Following each game in the 2022 Steelers season I will be giving you my 10 takes. These aren’t going to be hot takes and meant to shock the world. This will be instant reactions to the game written while still in that period just following the game when the emotions are high and the ideas are fresh. Included will be thoughts, observations, queries and reasons that caused me to yell at the television.
Game 17 – Cleveland Browns
1. What the Rush Are You Doing? – It started off good. A typical Steelers drive. An eleven play drive led by the running game. On first and goal from the two, Najee Harris uses strength and contact balance to pick his way through and stretch the ball across the goal line. He was sure of it. The Steelers rush to the line instead of reviewing the play or at least giving the staff in the booth a chance to get a second look. There was no reason to rush. The goal line defense was already in the game. You weren’t going to surprise them. With how few points the team usually puts up the fact that Mike Tomlin didn’t let that play out differently was a surprise. Luckily it didn’t matter in the end.
2. Whoa Was Needed – I was excited to see what Mark Robinson can do last week. I think we can all agree the potential is there. The decision to start him again this week was a bit baffling. Against a run heavy Baltimore it makes sense to use him and let him attack. In this game he looked like a fish out of water. First he fell down in coverage. Then it looked like he slipped again trying to make a tackle. Then he evidently went rogue on a blitz and missed that tackle as well. We have heard the Tomlinism about saying whoa rather than sic ‘em. After the rogue event, whoa was said and putting a veteran linebacker in there was the right move.
3. Pickett’s Placement – The passing game never really got going this year. We can see what it could be but there is work to be done. Kenny Pickett was not helped by three or four drops but his ball placement was just a bit off for most of the game. He threw a ball behind Pat Freiermuth near the sideline that should have been a completion. On a throw over the middle, he dropped his elbow and overthrew George Pickens. He led Diontae Johnson out of bounds on a fade route. He over threw Connor Heyward in the end zone. Something for him to work on for next year to take that next step.
4. Sloppy Woes – For me, this game had a weird feeling throughout. Most of the game the players seemed to be off just a bit. The tackling was atrocious. Josh Carney’s Missed Tackles Report will be long. Were the Browns that slippery? Was it big game jitters? Did the Damar Hamlin situation have an effect on the physicality of the would-be tacklers? Whatever it was it led to a lot of yards after contact for the Browns.
5. I Was Looking at My Watch – Being a referee is a difficult job. Making split second decision is difficult for anyone. Add in NFL level speeds and it’s tough to see everything. Things like Larry Ogunjobi sacking the quarterback by his facemask. Or Pickett throwing the ball out of bounds from the pocket to avoid the pass rush. That should have been intentional grounding. Sometimes they see things that aren’t there. Like a defensive pass interference call on a play to Johnson. Or a roughing the passer call on Cam Heyward. I can understand a mistake here and there but this group was bad. I hope they don’t get a playoff assignment.
6. Sack Race – It was quite a game for the pass rushers. The team finished the game with seven sacks and they probably could have had double that. The Cleveland quarterback was able to escape several pass rushes and turn them into gains via the run or pass. I was really happy for Heyward who had two sacks to get him to double digits on the year. Alex Highsmith topped off his break out season with 2.5. With 14.5 sacks on the season maybe people can stop saying the Steelers need someone opposite of T.J. Watt.
7. Diontae Denied – It was just not meant to happen. Johnson finishes the season with zero touchdowns on the season. It wasn’t for lack of effort and there were chances. He was tackled just short of the goal line on the first drive. They tried to throw him two slants in the second half. He was open on both but the ball was knocked down at the line of scrimmage. With all the jet sweeps they run I thought they might give him one at the goal line. No luck. A dubious distinction for Diontae. Funny that they executed the two point conversion to DJ so easily.
8. Youth Leaders – The final scoring drive of the season is a glimpse of the future. To remind you it was fourteen play drive with a rookie quarterback ending in a touchdown by Derek Watt. Twelve of the fourteen runs or intended receivers were by players in their first or second year in the NFL. On seven of those plays the skill players were rookies. Most surprising maybe was Connor Heyward. Stepping in for the injured Freiermuth he was targeted four times with three receptions for 45 yards. Two of those were big third down conversions including and nice seam throw from Pickett. The lone incompletion was an overthrow in the end zone where he was open. There is a lot of young talent on this offense. Can they utilize it all going forward?
9. Takeaways – After the offensive line the defensive backfield may be the group that has taken the most heat over recent seasons. The truth is they still need talent in this group. The first round pick may be a cornerback. We’ll see how the new G.M. feels about drafting corners. But the production and play since Teryl Austin has come to town has been a steady incline. For the defense to lead the league in interceptions this season is impressive. Eight players with interceptions and five players with multiple let by Minkah Fitzpatrick with 6. If they can get that lockdown corner it would really add to the group.
10. Season of Growth – As a Steeler fan we know one thing is certain. This organization will not give up. The effort to win and play hard is evident from top to bottom. Finishing the season on a 7-2 run is nice. The schedule the first half of the year was against tough competition and it showed. The second half the year they played poor teams and it showed. When they were 11-0 in 2020 we knew they weren’t as good as their record. This year I think they beat two teams that finished with a winning record (Cincinnati, Baltimore). I think their record this year pretty much right where they should be. Maybe slightly better. But they aren’t far off. They are building. They were bad early in the season and improved along the way. In the NFL you’re never too far away from being really good. There is hope heading into the offseason.