The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they played the Cleveland Browns in Week 18 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: 23 carries, 84 yards, 3.7 average, 1 TD, 11 long, 1 fumble / 1 catch, 10 yards
Some might say the fumble shouldn’t have Najee on the winners list, but the way he ran the ball was exactly the way he’s been running the ball since the bye week. Running hard, and looking like a beast. Essentially, what everyone expected when the Steelers took him in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Harris capped off another season with 1,000 yards rushing, and while some scoff at that being an achievement, it is still a milestone. If Harris picks up where he left off in 2022, the Steelers’ offense will be even better in 2023.
Stat Line: 3 catches, 72 yards, 24.0 average, 1 TD, 31 long, 6 targets
Pickens has done everything fans thought he would, and more, since he was drafted in the 2nd round in the 2022 draft. Everyone talks about how the Steelers know how to pick receivers, and this is true. Some also talk about how those receivers typically are slow to develop, and this often is true too. That wasn’t the case for Pickens this year. The problem was more with getting him targets, and once the team shipped Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears he started to blossom. Don’t look now, but the Steelers have a good one on their hands...and it looks like he’s just getting started.
Stat Line: 13/29, 195 yards, 6.7 average, 1 TD, 0 INT, 1 sack for 6 yards, 79.0 rating
Pickett didn’t have his best game of the season, and his above stat line shows this. Less than 50% completion, less than 200 yards, and a below 80.0 rating. Nonetheless, Pickett checked off a big box for me in this game. We’ve all seen his late-game heroics, and those were always accompanied by games where he struggled throughout the first 3+ quarters. This game didn’t start well for Pickett, but he turned things around much earlier than he had previously. Not needing late-game heroics, instead relying on quality play earlier, was good to see.
Stat Line: 3 catches, 45 yards, 15.0 average, 0 TD, 27 long, 4 targets
Pat Freiermuth left the game with a knee injury, and rookie Connor Heyward stepped in and stepped up. Heyward’s huge 3rd down conversion resulted in the Steelers sealing the win with their last score to make it a two-score game. Heyward doesn’t look like your typical tailback/H-back, but he absolutely looks like he belongs when he’s on the field. Just add another impact rookie to the list.
Stat Line: 8 tackles, 6 solo, 2.5 sacks, 2 TFL, 3 QB Hits
I’m not sure why Alex Highsmith hasn’t gotten more recognition this season, but his 2.5 sacks gave him 14.5 on the season and no one is talking about it. Fans have been clamoring for a pass rusher who can take advantage of his one-on-one matchups across from T.J. Watt, and that’s exactly what Highsmith has done. In fact, he was able to produce, some, when Watt was out of the lineup. A tremendous season for Highsmith, and the hope is he and Watt can wreak havoc on opposing offenses for years to come.
Stat Line: 7 sacks, 10 QB Hits
Speaking of the pass rush, the Steelers defensive front abused the Cleveland pass protection all day. If it weren’t for Watson’s mobility, the Steelers easily could have had over 10 sacks on the day. They harassed Watson every time he dropped back and never let him truly get comfortable. It was a good day for the team’s dynamic pass rush, and should make fans excited for 2023.
Stat Line: 2 more INTs
Damontae Kazee and Levi Wallace both had interceptions in this game, and it brought their total to 20 INTs on the season. Heading into Sunday Night Football, that was a league leading statistic. These ball-hawking Steelers quietly went about their business this season, and every one of those interceptions were huge, especially on Sunday vs. the Browns in Week 18.
3rd Down Offense
Stat Line: 9-for-15
You know the drill. Get above 50% and you get on the winners list. Mission accomplished. This has been a key stat for the team in the second half of the season, and it should surprise no one how it has helped the team win more games.
Stat Line: Steelers now have the 32nd pick
The Bears found a way to lose out after the Chase Claypool trade, and it equated in the top pick in the NFL Draft. That means the Steelers will get the 32nd pick this year (there will only be 31 picks in the first round with the Miami Dolphins forfeiting their first round pick), and it certainly is a nice addition to a nice season.
Stat Line: So bright, gotta wear shades
T.J. Watt talked about how he feels the Steelers have a great mixture of veterans and youth on the team to be ready to go in 2023. The future at one point seemed bleak, but after the 7-2 finish and barely missing out on the postseason, most would say the future looks bright. So bright, you gotta wear shades.
New York Jets
Stat Line: Joe Flacco still sucks
This is what we get for trusting in Joe Flacco, right? Did we really think Flacco could pull off a win which would benefit the Steelers? We should have known better...
Stat Line: Too many missed tackles to count
There were times when it looked like Deshaun Watson and Nick Chubb had their uniforms coated in Crisco. Whenever the Steelers got their hands on them, there weren’t able to bring them down. If the Steelers would have tackled better, they easily could have registered 10+ sacks and dominated even more than they did.
Stat Line: Myriad of missed calls
This game was horribly officiated, on both sides. When you consider the missed facemask call on Larry Ogunjobi and the roughing the passer penalty on Cam Heyward, it was bad all around. Throw in the fact a play like the George Pickens sideline catch, which was inside two-minutes so any review had to be initiated by the booth, wasn’t even reviewed and it was even worse. This crew looked like they wanted to mail it in early.
Stat Line: Najee fumble, and Diontae Johnson/Jaylen Warren plays
There will be a lot of things the Steelers will be focusing on this offseason, and ball protection should be on the list. Najee Harris only fumbled twice this season, but the Diontae Johnson “almost” fumble, and Jaylen Warren muffing the pitch just screams disaster. Good teams don’t cough up the football, and the Steelers proved to themselves this season they are tough to beat when they don’t beat themselves with sloppy play.
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!