The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Cleveland Browns for yet another regular season finale at Heinz Field in a game that had zero impact on the Black and Gold’s post-season fortunes. With Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Maurkice Pouncey out and James Harrison not playing, this figured to be an exam of sorts for the Steelers backups.
- The Cleveland Browns, not having won a game in Pittsburgh since 2003, showed themselves as willing examiners.
The Steelers prevailed in a teeter-totter style game and, while the 7th straight win only adds window dressing to the 2016 regular season record, the comeback win over the Browns does reveal 6 key take aways that tell us something important about these Steelers as we head to the playoffs.
1. Landry Jones Has Grown into a Legit Backup
Going into this game, the pundits who weren’t labeling this “Landry Jones’ last game with the Steelers” instead suggested Mike Tomlin start Zach Mettenberger.
- Landry Jones showed them how foolish they were.
- Let’s be clear: If Ben Roethlisberger goes down, he takes the 2016 Steelers Super Bowl hopes with him.
If all goes well, the last image we have of Landry Jones during the 2016 season (other than him holding a clipboard) will be of him hitting Cobi Hamilton from 26 yards out in overtime to give the Steelers the win. Contrast that with his deer-in-the-headlight performance in the Steelers playoff win a year ago vs. the Bengals.
The Steelers drafted Landry Jones to grow into a competent NFL backup quarterback. The only thing that his 2013 and 2014 preseason performances inspired was job security for Bruce Gradkowski. Landry Jones made strides in closing out wins vs. the Raiders and Cardinals in 2015, and looked respectable in the Steelers loss to the Patriots.
- Against the Browns, Jones showed he could overcome a costly interception, rally his team in the 4th quarter, and lead it to victory in overtime.
That marks and important step for the signal caller. Granted, Landry Jones wasn’t playing against the 85 Bears defense, but Steelers best offensive lineman and skill players were in street clothes. Salary cap math might prevent the Steelers from bringing Jones back in 2017, but he’s proven he’s a capable backup.
2. Darrius Heyward-Bey Is Back
It is no secret that Antonio Brown had to scratch and claw for his catches as the season wore on. And while Eli Rogers has stepped up his play late in the season, as had Hamilton, the Steelers still haven’t had a reliable deep threat to take heat off of Brown. Darrius Heyward-Bey may have only had one catch, but he brought it down for 46 yards.
If this is any indication of what he is capable of, the Steelers offense can be lethal in the playoffs.
3. Steelers Can’t Survive without Stephon Tuitt
When the Steelers lost Stephon Tuitt in the first series against the Bengals, things did not look good. Cincinnati ran the ball well against the Steelers in the first half, punctuated by Jeremy Hill’s powering his way into the end zone in the second quarter. Yet the Steelers run defense clapped down, and held Hill to negative yards in the second half.
- Against the Ravens, the Steelers performance against the run was mixed.
The Steelers run defense held its own in the first half, but it struggled to stop the run at times during the second half. To be blunt about it, Isaiah Crowell looked like the Jim Brown running against the Steelers defense.
L.T. Walton has played well, as has Ricardo Mathews when healthy. Johnny Maxey has looked good as for a practice squader. But the Browns game clarified a that healthy Stephon Tuitt is essential to a successful Steelers Super Bowl run.
4. Sean Davis is Simply a Stud
When was the last time a rookie Steelers defender excelled to the level that Sean Davis has reached?
Like Sean Davis, Troy Polamalu and Bud Dupree both won Joe Greene Great Performance awards, but neither of them made the type of impact plays that Sean Davis is making. You’d arguably have to go back to Kendrell Bell to find a rookie Steelers defender who made the type of impact that Sean Davis made.
- Did someone tell Sean Davis the Browns game was supposed to be “meaningless?”
Apparently not. Davis dominated leading the team in tackles, sacking the quarterback, and recovering a bad snap to set up the Steelers first touchdown. It is usually a sign of desperation for a team to go into training camp counting on draftees to make a difference.
However, as Pittsburgh pivots to the playoffs, the Steelers can be confident that their 2016 draft class can contribute to a Super Bowl run with Sean Davis leading the way.
5. DeAngelo Williams Isn’t Showing Any Rust
The Steelers haven’t seen much of DeAngelo Williams since his injury against Miami. Indeed, journalist David Todd went so far as to suggest that he might have made his last carry for the Steelers. On the surface, Williams numbers of 67 for 23 do not look good.
- Numbers do not lie, but often times they fail to tell the full story and such was the case of DeAngelo Williams.
Williams, like the rest of the Steelers offense started sluggishly, but he picked up steam as the game wore on. And it was DeAngelo Williams who got the Steelers on board to close the second half and who tied the game in the 4th quarter. Moreover, DeAngelo Williams used every ounce of his skill as a runner to save the Steelers from taking a safety on several occasions.
Injuries have forced the Steelers to start their 4th and 5th string running backs in their last two post season appearances. Pittsburgh’s offensive backfield will look a little bit different on this playoff trip.
6. These Pittsburgh Steelers WANT It
How many opportunities did this Steelers team have to mail it in against the Browns? Make no mistake about it, football is a brutal sport, and if your heart is not in it, that will show pretty quickly? How many times have we seen the Browns fold against the Steelers in a season ender after Pittsburgh puts up a two score lead?
- The Browns went up by two touchdowns, but the Steelers fought back
- Late in the 4th, Cleveland tied the game,and threatened to score at the Steelers 5, but the Jarvis Jones forced a fumble
- The Browns won the toss in OT and marched to the Steelers two, but Ryan Shazier helped force a 14 yard loss
When the Steelers finally got the ball they came up to a 4th and 2 at their own 32-yard line. It would have been so easy for Mike Tomlin to send in Chris Boswell for a 49-yard field goal attempt, figuring Cleveland could not score in 3 minutes.
Instead, he went for it and Demarcus Ayers converted the third down. One play later, Cobi Hamilton was sealing the Steelers win in OT.
As Mike Tomlin said, fight won’t bring home a seventh Lombardi trophy, and some of the sloppiness the Steelers displayed vs. the Browns will doom them. But overall, the Steelers win over the Browns offers a lot of promise as Pittsburgh head to the playoffs.