The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17 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: 22 carries, 111 yards, 5.0 ave., 0 rush TD, 15 yard long / 2 rec., 12 yards, 6.0 average, 1 rec. TD, 10 yard long
It had been since Week 17 of the 2021-2022 season, Ben Roethlisberger’s last home game vs. the Cleveland Browns, when Najee Harris notched his last 100-yard game. It may have taken a while, but it was great to see the team’s 2021 first round pick running with aggression against one of the league’s best run defenses. The criticism of Harris “tip-toeing” at the line of scrimmage seems like a distant memory. What changed? Was it Harris’ health? The offensive line? A combination? Who cares...Harris was awesome Sunday night.
Stat Line: 15/27, 168 yards, 6.2 ave., 1 TD, 0 INT, 2 sack for 15 yards, 86.7 rating
When someone talks about if a player, mainly quarterbacks, have that “it factor”, well Kenny Pickett has shown fans exactly what that might look like the past two weeks after his back-to-back game-winning drives. Pickett isn’t a finished product, but even if you hated the Pickett selection, I’m not sure how you aren’t excited with his improvement. Is Pickett the next “guy” for the Steelers? That might not be decided yet, but he certainly looks more like the next “guy” than he doesn’t.
Stat Line: 4 tackles, 3 solo, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 3 QB Hits
This wasn’t a game where Watt flashed all over the television screen, but he certainly had a huge impact in this game. When you face the Ravens, and their style of running, it takes both skill and intelligence to slow down their running attack. Watt was instrumental in this endeavor, and it was good to see him add a sack to his total as well. Watt played a tremendous game, despite what some might call a mundane stat line.
Stat Line: 198 yards rushing, 41 attempts, 4.8 ypc
Ever wonder what it would look like for a team to do to the Ravens what the Ravens do to others? Well, you saw it in Week 17 on Sunday Night Football. The Steelers lined up and ran the ball right down the Ravens’ throats. They knew it was coming, and could do nothing to stop it. The Steelers almost had two rushers (Harris: 111 / Warren: 76) hit the century mark. That’s unheard of in this rivalry. No Calais Campbell in this game was huge, but who cares...the Steelers did the job.
Stat Line: 198 yards rushing, 41 attempts, 4.8 ypc / 2 sacks surrendered, 9 QB Hits
Speaking of the running game, you can’t talk about the team’s ability to move the ball, both through the air and on the ground, without giving props to the big men up front. They were paving the way on the ground, and providing protection when the team elected to throw. When the Steelers got into obvious passing situations pass protection led to quarterback hits at times, but the two sacks were far from the line’s fault. A tremendous job by the line when they needed it.
Stat Line: Mark Robinson, DeMarvin Leal, Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, Jaylen Warren
With Mark Robinson getting significant snaps in this game, it made me realize how many rookies are playing significant roles on this team. Just look at the names above, and I left Connor Heyward off for this week, and you see just how many young players are making big-time contributions and bodes well for the team’s future.
Stat Line: 9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 TFL
Fans love to beat up on Spillane, especially when he struggles in coverage, but this was a game which was built for Spillane. Downhill, stop the run, make tackles. If you are going to bash him for his poor play at times, you have to give props when he plays well. Spillane led the Steelers in tackles, and was all over the field. A great performance for a guy who has been a whipping boy for the fan base the majority of the season.
Stat Line: 3 catches, 34 yards, 11.3 ave., 0 TD, 28 yard long, 4 targets
3 catches for 34 yards is hardly a performance which lands a lot of players on the winners list, but the 28-yard catch by Steven Sims was a critical play in the game-winning drive. It was a beautiful throw by Pickett, but a tremendous catch by Sims in traffic which set up the Steelers for the go ahead score. These games vs. Baltimore often come down to unlikely players making big-time plays, and this week it was Sims who stepped up big when his number was called.
3rd Down Offense
Stat Line: 10-for-16
The goal is 50%, and the offense did that and then some. This Steelers offense is a grind-it-out and kill-the-clock style of offense. If only they could end more drives in touchdowns compared to field goals. Baby steps, I guess.
Stat Line: Renewed
I have bemoaned the fact the Steelers and Ravens rivalry has gotten a little soft over the years. With players like Ray Lewis, Hines Ward, Terrell Suggs, Ben Roethlisberger, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu now gone, the rivalry seemed to lose its luster. It wasn’t the same cold-blooded hatred which was seen twice a year for over a decade. While I don’t think any modern day NFL rivalry will ever match that intensity, largely because the league won’t allow it, but I will say you can see the rivalry returning to where it once was. I loved Najee Harris jawing at defenders, and it made me realize there is still hope for the Steelers/Ravens being what it should be...a nasty rivalry.
Stat Line: Coaching his butt off
I know a lot of fans hate Tomlin. They hate his non-losing season record, but I have to give props to Tomlin for the job he’s done in 2022. When you think about this team being 2-6, it wasn’t as if that was uncharted waters for Tomlin, but when you throw in the fact he didn’t have a future Hall of Fame quarterback to lean on, and it absolutely was uncharted waters. He’s had to do it differently this year, but he’s still getting it done. Playoffs or not, Tomlin should be lauded for the job he’s done this season.
Stat Line: 3-for-4 FGs / 1-for-1 XPs
When you talk about the low-scoring affairs that is Steelers vs. Ravens, you can’t leave points on the field. When you consider going against Justin Tucker, who misses a field goal attempt maybe once every presidential cycle, you have to be perfect. Boswell is quietly having a sub-par season, and I’m sure his groin injury which landed him on Injured Reserve (IR) has a lot to do with it. Nonetheless, when this statistic showed on my Twitter feed, it showed how poorly things have been for Boswell this season.
Chris Boswell is 4-of-9 on FG from 40-49 yards (44%) this season, the lowest such percentage in the NFL, per @ESPNStatsInfo— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) January 2, 2023
Boswell has to be better, and if he isn’t healthy, he shouldn’t be playing.
Unnecessary Roughness Penalty
Stat Line: Bogus
The penalty called on Cam Heyward wasn’t just bogus, but it completely altered the game. When you consider the situation, the Steelers defense does the job and forces Baltimore into a field goal attempt. After the penalty gave the Ravens new life, the very next play was a touchdown. A 4-point swing. Until the late-game heroics by the offense, that one single call could have altered the outcome of the game. It could have ended the Steelers’ season. Thankfully, it didn’t, but it still belongs on the losers list.
Stat Line: Penalties and miscues galore
The Steelers’ special teams were not the best on Sunday night. Again, with possessions at a premium, you can’t afford to suffer field position. There are times when it should be made clear how it is okay for the team to just kick the football out of the end-zone for a touchback. The short kick, which was by design, to Justice Hill would have been the back-breaking moment had the defense not pushed the Ravens out of field goal range. Throw in some bad penalties and Boswell’s aforementioned issues, and I have to put the “teams” on the losers list.
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!