With the Steelers stars out, they still nearly beat the Browns.
With a home playoff game in the wild card round locked down and a bye week out of the picture, the Pittsburgh Steelers left a lot of their best players at home, Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt, Terrell Edmunds, Chris Boswell and Joe Haden (COVID-19) wouldn’t play the season finale in Cleveland. That gave a lot of players opportunity to get some more snaps in a real NFL game, playing a desperate opponent who was playing to make the playoffs.
The snap counts tell the tale of the opportunity they got.
Kevin Dotson made his second start in a row, played his 4th complete game of the season, and 6th game in which he played over half the snaps. It was also the Steelers first loss in a game Dotson played at least 30 snaps, and the 22 points scored was the lowest total of those games.
In the final regular season game of his rookie season Kevin Dotson gave up his first pressure of the season. As I’ve been saying a lot this season, Dotson and Pouncey have been incredible next to each other, Dotson and Hassenhauer weren’t at that level. Hassenhauer back at center is much better than he was at guard, and whether he stays in Pittsburgh or not, the 26 year-old has shown he is a competent backup center, but without the position flexibility to be a back up at guard.
Vance McDonald had a pretty good game. With Eric Ebron under contract for next season Vance McDonald is one of the leagues more expensive second tight ends. It will be interesting seeing how the Steelers approach his contract and the tight end position this offseason.
Mason Rudolph and Josh Dobbs both played, with Dobbs coming in to run the ball a couple times, but not enough to say anything about Dobbs himself. Rudolph had a good game, arguably his best as an NFL quarterback. He showed the growth he needed to stake his claim as an NFL quarterback, although he still looks like nothing more than a backup to me.
Diontae Johnson led all Steeler receivers in snaps, second only to Vance McDonald among players who aren’t lineman or quarterbacks. He ranked 5th in targets with only 4 this game, but gained 96 yards on those targets, while Chase Claypool led the team in targets (11) and yards (101). JuJu Smith-Schuster had another strong game playing with Rudolph, 8 targets for 64 yards and a TD. James Washington was targeted twice but failed to make a catch, continuing the strange trend of Washington and Rudolph not producing in the NFL, despite their incredible history together in college.
The Steelers run game struggled again in week 17, and I question if there is anything to conclude about the running backs, or is it just the system they are running in?
Minkah Fitzpatrick ended his second season as a Steeler playing all but 4 snaps on defense, and while his stats weren’t impressive early on, he ended the season ranked first on the team in tackles (both solo and total), interceptions and interception return yards. He tied Mike Hilton for first with 5 total turnovers and defended 11 passes, second most on the team.
Sean Davis finally got a chance to play significant snaps, and it wasn’t great. He hasn’t been as good as he was before his injury, when he was a competent, but not great free safety.
Justin Layne was replaced by James Pierre about halfway through the game, it could have been his play or it could be something the Steelers intended from the start to give Pierre some more opportunity. Justin Layne had a few bad plays that stood out, while Pierre was largely invisible, which is usually a good thing.
Alex Highsmith and Stephon Tuitt were the only starters on the front 4, and both played well, Highsmith led the team in tackles and was constantly pressuring Baker Mayfield, recording his second sack of the season. Tuitt, for his part, recorded his 11th sack of the season.
Jayrone Elliott and Chris Wormley also recorded sacks, and each added a tackle for a loss, showing they could finish plays when their team mates disrupted the offense. Ola Adeniyi played the second most snaps of any Steelers outside linebackers, but failed to produce any stats at all, something that has plagued him the entire season.
Isaiah Buggs and Carlos Davis stood out for having a spat on the sideline that was caught on camera, but both lost that one, as Henry Mondeaux ended up playing more than either of them.
With the final regular season game finished, the Steelers gained a decent bit of information to help them as they look to build the 2021 roster, but I’d rather see Ben Roethlisberger, T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward playing next week at Heinz field.