The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they faced the Baltimore Ravens in Week 17 of the regular season. The Steelers won the contest, but that doesn’t mean every player had a good or bad performance.
Players who play well can be considered ‘winners’, while those who left a lot to be desired can be called ‘losers’. It may sound harsh, but that’s the crux of this exercise.
Let’s check to see who fell on which side of the ledger after the last game…
Stat line: 22 carries, 111 yards, 5.0 ave., 0 rush TD, 15 yards long / 2 rec., 12 yards, 6.0 average, 1 rec. TD, 10 meters long
It had been since Week 17 of the 2021-22 season, Ben Roethlisberger’s final home game against the Cleveland Browns, when Najee Harris landed his final 100-yard game. It may have taken a while, but it was great to see the team’s 2021 first-round pick running aggressively against one of the best defenses in the league. Harris’ “tip toe” criticism at the line of scrimmage seems like a distant memory. What changed? Was it Harris’ health? The offensive line? A combination? Regardless…Harris was awesome Sunday night.
Stat line: 15/27, 168 yards, 6.2 ave., 1 TD, 0 INT, 2 sacks for 15 yards, 86.7 rating
When someone talks about whether a player, mostly quarterbacks, has that “factor,” well Kenny Pickett showed fans exactly what it could look like over the past two weeks following his back-to-back wins. Pickett isn’t a finished product, but even if you hated the Pickett selection, I don’t know how you’re not excited about its improvement. Is Pickett the Steelers’ next ‘guy’? It may not be decided yet, but he certainly looks more like the next “guy” than he does.
Stat line: 4 Tackles, 3 Solo, 1 Sack, 2 TFL, 3 QB Hits
It wasn’t a game where Watt flashed on the TV screen, but he certainly had a huge impact in this game. When you go up against the Ravens and their running style, it takes both skill and intelligence to slow down their running attack. Watt was instrumental in this endeavor, and it was good to see him add a bag to his total as well. Watt played a terrific game, despite what some might call a run-of-the-mill stat line.
Stat line: 198 rushing yards, 41 attempts, 4.8 YPC
Have you ever wondered what it would be like for a team to do to the Ravens what the Ravens do to others? Well, you saw it in Week 17 on Sunday Night Football. The Steelers lined up and sent the ball down the Ravens’ throat. They knew it was happening and couldn’t do anything to stop it. The Steelers nearly had two rushers (Harris: 111 / Warren: 76) reach the century mark. This is unheard of in this rivalry. No Calais Campbell in this game was huge, but regardless…the Steelers got the job done.
Stat line: 198 yards rushing, 41 attempts, 4.8 ypc / 2 sacks returned, 9 QB hits
Speaking of running play, you can’t talk about the team’s ability to move the ball, both in the air and on the ground, without giving props to the big men up front. They cleared the way on the ground and provided protection when the team chose to throw. When the Steelers found themselves in obvious passing situations, pass protection sometimes led to quarterback hits, but both sacks were far from the line’s fault. Terrific work on the line when they needed it.
Stat line: Mark Robinson, DeMarvin Leal, Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, Jaylen Warren
With Mark Robinson getting important snaps in this game, it made me realize how many rookies play important roles in this team. Just look at the names above, and I left Connor Heyward out for this week, and you see how many young players are making great contributions and bodes well for the future of the team.
Stat line: 9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 TFL
Fans love beating Spillane, especially when he’s struggling to cover, but this was a game that was made for Spillane. Downhill, stop the run, make tackles. If you’re going to hit him sometimes for his bad play, you need to give him props when he plays well. Spillane led the Steelers in tackles and was all over the court. A great performance for a guy who has been the fan base leader for most of the season.
Stat line: 3 catches, 34 yards, 11.3 avs, 0 TDs, 28 yards long, 4 targets
3 catches for 34 yards isn’t a performance that lands many players on the winners list, but Steven Sims’ 28-yard catch was a critical play in the game-winning run. It was a nice throw from Pickett, but a terrific catch from Sims in traffic that got the Steelers the go-ahead. These games against Baltimore often come down to unlikely players making great plays, and this week it was the Sims who stepped up when his number was called.
Stat line: 10 for 16
The target is 50%, and the offense did that and more. This Steelers attack is a grind-it-out, kill-the-clock style attack. If only they could end more drives in touchdowns versus field goals. Small steps, I guess.
Stat line: Renewed
I lamented that the Steelers-Ravens rivalry has gotten a little soft over the years. With the likes of Ray Lewis, Hines Ward, Terrell Suggs, Ben Roethlisberger, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu now gone, the rivalry seemed to wane. It wasn’t the same cold-blooded hate that’s been seen twice a year for over a decade. While I don’t think a modern NFL rivalry matches that intensity, largely because the league won’t allow it, but I will say you can see the rivalry returning to where it once was. I loved Najee Harris chewing up defenders, and it made me realize there’s still hope for the Steelers/Ravens to be what they should be… an ugly rivalry.
Stat line: Train your buttocks
I know a lot of fans hate Tomlin. They hate his unbeaten season record, but I have to give props to Tomlin for the work he did in 2022. When you think of this team being 2-6, it wasn’t like it was uncharted waters for Tomlin, but when you add the fact that he didn’t have a future Hall of Fame quarterback to fall back on, and it was absolutely uncharted waters. He had to do it differently this year, but he still manages it. Playoffs or not, Tomlin should be commended for the job he’s done this season.
Stat line: FG 3 for 4 / XP 1 for 1
When you’re talking about the low-scoring business that is the Steelers versus the Ravens, you can’t leave any points on the field. When you’re planning to take on Justin Tucker, who misses a field goal attempt maybe once per presidential cycle, you have to be perfect. Boswell is quietly having a lackluster season, and I’m sure his groin injury that landed him on injured reserve (IR) has a lot to do with it. Nonetheless, when that stat popped up on my Twitter feed, it showed just how badly things have gone for Boswell this season.
Boswell needs to be better, and if he’s not healthy he shouldn’t be playing.
Penalty for unnecessary roughness
Stat line: Fake
The penalty kick against Cam Heyward was not only wrong, but it was a complete game-changer. When you consider the situation, the Steelers defense does the job and forces Baltimore to go for a field goal. After the penalty gave the Ravens new life, the next play was a touchdown. A 4-point swing. Until the heroism of the attack at the end of the game, this single call could have changed the result of the match. It could have ended the Steelers season. Luckily, that’s not the case, but he still belongs on the list of losers.
Stat line: Penalties and mistakes galore
The Steelers’ special teams weren’t the best on Sunday night. Again, with bounty possessions, you can’t afford to suffer a field position. There are times when it should be clear that it is okay for the team to simply kick the ball out of the end zone for a touchback. The short kick, which was by design, to Judge Hill would have been the grueling moment if the defense hadn’t pushed the Ravens out of range for the baskets. Add in some bad penalties and the aforementioned Boswell issues, and I have to put “teams” on the losers list.
If you want a more detailed look at the list above, check out my “Let’s Ride” podcast where I break down every Winner and Loser, and MORE!
. winners losers after win Steelers over Ravens