The most meaningless game of the season turned out to be a real barn burner.
Cobi Hamilton caught a 26-yard touchdown from backup QB Landry Jones with just under three minutes remaining in overtime to give the Steelers a 27-24 victory over the Browns in the regular season finale at Heinz Field on Sunday. The win was Pittsburgh’s seventh in a row and 11th of the season. Speaking of Hamilton...
Stock up, Pittsburgh’s ability to produce wide receivers
With Antonio Brown sitting on the bench as a healthy scratch (our requests to lock him inside of a padded room or protective bubble were declined), Pittsburgh’s other formerly-unheralded receivers stepped up and won the game. Eli Rogers, an undrafted free agent, caught all six of his targets for 61 yards, while Hamilton, a former 6th-round pick and practice squad player, caught three passes for 54 yards, including the game-winning touchdown. Perhaps the most surprising contributor was rookie Demarcus Ayers, who saw his first offensive snaps of the season just one week ago in a win over Baltimore. Ayers caught five passes (with one bad drop) for 44 yards and a touchdown, which is remarkable considering that he spent most of his afternoon lined up against Joe Haden. The Browns are a bad team, but at least they played their starters for the duration of Sunday’s contest. From my perspective, it’s evident that Pittsburgh’s young and backup receivers outplayed Cleveland’s starters.
Stock down, Pittsburgh’s ability to stop the run
Again, Sunday’s game didn’t matter, but I look at Pittsburgh’s inability to stop Isaiah Crowell the same way as I’d view a young quarterback whose terrible interception was negated by an offsides penalty; it doesn’t count, but it still matters. I realize that Stephon Tuitt didn’t play against Cleveland. James Harrison only played the first half. Ricardo Mathews and Javon Hargrave both exited the game with injuries.
Still, allowing 231 yards to a 1-15 team is a concern, regardless of who plays defense (aside from defensive linemen and Harrison, Pittsburgh’s defense on Sunday was all starters). This worry, in my eyes, is compounded by the fact that Pittsburgh’s playoff opponent, the Miami Dolphins, rushed for that many yards against Pittsburgh in a Week 6 blowout victory.
Stock down, Pittsburgh’s ability to run the ball
This doesn’t worry me as much as the previous entry. You would like to see DeAngelo Williams average more than 2.9 yards per carry against the league’s second-worst run defense (especially with four of the five starting offensive linemen in the lineup), but it is pretty clear that Cleveland was set on letting Landry Jones beat them through the air (which, to his credit, he did).
Stock up, the Joneses
Jarvis Jones collected just the sixth sack of his career on Sunday, which is good for him because he seems like an all-around good dude. If he is cool signing a dirt cheap contract, I think it would be difficult to find a fan who would be against welcoming him back.
Landry Jones, on the other hand, played a fantastic second half of football against Cleveland. Aside from throwing a pretty terrible interception (which, if we’re being honest, is something that future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger does fairly regularly), Jones was mostly error-free in the second half. His game-winning drive in overtime was borderline Roethlisberger-esque, and he finished the game with a 103 QB rating. I’ve been a Landry Jones apologist for awhile, so maybe I’m speaking out of turn when I say that this dude can at least be a serviceable backup in the NFL—maybe not with Pittsburgh, but definitely somewhere else.
Stock up, Bud Dupree
Four starts, 4.5 sacks. Dupree is among the hottest edge rushers in the league heading into the postseason.
Stock up, everything else
The Steelers will enter the postseason on a league-best, seven-game winning streak. Most importantly, these playoff-bound Steelers appear to be a much better team than the squad embarrassed by Miami in Week 6. With only one major injury (Cameron Heyward), the Steelers are actually among the AFC’s healthiest teams, and with one of the NFL’s three best quarterbacks under center, Pittsburgh is a solid bet to win the whole thing.