The Pittsburgh Steelers were desperate to redeem themselves after their embarrassing performance against the rival Baltimore Ravens. They got their chance against the Carolina Panthers. Here were my thoughts as the game unfolded.
-The running game got back into high gear. Both Najee Harris (24 rushes 86 yards TD) and Jaylen Warren (11 rushes 38 yards TD) had good days running the ball. Credit to the offensive line. A week ago that defense shut down the Seahawks in Seattle.
-Once Kenny Pickett is healthy he will start again. That said, the offense has moved better especially between the 20’s the last two weeks under Mitchell Trubisky (17/22 179 yards). Is it possible that Mike Tomlin stays with the “hot hand?” It is until the team is officially eliminated perhaps but I still think he goes back to Pickett.
-A solid day for Diontae Johnson(10 receptions 98 yards) was unfortunately overshadowed by a stupid unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting. This was totally unnecessary and uncalled for. It nearly got worse when he let the Panthers’ onside kick go through his hands. George Pickens recovered it thankfully.
-Speaking of Pickens (2 receptions 58 yards) I still don’t understand how Matt Canada doesn’t get the ball in his direction more often. Last week it was four targets. This week it was five. His huge reception down the sidelines on third down should have inspired more targets. I know he doesn’t yet have the full route tree under his belt but he’s too dynamic to be used so little.
-Where in the hell was Pat Freiermuth today? He didn’t have a single target on the day. I have to believe the foot injury that he dealt with during the week was much worse than thought. Matt Canada used a lot more three-wide receiver sets as a result.
-Matt Canada’s tombstone will have a diagram of a jet sweep on it.
-Tremendous job on third down today. The Steelers were 12 for 16 and many of those were throws to Johnson or short, powerful runs.
-The defensive front seven clearly took the ass-kicking they got last week to heart. They were much better against the run. The Panthers’ leading rusher was Chuba Hubbard who carried four times for 10 yards. The Panthers aren’t the Ravens for damn sure, but that’s still impressive.
-T.J. Watt hasn’t been wearing the harness on his biceps in recent weeks and that has also coincided with a sack in each week as well. Perhaps his health is improving.
-The Steelers need serious upgrades at their cornerback positions. Levi Wallace might be the only one I keep around.
-Terrell Edmunds will no doubt try the open market again and I don’t blame him. That said, he has had a very nice season and continues to be an asset for the defense. Good against the run and is incredibly durable.
-I thought both Larry Ogunjobi and Cam Heyward played with some fire today. That’s what veterans do. When they don’t play up to their own expectations they bounce back. Good for both of them.
-What a great play by Alex Highsmith on that second and goal run in the fourth quarter. He split two blockers, made the stop and forced a fumble which Carolina recovered but what a great play. He also collected another sack on the afternoon. I’m not 100% sold on him signing an extension in the offseason because after next year he’s going to be a very hot commodity in free agency.
-Marcus Allen should be cut if he hasn’t already. What a stupid, moronic decision to go over and taunt the Panthers’ huddle on fourth down. The unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave the Panthers a first down which they turned into three points.
-Huge decision by Mike Tomlin to kick that field goal. Chris Boswell rewarded his faith by nailing the 50-yarder.
-Steven Sims is starting to concern me as a punt returner. He makes some really poor decisions.
-Pressley Harvin III was much better today. His three punts averaged over 45 yards and his hang time was solid as well.
Next Week: The Steelers host the Las Vegas Raiders on Christmas Eve as the organization remembers the 50th anniversary of the “Immaculate Reception.”