For the last time of the regular season, but the first time in 2021, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a game to play today. This time, in contrast to the finales of the past two seasons, there isn’t much on the line. The past two years, the Steelers were playing for a playoff spot—and didn’t get in.
This time around, they secured their postseason berth weeks ago, and completed their acquisition off the AFC North title a week ago. While they will endeavor to defeat the Cleveland Browns today, their primary goal is to come out of this game as healthy as they came into it.
Part of that effort will involve sitting or limiting a number of key players, and obviously the most significant name in that group is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. That instantly makes the most interesting storyline of this game the performance of his backup Mason Rudolph.
The 2018 third-round draft pick, of course, started eight games last season for the Steelers while Roethlisberger was injured. Needless to say, things could have gone better. This game can serve as a referendum on his reputation, either positively or negative, and he knows it. This is his Super Bowl.
And even facing a secondary that will be without three of its top five players—both Denzel Ward and Andrew Sendejo are on the Reserve/Covid-19 List, and Greedy Williams missed the entire season due to injury—this is a very viable opponent, particularly up front, starting with Myles Garrett, whom he might know a bit.
If there is one thing that you would like to see from the Steelers in this game, it will be whether or not they can establish any semblance of a running game, which far too often since about a third the way into the season has not been the case.
One can anticipate that all hands will be on deck for the ground game, from James Conner to Benny Snell to Jaylen Samuels to rookie Anthony McFarland, who has been a healthy scratch of late. If there is anything they can work on today that would actually benefit them in the postseason, it would be in this area.
Outside of that, I suppose, we can chase some records, namely the rookie receiving records for which Chase Claypool is in range. He needs one touchdown to tie the team’s rookie scoring record, and four receptions to tie that mark of 61. He’ll need a career game to catch up to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 917 yards set in 2017.
Of course, there are other depth players you’ll want to get a look at. Guard Danny Isidora and edge defender Cassius Marsh should see good playing time today, at least potentially. Both are veterans, but newcomers to Pittsburgh, who could be valuable depth for a postseason run.