Right before the Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off their 2021 season, we wrote an article predicting what some of the individual stats would look like this year. Now that we’re six weeks in and with some free time coming off their bye week, let’s check out what some of the key players are actually on pace to do. And determine if those projected numbers are in-line with our preseason set of assumptions.
Extrapolated out over a 17-game season, here’s what the Steelers are on pace to do.
Analysis: The completions and attempts are slightly higher than our preseason predictions (391 of 603) though the completion percentages are almost identical (64.8% in our predictions versus Roethlisberger’s actual 65.1% mark). Roethlisberger has been able to throw less lately as the Steelers’ ground game improved. We’ll see if that continues.
The touchdown numbers are way down, Roethlisberger throwing more than one score in just one game this season, a two-touchdown performance in Week 5’s win over Denver. It makes for a less-than-ideal TD to INT ratio. No other Steelers’ QB has played a snap this season, much less thrown a pass.
Couple things that surprised me. It was no secret Harris was going to be the Steelers’ workhorse this year but the sheer volume he’s gotten has even caught me off guard. Even if you include all the rushing attempts, even QB kneels, by the rest of this team, Harris is responsible for 77.9% of the Steelers’ runs and 87.9% of those from running backs. Help – a little – that Anthony McFarland’s yet to play this season but still, Harris is the definition of a workhorse running back.
His carries are in-line with our 295 projection but his YPC and thus yards are down. He, like the rest of the offense, has come on stronger over the last three games so there’s a reasonable belief he’ll do better than that 1,100 yard, 3.8 per-carry projection. Even if he doesn’t, 1,099 yards would set a Steelers’ rookie record. Franco Harris rushed for 1,055 in 14 games back in 1972. Helps that Harris gets to play 17.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Numbers look fairly different here from our projections, in part due to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s season-ending injury that has and will continue to open up a big share of targets. Johnson projected to tie for the team lead in receptions while leading in yards and touchdowns, the best volume receiver on this team. Projected numbers aren’t gaudy but good and the eye test shows a big leap forward compared to last year.
Claypool is projected to match the same number of catches he had as a rookie but as a true deep threat at over 16 yards per catch. Of course, the stats don’t show the missed chances he’s had downfield this season. He is technically projected to finish with 2.8 TDs but I am rounding down for those numbers because 2.8 touchdowns can’t become three touchdowns.
Harris is projected to have 96 receptions, totally blowing Claypool’s likely short-lived record of 62 receptions for a Steelers’ rookie. He has as many receiving touchdowns as rushing and those 96 grabs would be the second most of a rookie in NFL history, regardless of position, only behind Anquan Boldin’s 101 in 2003. Will Harris actually finish the year with 96 catches? Probably not if the Steelers can keep running the football like they recently have been. But he will break the team record and probably finish in that 75-85 catch range. Should he reach that 96 number though, he’ll have 385 touches his rookie year.
Pat Freiermuth and Eric Ebron’s preseason predictions have essentially reversed. Freiermuth’s yards-per-catch is low at under nine yards but he’s a high volume receiver who Roethlisberger is showing plenty of trust in.
Weirder list to evaluate here with sack numbers looking strange to start the year. The highlight is obvious, Watt projected to finish with 19.5 sacks this season, which would be a Steelers’ record. All the other numbers look lackluster though it’s still unlikely the team’s second highest sack-getter is under six of them. All it takes is one multi-sack performance for these figures to shift.
Not even worth charting here considering the team only has two of them this season. One by Terrell Edmunds, the other by James Pierre…just as we all guessed. Our preseason predictions had Minkah Fitzpatrick as the team leader with six of them. With the goose egg he’s sitting on now, that probably won’t happen.
My preseason prediction had the Steelers at 9-8. Clawing back from the depths of 1-3, they’re on pace to be in that 8-9 win range this season. After the next couple of weeks though, dates with the Bears and Lions over the next month, this schedule will toughen up.