The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the field Sunday when they took on the New York Jets in Week 4 of the regular season. The Steelers were losers in 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: 6 rec., 102 yards, 17.0 average, 0 TDs, 27 longs, 8 targets
We knew the Pickens escape game was coming, but no one knew when. Ultimately, it was when Kenny Pickett was called into action. The two rookies hadn’t spent much time playing together this season, but their connection was real. The back shoulder throws to Pickens were beautifully timed and wonderfully executed. If this is just the beginning for the rookie receiver, I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Stat line: 7 rec., 85 yards, 12.1 average, 0 TDs, 24 longs, 9 targets
Freiermuth has been the Steelers’ only consistent offensive playmaker so far this season. All other weapons were disabled or simply did not appear at certain times. If the Steelers decide to use the second-year tight end, and that’s a big if sometimes, he’s done nothing but make plays. It will be exciting to see how his role could develop with Pickett at the helm.
Stat line: 10/13, 120 yards, 9.2 average, 0 TDs, 3 INTs, 0 sacks, 65.1 Rating / 6 rush, 15 yards, 2.5 average, 2 TDs, 7 longs
Some might suggest that when a player has 3 INTs on his record, putting him in the winners column is unwarranted. I understand. But do you realize how difficult it must be to come off the bench in the middle of the game and be ready to play? To orchestrate point-producing workouts without real repetitions throughout the week? Pickett gave the Steelers the “spark” that Mike Tomlin wanted, unfortunately a 10-point lead in the 4th quarter wasn’t enough.
Stat line: 8 tackles, 5 solo, 2 passes defended, 1 INT
Without TJ Watt, the Steelers defense looks average, except for Fitzpatrick. Minkah recorded his 3rd interception of the season, in just four games. When teams don’t avoid him like the plague, like the Cleveland Browns did in Week 3, he makes passers pay. For those who wondered “where is Minkah? last season… well, here it is. Sadly, he’s only one man in an 11-man unit who is both thrilled by injuries and currently struggling.
Stat line: 2 rec., 11 yards, 5.5 average, 0 TDs, 6 yards long, 4 targets
Diontae Johnson wanted a big day’s pay, and he got what many consider fair compensation for the work he’s done throughout his career so far. However, drops continue to plague Johnson in 2022. No, he hasn’t had a ridiculous number of drops, but when, and now how, he dropped the ball certainly matters. The first down pass that eluded him resulted in an interception by Mitch Trubisky. Some say the pass was thrown too hard or not perfect. I call BS on it, should have been a snag. Johnson wanted to get paid like a wide receiver, he now has to add production to support that, and sometimes routine plays count.
Stat line: 0 rec., 0 yards, 2 targets
I don’t recall a player of Claypool’s stature or status, and I use those terms loosely, to hold without a hold. The caught zero is disturbing on all fronts, but Claypool’s inability to really use his size to his advantage still baffles me. Watch some of the best pass catchers in the game, past and present, and you’ll see them point the ball with fluidity and consistency. Claypool does neither well. The team needs to use Claypool in a way that maximizes their skills, but at the same time Claypool’s game needs to step up.
Stat line: Another dodgy and dubious decision making
Gunner O could reach breaking point being the Steelers’ back man if he continues to put football on the turf. Another fumble in Week 4, his second in the last three games, and Steven Sims, who has been an inactive game day this season, could be called up for duty. Add to that Olszewski’s questionable decision-making when it comes to fair punts, and the Steelers could explore other options. If Sims isn’t the guy, this is the first week that Calvin Austin III is able to return to the Injured Reserve (IR) squad, so the squad might have options for that spot.
Stat line: 178 total yards, 4 INTs
I would find it hard to think back to the days of Steelers football when the team struggled as much as she did to put 200 passing yards on the stat sheet. We fans have seen Ben Roethlisberger throw for 400-yard games like they’re nothing. Now? 200 seems like a pipe dream. Maybe that changes with Pickett now at quarterback, but you have to hope the passing offense starts to mature and mature quickly.
Stat line: Zach Wilson – 18/36, 252 yards, 7.0 average, 1 TD, 2 INT, 1 sack for 4 yards, 59.0 rating
You look at Wilson’s stat line and think, “Meh, that’s not so bad.” But it’s as much about “when” as it is about the overall stat line. The Steelers couldn’t get to Wilson in the second half and he was able to make plays when it mattered most. Add the Steelers injuries in the secondary and the pass defense struggled. And they struggled at the worst possible times on Sunday.
Red zone defense
Stat line: NYJ – 3 for 3
I’ve said it time and time again, but the Steelers can benefit from a “bend don’t break” defense. Hold the field goal offenses, and the offense should be able to make enough plays to at least keep the team in games. When the Jets reached the red zone in Week 4, they scored touchdowns. This is not a “bend, don’t break” defense. If the Steelers hold a prayer by winning a game before the bye week, their defense will have to bend more than they break.
Stat line: 4 INT
A team that turns the ball over four times won’t win often, and the Steelers fall into that category. You have to play a clean brand of football to win in the NFL.
Stat line: 8 for 55
Speaking of an own football brand goes beyond turnover. This also includes penalties. The Steelers can’t shoot themselves in the foot with pre-snap penalties and illegal man-calls down. They did both on Sunday, and it needs to be cleaned up as much as the turnovers.
3rd Down Defense
Stat line: 6 for 15
Just like when talking about pass defense, the “when” matters. Statistically, the Steelers defense did a great job on 3rd downs. But when they dropped those third key conversions, it matters. What might be the most troubling aspect of this stat line is how many third and long plays they gave up. Doesn’t bring much confidence in the row of the murderer they have ahead.
Stat line: Many key injuries
Ahkello Witherspoon (hamstrings)
Minkah Fitzpatrick (knee)
Cam Heyward (elbow and ankle)
Terrell Edmunds (concussion)
Cam Sutton (groin and hamstrings)
All in defense, and most in the secondary. Talk about adding insult to injury. Salt in the wound. Whatever you want to call it, but add TJ Watt is still on IR, and it just goes from bad to worse.
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!