Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Season Recapby Michael Schiro January 22, 2022 0 comments
With the Pittsburg Steelers falling to the Kanas City Chiefs in the wild card 42-21 and Ben Roethlisberger playing his last game, the question the Steelers face is what’s next. Looking back on the year, it’s clear that the season was a bit bumpy, with quarterback play being one of the worst in the league and drama coming out of the building. The one bright spot for the team was the defense led by T.J. Watt. Being the front runner for Defensive player of the year and leading the league in sacks, Watt and the defense carried the team to the playoffs. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t keep a consistent level of play during the season, which cost the team games.
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What Went Right
The defense lifted the mediocre offense and the team to the playoff with help from the Las Vegas Raiders, beating the Los Angeles Chargers in week 17, thrusting the Steelers into the playoffs to face off against the Chiefs. With a defensive player of the year, front runner Watt and the rest of the defense doing all they can to lift Roethlisberger and the offense week in and week out. With Mike Tomlin continuing his legendary run of not having a losing season and keeping the team afloat during the season. The Steelers weren’t supposed to be in the playoff at the begging of the season, but coaching and the defense did all they could, and the team found themselves in wild card weekend.
What Went Wrong
The Steelers had a few holes, which caused the team to struggle throughout the season, none of which was as bad as their offensive line. One of the worst offensive lines in the league couldn’t block for the young rookie Najee Harris or pass protect the aging Roethlisberger. As a result, the offensive line was putrid during the season and became a downfall for the team. With Roethlisberger on his last legs, having little to no protection when dropping back was a problem that the team couldn’t fix, and the offense never got to click because of it. In addition, Harris’s 1.7 yards rushing before contact was one of the lowest in the league for those who qualified, which speaks volumes on how foul the line play was.
Team Award Winners
MVP – T.J. Watt
This year, Watt was one of the most unstoppable forces. He is the front runner for Defensive Player of the Year and the league leader in sacks. The latter went on a season-long crusade against anyone who lined up before him, finishing the year with five forced fumbles, 41 total tackles, and tying the NFL sack record with 22.5 sacks. However, Watt’s season wasn’t all about the stats, as he was a vocal leader for the team and someone the team couldn’t win without. The Steelers had a positive record when Watt played over 60 percent of the snaps and a losing one when he didn’t. Showing his impact when he is on the field for the team.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Najee Harris
Harris’s rookie season was great for what he had to work with, running behind a horrible line and having the defense stack the box as they aren’t afraid of Roethlisberger’s deep shot. The entire offense relies on whether Harris can run the ball effectively or create a play from a quick pass game. Harris played 84 percent of the snaps and had 381 total touches for 1,667 total yards. With that kind of productivity behind the 26th ranked offensive line per Pro Football Focus. It’s safe to assume that he could have been in the upper echelon of running back for the season if he had an average line to block for him.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Tre Norwood
The Steelers mainly focused on using the first four round picks on offensive help, but that is not to say they didn’t take anyone on the other side of the ball. The Steelers took Norwood with the 245th pick, and from the indications of his rookie year, he will play a significant backup role next year. He played 33 percent of the total snaps for the black and gold this year. While he did allow 72.5 percent of targets thrown his way, he did play in 17 games and made a start in three of them. With another offseason under his belt, it’s not crazy to assume he could be an impact player in his sophomore year.
Biggest Surprise – Mike Tomlin
The Steelers were at plus 1400 to make the playoffs at the beginning of the season. With Tomlin coming off his 14th straight season of having a winning record, it was safe to say not many people believed it would continue after this year. However, with some help from the Los Angeles Chargers and outstanding coaching from his staff, Tomlin has extended his streak to 15 seasons and sealed it with a playoff berth. Trailing only Tom Landry with 21 seasons and Bill Belichick with 19 seasons puts Tomlin in rare air. His fingerprints have been all over the defense. With a defensive background, it was clear that Tomlin had his input on that side of the ball.
Biggest Disappointment – Chase Claypool
Claypool was supposed to be the next Steelers No.1 wide receiver. With J.J. Smith-Schuster getting sidelined from week five onwards, Claypool was supposed to take over. However, since Smith-Schuster only returned to the Steelers on a one-year contract this offseason, it’s safe to assume he will be moving on. This year, the Steelers used a trial run to see if Claypool could handle the load. He came up small. Playing in 15 games and starting only 13, in the 15 games, he caught 59 balls on 105 targets for 860 yards and two touchdowns, a worse showing than his rookie season by a small margin. With Claypool’s poor play, the Steelers very well could be forced to keep Smith-Schuster for another year or two to keep the receiving core afloat.
One Burning Question
What to do Post Big Ben?
With Roethlisberger waving goodbye to the black and gold faithful after 18 years in the league, the Steelers are in a tough spot having to replace him. The organization did a terrible job of planning for the future when they saw the signs of regression in his play, and Roethlisberger has been on the downside for the last four years. Not planning or preparing for the next stage has been a blunder on general manager Kevin Colbert’s side. With the team drafting likely around pick 20, they cannot draft a top quarterback in this draft. So, this begs the question, do the Steelers risk taking a quarterback in a weak class or wait for a higher selection in the future as a better option?
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images