plays across the board. The back-to-back sacks by Alex Highsmith and Heyward were vintage Steelers defense.
Stat Line: 45 carries, 156 yards, 3.5 yards, 3 TD, 22-yard long
The 22-yard run, the longest of the day for the running game, was a Steven Sims end-around. Outside of that, both Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren averaged 3.6 and 3.5 yards per carry. The offensive line did a tremendous job opening up holes for the running backs, and also showed the ability to get the tough yards with several Trubisky quarterback sneaks to extend drives and put points on the board.
3rd Down Offense
Stat Line: 12-of-16
I heard a statistic during the telecast which said since the Week 9 bye, the Steelers were one of only two teams who were at 50% or above in the third down conversion statistic. That will only go up after their impressive performance vs. the Panthers. 12-of-16 is ridiculous, and it goes to show just how the Steelers won the game. It was a grind-it-out style of game.
Stat Line: CAR: 16 carries, 21 yards, 1.3 average, 0 TD, 5-yard long
Mike Tomlin said after the game how the last six quarters, dating back to the Atlanta Falcons Week 13 game, were awful for the run defense. Well, that trend stopped in Week 15 when the defense sold out to stop the run. They accomplished the goal, holding the Panthers to 21 total yards as a team. This is what a bounce back performance looks like for the rush defense.
Steelers vs. NFC South
Stat Line: 4-0
Yes, the NFC South is the worst division in all of football, but the Steelers did the job vs. Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Carolina. I don’t want to bring up their record vs. the AFC East...let’s just focus on the good for now.
Time of Possession
Stat Line: PIT: 36:11 / CAR: 23:49
When you can run the football, it equates to grinding out drives and killing clock. When you finish those drives with touchdowns, you tend to dominate the time of possession. That’s exactly what happened to the tune of 36 minutes to 23 minutes in time of possession. This is a statistic which shouldn’t be overlooked as it meant the Panthers couldn’t lean on their running game they wanted to, instead having to put the ball in the hands of Sam Darnold.
21-play, 11+ minute Drive
Stat Line: See above
Remember how bad the Steelers were in the 3rd quarter? That wasn’t just a narrative, that was fact. Well, they reversed that trend in Week 15 when they put together an impressive 21-play, 11+ minute drive which ended in a touchdown. That drive set the tone for the rest of the half, and showed the true dominance the Steelers offense had in the game. Impressive doesn’t even do the drive justice.
Stat Line: 3-for-3
A huge knock on the Steelers’ offense this season has been their inability to score touchdowns when it mattered most. One area of the red-zone which has struggled has been the running game. Well, vs. Carolina the Steelers finished 100% in the red-zone, and all three scores were rushing touchdowns. Now that’s the type of improvement the offense needs.
Stat Line: Bone-headed Personal Foul
There are sometimes when penalties are understandable. If a player is responding to something an opponent did, or if he is sticking up for his teammate. Times when you can justify taking matters into your own hands. There are also times when you can justify an in-game penalty. Everyone makes mistakes and jumps offsides from time-to-time, the key is to not make it a habit. However, there is no justification you can give me for what Marcus Allen did when, during a break, he ran to the other sideline and tried to go into the Panthers’ special teams huddle. The play gave the Panthers new life, and if the Steelers had lost the lead, and the game, it would have been magnified even more. Either way, I wouldn’t be shocked, or mad, if Allen didn’t receive a helmet in Week 16.
Stat Line: 7-for-81 (6 in the second half)
When you see almost 100 yards in penalty yards you have to bring discipline into question. Everyone wants to win, but sometimes penalties are just awful. Diontae Johnson’s penalty was in the heat of the moment, but Marcus Allen’s above penalty was of the bone-headed variety. Mike Tomlin might play it cool with these injuries, but it is a direct reflection on him as a leader and coach.
Stat Line: Pat Freiermuth 0 targets
I don’t know if it is coordinator or quarterback, but there has been a tendency this season to see offensive weapons disappear from games. It’s happened with George Pickens at times, and Sunday it was Freiermuth who disappeared. I understand if a player doesn’t come down with many catches, but to not have a target for a player as talented as Freiermuth seems strange to me. Let’s hope it has more to do with his foot injury than anything schematic.
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!