There is still an outside possibility that the Pittsburgh Steelers are able to continue Mike Tomlin’s streak of never finishing with a below .500 record as their head coach – and Sunday’s win over the Carolina Panthers certainly helped.
Inserting Mitch Trubisky into the starting lineup with Kenny Pickett recovering from a concussion, the offense has its fair share of bumps and bruises, but the unit looked fairly cohesive, potentially a sign of things to come. The defense was able to keep Sam Darnold from having a good day, harassing him in the pocket and making him feel uncomfortable all day.
Below are a few players who were instrumental in Pittsburgh’s win in Week 15, as well as a few players who were duds this past week.
In his third consecutive game having a snap percentage of at least 55 percent, Najee Harris handled 24 touches and found the end zone yet again. It was his second consecutive game scoring a TD, which his backup Jaylen Warren was also able to do.
24 carries are the most he has been utilized all year, and the first time he touched the 20-carry mark since Week 11, potentially showing offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s willingness to rely on one of the few proven commodities on this offense. While he completely disappeared in the passing game (zero targets), Harris was able to showcase that he can be a bell cow for this team and that he looks a lot healthier than earlier in the year (even though he missed practice on Wednesday).
Another game, another sack for T.J. Watt, who bumped up his total to four sacks on the year after earning another 1.5 sacks. Third on the team behind Alex Highsmith and Cameron Heyward, Watt continues to wreak havoc on the edge for opposing offenses, case and point with how often he met Darnold in the backfield.
In only his seventh game of the year, Watt continues to establish himself as one of the premier pass rushers in the league, something that the Steelers are happy to benefit from. Sunday’s performance showed that he continues to get healthier and can get back to his full form down the stretch.
While his streak of not scoring a TD this season unfortunately continued, Diontae Johnson was the biggest beneficiary of the QB change, as Trubisky peppered Johnson with 10 targets. Even better, Johnson had a perfect target-to-catch ratio on the game, hauling in all 10.
It’s possible that Johnson fails to break his scoreless streak this year, but his increased involvement in the passing attack is a great sign for the jump this offense is looking to take – or it could be just because of the change at QB, who really knows with a Canada-led offense.
Stepping into the fold for Pickett, Trubisky operated extremely well as a game manager, but nothing more than that. Going 17/22 for 179 yards and a rushing TD doesn’t say much about his command of the offense, especially since Pickett was putting up very similar numbers too.
Against a defense that certainly is exploitable, Trubisky likely relied too much on going back to his favorite target during the game (Johnson), potentially submarining any sort of progress the offense had. Likely reverting back to the bench upon Pickett’s return (scheduled for Week 16), Trubisky showed nothing to help boost his stock moving forward.
This may not necessarily be his fault, but Pat Freiermuth got in a good amount of cardio against the Panthers and nothing more since he did not even receive a target from Trubisky. Whether that is due to Canada scheming up calls that utilized him more in secondary roles, or if Trubisky opted against targeting his safety valve option, the goose egg from Freiermuth is unacceptable.
Freiermuth has had a solid season up to this point, mostly surviving the ever-changing carousel at QB, but on Sunday, he was a ghost. If the Steelers were to try and make the most of the rest of this season, then Freiermuth needs to re-become a big part of the offense.