Our annual Blitzies are here! The staff of Steel City Blitz recently announced their nominations for a number of different categories that celebrate the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Most Valuable Player Award
Marc – Antonio Brown. There are always arguments to be made for Ben Roethlisberger or Le’Veon Bell but Brown has been above and beyond the most important player on this team. From clutch catches to moving the sticks when needed he continues to be the best wideout in pro football.
Cnic – Ben Roethlisberger – Without Roethlisberger, this offense and team as a whole falls apart. The future hall of famer’s spectacular play down the stretch coupled with his leadership ability always gives the Steelers a chance.
Ian – Antonio Brown Brown had another historically great season and led the league in receiving yards with 1533 and scored 9 TDs. Brown stepped up big in key moments throughout the season with 25 of his catches coming on third downs (19 of them moving the chains) and accounting for over an absurd fourth quarter stat line of 28 catches, 550 yards, and 4 TDs. Ben Roethlisberger gets an honorable mention here. Ben would have gotten the nod if he had been better to start the season. That said, if Ben had completed the pass to Jesse James (or Eli Rogers) against New England, he would be right in the conversation for league MVP.
Ben – Ben Roethlisberger – Antonio Brown did the most in terms of measurable stats this year on the field, but it was because Ben was there to deliver the ball to him. I may be biased but I have always felt that without a QB who is at least a credible NFL starter, the value of the other ten guys is mitigated from good to average or worse. Look at just about every WR to leave Pittsburgh and how they produced afterward.
Offensive Player of the Year Award
Marc – Le’Veon Bell. Look at the amount of touches and you immediately see why he is the straw that stirs the Steelers’ offensive drink. He would have led the league in rushing had he not skipped the last week of the season and he was the team’s second best receiver in terms of receptions. Throw in his blocking ability and there you go.
Cnic – Antonio Brown – Antonio Brown continues to be the best wide out in the NFL and it is not even close. You can tell that to your friends who are Atlanta Falcons fans. His consistency and production is head and shoulders above any other player at the position. Le’Veon Bell deserves consideration, but with other running backs close to him in production this year, I went with AB.
Ian – Antonio Brown For much the same reasons as the Team MVP award. Brown was the only Steelers player to lead the league in his respective category. Once again, the honorable mention here goes to Ben Roethlisberger.
Ben – Antonio Brown – Led the league in receiving yards, yards per game and total receptions, and was 4th in receiving TDs despite missing 11 quarters and playing on a team loaded with quality skill players.
Defensive Player of the Year Award
Marc – Cam Heyward. There’s a reason he is a team captain. He leads with his play, his words and his emotions. Despite being snubbed in Pro Bowl voting, Heyward earned the much more prestigious honor of making ‘All-Pro.’ His 12 sacks led the team and with Stephon Tuitt having a down year he raised his game even more.
Cnic –Cameron Heyward – The first-team All Pro who was once again snuffed from the Pro Bowl is an absolute animal on the gridiron. Heyward leads the defense in both rushing the passer and defending the run. Heyward led the way with 12 sacks, along with 3 passes defensed (more than Mike Mitchell) and 2 forced fumbles (more than Mike Mitchell). Off the field, Heyward has earned consideration for the Walter Peyton Man of the Year award.
Ian – Cam Heyward Heyward became the first Steeler since 2010 to post double-digit sacks in a season. In addition to his 12 sacks, he also had 12 tackles for a loss, which were among the best for interior defensive linemen. Heyward was deservedly named a first-team All Pro and was a key to both the Steelers run and pass defense. The honorable mention here goes to Ryan Shazier. Shazier was the biggest play-maker on the Steelers defense this season. Despite missing a quarter of the year, Shazier finished tied for the team lead in both interceptions (3) and forced fumbles (2).
Ben – Ryan Shazier – was leading the Steelers in total tackles and impact plays when he went down to injury (11 passes defensed, 3 INTs, 2 forced fumbles, 5 TFL), still finished 2nd in tackles despite missing the last 19 quarters of football this season, and continues to serve as an inspiration to teammates.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that I almost chose Cam Heyward, who also has had a monster year.
Special Teams Player of the Year
Marc – Chris Boswell. No-brainer here. 35 of 38 on his field goals and 37 of 39 in his PATs earned him a Pro Bowl berth. His clutch kicks to win game for the Steelers are legendary and to think this kid was discovered as a free agent during the season…
Cnic – Chris Boswell – Kicking 35/38 (92%), Boswell has been money all year. With his accuracy and power (6/8 from 50+), along with multiple game winning kicks, he should be included in the ‘Killer B’s’. Accompanied by being named to the Pro Bowl, Boswell gets my vote for STPOY.
Ian – Chris Boswell Boswell broke the Steelers record for scoring in a single season with 142 points. Additionally, Boswell kicked four game-winning field goals this season and was a perfect 4-for-4 from beyond 50 yards. Honorable mention goes to Tyler Matakevich who blocked a punt in the opener against Cleveland then got a partial block in Week 17 against the Browns. Matakevich also led the team with 14 special teams tackles.
Ben – Chris Boswell – Boswell was a 92% kicker this year, including 4 of 4 at 50+ yards, broke the Steelers scoring record this year with 142 points and has been a dependable, ice water in his veins contributor all season. I do believe that between Boswell, improvements from Eli Rogers in the punt return game and contributions by JuJu Smith-Schuster in the kick return game, Danny Smith’s job may have been saved. Not that the development pleases me in that last regard.
Rookie of the Year Award
Marc – JuJu Smith-Schuster. We at SCB were confident that Steelers’ fans would learn to like and eventually love JJSS but we never saw THIS coming. From kickoff returns for touchdowns to huge blocks he has become a fan favorite in less than a full season. His attitude has been infectious in the locker room and on the field.
Cnic – JuJu Smith-Schuster – While TJ Watt is also very deserving, I think what JuJu has accomplished this season cannot be taken lightly. Emerging to become a very valuable piece of the offense, Smith-Schuster also demonstrated the ability to take over a game. Antonio Brown has been sidelined and who stepped up? Not Martavis Bryant, JuJu. Smith-Schuster not only proved he can be an asset in the passing game, but has been a very good blocker and special teams player.
Ian – JuJu Smith-Schuster This was an incredibly close between JuJu and first round pick TJ Watt. In the end, JuJu’s big-play ability (15 third down conversions, 4 TDs on third downs, the 97-yarder against Detroit, the kick return against Cleveland and the 69-yarder against New England) put him over the top. My honorable mention here would be TJ Watt who had the most sacks by a Steelers rookie (7.0) since Kendrell Bell had 9.0 in 2001.
Ben – JuJu Smith-Schuster – I’m sure the other guys will illustrate his contributions here, so I won’t restate them. JuJu ran away with this. When he was drafted, I loved his potential, buy didn’t like the pick because I didn’t think the Steelers needed a WR in 2017. I told everyone that“Even if he doesn’t make a huge contribution in 2017, you’re going to love this player.” I didn’t expect that he would have the tremendous impact he has had as a rookie. He’s been fantastic.
The “Jonathan Scott Award” given to the player who actually is the Most Valuable Free Agent Addition
Back in 2011, Scott, of the infamous butt block on Dwight Freeney, was re-signed to a 2 year contract to start at left tackle after an underwhelming 2010 performance and most would agree that he was one of the worst free agent acquisitions of the Kevin Colbert era. We’ll pick a player here who is the diametric opposite of Scott in terms of value.
Marc – Joe Haden. Talk about a Pro Bowl player falling into your lap… Haden joined the Steelers and immediately filled a huge need at cornerback. I was not totally sure what to expect from him but I was pleasantly surprised and glad he’s in Pittsburgh.
Cnic – Joe Haden – Haden came to Pittsburgh and immediately became the best cornerback. I will admit, he has proved me wrong as a player this year. When Haden was sidelined with an injury, the defensive backfield felt it, as the defensive unit declined against the pass.
Ian – Joe Haden Haden stepped in and revitalized his career. Many thought the Steelers overpaid, but his addition allowed them to play more man coverage on the outside. Haden is a physical corner and his presence was certainly noticed after he broke his leg against Indianapolis. In the 5 games Haden missed, the Steelers gave up 74 more passing yards per game than in the 11 games he played.
Honorable Mentions go to Mike Hilton and Tyson Alualu. Hilton won Defensive Player of the Week in Week 16 and was a force blitzing off the edge with 4 sacks. Hilton led all Steelers corners with 2 INTs. Alualu recorded 4 sacks and was one of the more efficient penetrators on the Steelers defensive front (in fact he out-performed Stephon Tuitt).
Ben – Mike Hilton – While technically not a free agent acquisition because he was on the Steelers practice squad in 2016, Hilton has been the new player who has had the single greatest impact, in my opinion. All this kid does is make plays every week (6 TFL, 4 sacks [from the slot!], 6 passes defensed, 2 picks and a forced fumble). His deflection of a certain TD pass to Rob Gronkowski, a player almost a foot taller than him, week 15 was one of the most impressive plays I’ve seen by any CB. This kid reminds me so much of Willie Williams, an undersized, overachieving corner the Steelers had in the mid 90s and who returned for a brief period just long enough to collect a Super Bowl 40 ring. I’m excited about what the future holds for Hilton.
Assistant Coach of the Year Award
Marc – Danny Smith, Special Teams. Yes, you read that right. The guy I’ve wanted fired for years and still do is my choice here. First of all, I look for two things from my STs units. No mistakes and make game-changing plays. While penalties on this unit drive me to drink, Smith’s group has had game-changing kick returns like the one from JJSS. It has had at least one key blocked punt and blocked field goal and his punt team executed a perfect fake against the Bengals. Not to mention he’s partly responsible for finding Pro Bowl kicker Chris Boswell.
Cnic – Mike Munchak– The offensive line has been a very good group this year. With Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert both sidelined games, Munchak had their replacements in BJ Finney and Chris Hubbard very prepared for the task. Hubbard actually played quite exceptionally.
Ian – Keith Butler The Steelers broke a team record by recording 56 sacks this season. Their 56 sacks were an 18-sack improvement over 2016 and a 23-sack improvement over the 33 sacks they recorded in Dick LeBeau’s last season with the team. In fact, the Steelers did not top 37 sacks in any of LeBeau’s last four seasons while they have recorded at least 38 in all three of Butler’s years. Keith Butler has obviously put his stamp on this defense in its structure and design. The Steelers ranked in the Top 7 in the league in both total defense (yards) and scoring defense.
Ben – Mike Munchak – His lines continue to evolve and improve year over year. He’s taken a bunch of undrafted guys, mixed them with some high draft picks, putting together one of the best lines in the NFL. Moreover, the guys at the bottom of the OL depth chart, Chris Hubbard, BJ Finney, Jerald Hawkins and Matt Feiler all have solid future career prospects after working with Munchak. Makes me wonder how Kyle Friend, a center who’s been on the practice squad all season, is developing. I tend to think that being coached by Munchak is a huge advantage.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year Award
Marc – Stephon Tuitt. In 12 games, Tuitt forced one fumble, had three sacks and 19 total tackles. By nature, 3-4 defensive linemen don’t get much in the way of “big stats” but this really isn’t a true 3-4 anymore and for a guy who signed a 5-year, $60 million contract, these numbers are way underwhelming.
Cnic – Bud Dupree – I think we were all expecting a dominating season from Dupree which would have included double digit sacks. Dupree rarely wins one-on-one battles and has yet to have a dominant game. Rookie TJ Watt has outshined Dupree.
Ian – Inconsistent Application of NFL “Rules” Every year, the NFL seems to one-up themselves in terms of incompetence, both with on-field officiating, replay review decisions, and the enforcement of player discipline. This year was no different. It has been 8 years since the Calvin Johnson “catch” game and we still haven’t figured out what is and is not a catch. Replay review has been consistently inconsistent this year with the only over-riding principle seemingly being “how does this call benefit New England?” Finally, the NFL’s wheel of discipline continued to spin this year and randomly dole out punishment such as Rob Gronkowski only getting one game for delivering a forearm shiver after a play and JuJu Smith-Schuster also getting a game for throwing a block during the play. You would think that one of these years, in the interest of having a better and more accessible product on the field, the NFL would clean up their act, but each year it only gets worse and not better.
From a Steelers-centric standpoint, the biggest disappointment was the defense missing tackles. The Steelers defense was among the league leaders in missed tackles and consistently allowed opponents to turn 2-yard losses into 8-yard gains.
Ben – Keith Butler’s staff when it comes to coaching tackling – Other than not maintaining gap integrity, which is vastly more important than tackling (yes, really), this has been the Steelers’ Achilles Heel in 2017.
Most Pleasant Surprise of the Year Award
Marc – Mike Hilton. To me this is a no-brainer. With huge questions about who plays the slot, Hilton has been tremendous. He collected 42 tackles, had 6 passes defended, picked up 2 interceptions and recorded four sacks. I don’t care who you are, NO ONE saw this coming from a free agent in this position.
Cnic – Chris Hubbard – The swiss-army knife of the offensive line. A true utility player who was plugged into a starting spot at right tackle for 10 games. Hubbard really impressed me and kept the offensive line whole without missing a beat.
Ian – Mike Hilton Hilton was signed as an free agent during the offseason after spending time on other practice squads last season. Hilton took over the slot corner role from William Gay. His speed and physicality enabled the Steelers to play more man defense, even in their nickel defense. Additionally, his blitzing abilities off the edge caused havoc in opposing backfields. Hilton recorded 4 sacks and 9 tackles for a loss. He also had 6 passes defended this season. An honorable mention here goes to Chris Hubbard who stepped in when Marcus Gilbert missed 9 games this season. Hubbard committed just 1 holding penalty and the Steelers did not see a significant decline in quality of play at the right tackle position with Gilbert out.
Ben – Tyson Alualu – I’ve already been effusive in praise for Mike Hilton. So, let’s go with Alualu here. Alualu has been consistent, productive and reliable. One of the best free agent pickups in years. Makes you realize just how bad Cam Thomas was by comparison.
Play of the Year Award
Marc – Jesse James’ Overturned Touchdown. Look at how things changed with that one call. Instead of having home-field advantage, the Steelers will likely have to go through New England again. It was the talk of the sports’ nation, sports’ radio, you name it and it led all of us to know exactly who Al Riveron was.
Cnic – Jesse James CATCH against the Patriots – It was a catch
Ian – JuJu’s 97-yard touchdown There were a lot of great individual plays for the Steelers this season, but the one this one broke the record for longest offensive play in Steelers history. The Detroit game presented a big opportunity for JuJu as his offensive role increased with Martavis Bryant suspended due to his instagram-storm. The Steelers had just stopped the Lions on the goal line and were clinging to a 1-point lead. On 3rd and 9, Ben hit JuJu down the seam who ran through the middle of the Detroit defense and took it all the way to the house to give the Steelers an 8-point advantage, which was enough to keep them in front as the defense kept Detroit out of the end zone for the rest of the game. This sent the Steelers into the bye week at 6-2 and gave them increased confidence in JuJu’s abilities the rest of the season. An honorable mention goes to Antonio Brown’s 34-yard catch down the right sideline with a minute to go to set up the game-winning field goal against Baltimore and win the AFC North title.
Ben – 9:00 remaining in the 3rd Quarter, 2nd & goal at the Steelers 4, ball thrown to Rob Gronkowski and batted down by Mike Hilton – Watching Hilton scale Mount Gronkowski to put himself between the ball and Gronk still astounds me. It hasn’t gotten much attention because Brady threw a TD to Brandin Cooks on the next play, but it was truly impressive. Gronk is so big that he can almost touch a basketball hoop standing flat footed. He’s so physical that he boxes out smaller players with ease. Logically, we never should have expected to see that happen. I know Tom Brady didn’t. He threw the ball to where he had an obvious mismatch and was rejected.
MVP: TIE: Roethlisberger (2), Brown (2)
OPOY: Brown (3)
DPOY: Heyward (3)
STOY: Boswell, Unanimous
ROY: JJSS, Unanimous
Asst Coach OY: Munchak (2)
Jonathan Scott Award: Haden (3)
Pleasant Surprise: Hilton (2)
Biggest Disappointment: 4-way tie
Play of the Year: Jesse James Catch That Wasn’t a Catch (2)