In what could be the final time we see the Steelers take the field until August, Pittsburgh took care of business against the division-rival Baltimore Ravens, completing the sweep of their hated foes. Now, the Steelers await the results of Jaguars-Titans and Bills-Dolphins to know if they are playoff bound.
It was far from a pretty game, but AFC North games at this time of year rarely are. In a cold, rain-drenched M&T Bank Stadium, the Steelers ran the ball all over the Ravens’ defense en route to a 17-10 win. Najee Harris, once again, was the bell cow for Pittsburgh. He accumulated 112 yards on 26 carries along with the game’s first touchdown and became the first running back in Steelers history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons. It’s been really great seeing Harris ball out over the last two weeks. A lot of people, myself included, have had their doubts about Harris and if he should be the running back getting the majority of the carries for the Steelers. That said, he’s averaged over four yards per carry this season, and capped off the year with consecutive 100-yard games.
Mason Rudolph put together a nice performances, considering the elements, as well. He completed 90 percent of his passes. 90 percent. He finished the day going 18-of-20 for 152 yards, including a 71 yard strike to Diontae Johnson for what would end up being the game-winning touchdown. Rudolph was under pressure all day, he had a few snaps go array, but he overcame all of that and came up big when the Steelers needed him most. The Steelers ran the ball well, and avoided any mistakes that were too costly. The fumbles were all but cancelled out by their own takeaways, and they got points both times every time they entered the red zone.
T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith were both terrific on the defensive side of the ball. Watt had two sacks to get to a league-leading 19 on the year. He left the game with what we now know to be a sprained MCL. Should the Steelers get into the playoffs, that will obviously be a situation we monitor throughout the week. Highsmith was tremendous, as well, but it won’t show up on the stat sheet. He didn’t register a sack, but he was constantly getting pressure on Huntley, making him step up and get out of the pocket, which often led to wasted plays for the Ravens.
What an addition Eric Rowe has been at safety. Minkah Fitzpatrick missed his third consecutive game, and Rowe played another masterful game. He led the team with 12 tackles, had a pass deflection, and forced a fumble in the fourth quarter that led to the Steelers kicking a field goal and going up 17-7. According to Nick Farabaugh of Steelers Now, Rowe gave a speech to the team last night that really got everyone fired up. He’s been with the Steelers for a short time, but is already a vocal leader- here’s to hoping they keep him around in 2024.
Elandon Roberts had his Cody Rhodes game. Some of you will get that, but for those who don’t, Rhodes tore his pectoral muscle in late 2022 and still wrestled a Hell in a Cell match with his pec completely ripped off the bone while sporting a bruise that covered the entire right side of his body- ballsy stuff, to be frank. Now, I don’t know the extent of Roberts’ pec injury, but he looks like he’s in constant pain, and he still grinded out a game in nasty conditions. The rest of the depth and great performances will be highlighted tomorrow on the Varsity and JV piece, and trust me when I say there will be a lot of love shown to Markus Golden because he’s been terrific.
Now, for the bad. Jaylen Warren fumbled twice- that’s not good. Obviously the conditions played a big part into why that happened, and he’s been fantastic all season, so he certainly gets the benefit of the doubt. Dan Moore? Woof. The Steelers absolutely need to do something different at left tackle next season. He allowed Kyle Van Noy to disrupt eat him alive for a sack in the first half. Mason Cole needs to go, too. That’s not a new conversation, nor does he have any new problems. His snaps are constantly awful, and too often is he beaten to kill run plays. And last, but certainly not least, that better have been Pressley Harvin’s last regular season game as a Steeler. Left tackle, center, and punter will all need addressed in the offseason.
If this was the last time we see the Steelers until the 2024 pre-season, then we will be entering an offseason full of questions. Will Mike Tomlin get extended? Probably, but that’s yet to be down in writing. Will they add any offensive linemen in free agency or wait until the draft? Hopefully a helping of both. The biggest, and most obvious and polarizing question, though, is of course what will they do at quarterback? Mason Rudolph is a free agent, Kenny Pickett has been underwhelming, to put it lightly, and there will be a plethora of options to pursue.
We’ll be here to cover it all, including on-site reports from the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine as we get you through the long lull of the offseason.