A Steelers loss in Week 15 would have clinched a losing record for the season and eliminated them from the playoffs for good. With a win the Steelers keep both hopes alive, even if they remain very slim hopes. The Steelers also completed a sweep of the NFC South, and when you add in their win over the Colts, the Steelers are now 5-0 against teams from a “South” division.
Mitch Trubisky bounced back from his Week 14 performance, throwing zero interceptions, even though he had a few turnover worthy throws. The Steelers run game also bounced back, rushing for 150+ yards for the fourth time in six games since the bye week. The Steelers are undefeated when they run for 150+ yards.
The offense controlled the game, their first drive of each half combined ate up 18 minutes and 49 seconds of game clock. When your opening drive of each half combined takes up more than a quarter worth of clock, it sets the tone of the game. It also limited the Panthers to eight drives for the game, which is a great way to help a defense that seems to be wearing down in the second halves of games. But it wasn’t just controlling the pace of the game, the Steelers also scored touchdowns on the opening drive of both halves of the game, and scored 24 points on 7 real drives, a very good 3.4 points per drive average.
Since the bye week, the Steelers have the 7th highest yards per drive, 13th highest scoring percentage and 5th lowest turnover rate. The Steelers biggest problem was settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, but this week the Steelers scored three touchdowns, getting over that hump for at least this week.
For individual stats, Najee Harris gained 86 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, a not super 3.6 yards per carry, but the run game was still able to help the Steelers control the game, especially in the first half. Jaylen Warren added 11 carries and 38 yards, keeping Harris’s carries to a good level in a game the Steelers ran 45 times. It’s good to see him running well and the Steelers making sure they don’t overwork Harris.
Diontae Johnson stands out for his 10 catches and 98 yards on 10 targets, catching every pass thrown his way and playing smartly after the catch. Johnson took back the leading receiver spot for the Steelers with this game, leading Pat Freiermuth by 17 yards after Freiermuth played, but was not targeted. It was the first time in Freiermuth’s career that he was active for a game and not targeted. It is likely related to him not practicing most of the week due to injury, and is something to keep an eye on.
Honor Roll: Diontae Johnson, the entire offensive line, Mitch Trubisky
Demerits: George Pickens only getting two catches.
Final Grade: A
The Steelers defense showed up and responded strongly to their poor run defense showing in Week 14 by holding the Panthers to 21 yards on 16 rushes. Cameron Heyward ended a disappointing stretch of games with a 1.5 sack performance, with T.J. Watt matching that sack total. Larry Ogunjobi and Alex Highsmith both played really well in this game along with good performances from Tyson Alualu, Montravius Adams and Isaiahh Loudermilk, who took advantage of some extra play chances in this game with the high-end run defense we saw frequently in 2021.
With Myles Jack out for this game, the Steelers leaned heavily on Robert Spillane and Devin Bush, but they also gave Mark Robinson his first defensive snaps of the season. While Robinson didn’t record a stat, he looked good in most situations, and I think it is a good game to build on for the rookie linebacker.
The Steelers sacked Sam Darnold 4 times, but also gave up an efficient 225 yards on 23 passes (9.8 ypa) with a touchdown. The Panthers top three receivers gained a combined 11 catches for 181 yards on 12 targets. All other Panthers combined gained 44 yards on 7 targets (6.3 ypa)
The Steelers are still vulnerable when you look at their cornerbacks and a lot of matchups with the Steelers linebackers, but with limited possessions and their offense scoring, it wasn’t enough for the Panthers to pull out a win.
Honor Roll: Cameron Heyward, Alex Highsmith, Larry Ogunjobi
Demerits: James Pierre, Robert Spillane
Final Grade: B
Chris Boswell made a 50-yard FG on his only attempt, Pressley Harvin III again allowed no punt returns, but the return teams didn’t offer much at all for the Steelers this week and Marcus Allen’s stupid penalty to turn a 4th and 27 into a 1st and 10 was one of the dumbest lapses in judgement I’ve seen in a football game. The Steelers also nearly pulled off a great play to down the ball just outside the end zone, but a foot crossed the line for a touchback.
Honor Roll: Chris Boswell, Miles Boykin
Demerits: Marcus Allen
Final Grade: D
The Steelers looked much closer to the team they want to be this week, and while the Carolina Panthers aren’t a great team, it was good to see the Steelers, especially on offense, execute their game plan at a high level.
Matt Canada coached one of his best games of his NFL career, and it showed the kind of team they envisioned the Steelers being when they signed Trubisky to play in Matt Canada’s offense. It’s only one game, that’s very important to remember, but it is always good to see a team bounce back after a tough loss and play a good game.
The defense still has a ways to grow and the Marcus Allen penalty is a huge negative in this game, but the offense playing the game it did is more than enough to push this grade all the way to the top.
Final Grade: A
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Grade the Steelers Week 15 win over the Panthers
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