With the three seed of the playoffs wrapped up due to last week’s win against the Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers rested some of their biggest stars in week 17 against the Cleveland Browns. It took most of an overtime period, but the Steelers extended their winning streak to seven games entering the playoffs, here are my gut reactions.
The offensive line looked uncharacteristically sloppy in blocking for DeAngelo Williams and company today. Some of this can be attributed to the line’s leader, Maurkice Pouncey, on the sideline, but other times it was just poor execution. Hopefully the offensive line’s efficiency will return to normal next week when the playoffs start because 23 carries for 67 yards is a subpar rushing stat line against the team with the worst record in the NFL.
Speaking of Williams, he had an impressive game, despite the mediocre line play in front of him. He was able to punch in a one yard touchdown run to finish off a ten-play drive after Landry Jones’ interception. He also scored on a 11-yard reception.
Perhaps most importantly, he was invaluable in pass protection. He constantly picked up Browns pass rushers that were bigger than him, allowing Jones the time needed to make his reads and throws. Jones was sacked four times today, and we won’t know who was at fault until the NFL releases the all-22 film, but from what I saw Williams represented himself well in pass protection.
Although Jones is never going to be known as the most accurate quarterback in the NFL, he rallied the Steelers to an overtime win. He was comfortable checking down to his running back whether it was Williams, Roosevelt Nix or Fitzgerald Toussaint. He also showed some improved arm strength on the game winning throw to Cobi Hamilton. Jones didn’t get the plethora of play-makers at his disposal that Ben Roethlisberger generally has the luxury of playing with.
But the bottom line is half of the AFC’s playoff teams will enter the playoffs with backup quarterbacks (the Dolphins, Texans and Raiders), and if the Steelers were in that position they would be in trouble. Landry Jones didn’t look like a winning quarterback for three quarters against the one-win Browns, he wouldn’t look the part against playoff competition (despite some improvement), hopefully the Steelers make an upgrade in the off-season.
Speaking of upgrades, the Steelers need to shore up their run defense issues ASAP. Maybe they need to be creative with the rotation. A healthy Stephon Tuitt will be a welcomed return, but I think Daniel McCullers is due for more snaps. His size commands double teams, and the defensive line’s depth is scarce at best. Today wasn’t the first game where fatigue played a major role in wearing down our run defense, I don’t have the answer for this problem but hopefully Keith Butler does.
I have been saying the return of a healthy Darrius Heyward-Bey would be important to a Steelers playoff run, and his fingerprints were all over today’s game. He was targeted four times, and they were all deep passes: A constant reminder to the Browns’ defense that he has game breaking speed. When Jones did make manage a completion to Heyward-Bey it was for 46 yards and setup the Steelers at the Browns’ 11-yard line. It was the game-breaking play on a 4th quarter drive that ended in the Steelers taking their first lead of the day.
Then there’s his special team’s contributions: In my opinion, he’s the best gunner we have on the roster when the Steelers punt. Then there was quite possibly the biggest play of the game; when Jones threw an interception that was about to be a pick-six before Heyward-Bey intervened, and caused a fumble that Jones recovered in the end zone. DHB has become a big contributor whether on offense or special teams and will be an asset in the playoffs if he’s healthy going forward.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was a seventh straight win on our way into the playoffs.
Allowing some of the Steelers’ stars to rest was a smart move and well-deserved. Even without their biggest play-makers the Steelers showed the will to win, credit Mike Tomlin with keeping the team focused enough to get a win against the Browns instead of looking ahead to the playoffs.
Todd Haley has a rested Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, a peaking Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton, and a healthier DeAngelo Williams, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates. Hopefully we can add a cleared Ladarius Green into the mix as well. It looks like the Steelers offense has more weapons now than they have at any point in the season. On paper, that seems like a lot of talented players for any defense to stop. Hopefully the offense transforms into a steam-roller and continues this winning streak all the way to the Super Bowl.
Classic rock song that sums up this game: Jimi Hendrix- “Voodoo Child”
What are your gut reactions?