It wasn’t pretty, but the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to do just enough to beat the lowly Cleveland Browns in overtime at Heinz Field to wrap up their 2016 regular season. Offensive backups eventually woke up and made plays, while the starting defense, give or take a player or two, was extremely uninspired throughout the contest.
Nonetheless, after every game we evaluate the contest and label some players as ‘Winners’, and others as ‘Losers’ based on their performance. Time to look back on the game that was.
Landry Jones - It wasn’t always great, and the Landry-haters will be upset about him being in the winners category, but when the Steelers’ offense needed a play in the 4th quarter and overtime, he delivered. He finished with a stat line of 24/37, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception and a 103.1 passer rating which was enough to win. It was a weird game, but the Steelers certainly benefited from Jones being on point when it counted.
DeAngelo Williams - It’s been a long time since Steelers fans were treated to a heavy dose of D-Will, and they got just that in Week 17. Just like Landry Jones, it wasn’t always pretty, but Williams tallied two touchdowns in the game, one rushing and one receiving. Williams’ 23 carries for 67 yards was well below the standard set by Le’Veon Bell, but his two scores and three receptions for 27 yards were a big help in the winning effort. On top of that, Williams got out of the game healthy and he should be ready to go if called on in the postseason.
Steelers Receivers - It seemed like every scoring drive someone else was stepping up to make a play—whether it was Cobi Hamilton with the game-winning reception, Eli Rogers with several big catches, Demarcus Ayers with his first career touchdown, Darrius Heyward-Bey catching a bomb or Jesse James being Mr. Reliable down the seam. A great effort by the receiving corps, but also by Jones for spreading the ball around.
Sean Davis - The rookie who was named Steelers Rookie of the Year certainly backed up the honor in Week 17. Davis led the team in tackles with 9, including 8 solo. He also tallied his first career sack, recovered a fumble and got another quarterback hit. Not a bad day at the office, especially for a rookie.
3rd Down Defense - Plain and simple, the Steelers’ defense was essentially whole for this game. They were missing James Harrison and Stephon Tuitt, but those on the field were just an uninspired unit. They looked extra poor on third downs, allowing Robert Griffin III and company to convert 8 of 15 third downs.
Rush Defense - On top of not getting off the field when it mattered most, the Steelers couldn’t stop the run. They allowed 231 collective rushing yards in Week 17, including 152 yards on 19 carries for Isaiah Crowell. This group needs to consider who’s coming to town next weekend when the Miami Dolphins arrive for the AFC Wild Card game. Jay Ajayi, who rushed for over 200 yards in Week 6, could end Pittsburgh’s season if the defense has another performance like this.
Tackling - This has been a season-long issue with the Steelers and, whether it’s the secondary, linebackers or special teams, the poor tackling doesn’t seem to be going away. What might be most frustrating about this entire situation is that the Steelers have had games where they’re extremely sound tacklers and their results are almost night vs. day compared to when they have the costly missed tackles. In the postseason, it’s win or go home. I’m sure tackling will be a major talking point for the Black-and-Gold leading into the Wild Card game.