The Pittsburgh Steelers might not have much to play for this season, but they were able to string together an encouraging team effort late in the season.
Defeating a 5-8 Carolina Panthers team seems like it should be a walk in the park (and for many teams it is). However, the Pittsburgh Steelers were also a 5-8 football team that struggled all season, NFL experts figured this would be a challenge.
Surprisingly, the Steelers were road underdogs this week against Carolina. While the Panthers were just one game back from their division lead in the NFC South, the Steelers did weren’t about to let themselves get embarrassed for the second week in a row.
Many fans might not be thrilled with the final outcome of the game in a lost season with playoff hopes out of reach, but there were at least a few encouraging signs in Week 15. Here are my biggest takeaways from Steelers vs Panthers on Sunday:
Mitch Trubisky was more than compitnant
Many fans were furious with Mitch Trubisky following his Week 14 performance against the Baltimore Ravens. His poor decision-making led to 3 interceptions and not only cost Pittsburgh the game, but also a shot at the playoffs.
Though that type of collapse in a critical situation is hard to rectify, Trubisky proved to be more than competent this week against the Panthers. On 22 attempts, Trubisky completed 17 passes for 179 yards. His 8.1 yards per attempt was impressive and his 100.4 passer rating was by the best he has had in any of his 6 starts this season, via ESPN stats.
Steelers defensive line was out to prove a point
After getting bullied against the Ravens offensive line last week, it looked like Pittsburgh’s defensive line was out to prove a point this week. This entire unit was on fire as T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, and Alex Highsmith each met Sam Darnold for a sack.
Meanwhile, the rushing defense was stronger than we could have expected. Despite allowing 215 rushing yards to Baltimore, Pittsburgh surrendered a mere 21 yards on 16 carries to the Panthers this week (1.3 yards per attempt).
Diontae Johnson (mostly) redeemed himself
Fans have been very hard on Diontae Johnson this season, and rightfully so. While his target quality hasn’t been outstanding, he has been inconsistent at the catch point and poor with the ball in his hands. That changed against the Panthers in Week 15.
Remarkably, Johnson caught all 10 of his targets for 98 yards in this contest — including a couple of big third-down conversions. This led to an efficient passing game and helped Pittsburgh maintain the lead through this contest. My only beef with Johnson from this game was a bone-headed taunting penalty late in the game that essentially negated a great play.
Steelers have some tough decisions to make with free agents
It was hard not to have the future in mind while watching this game. Though the Steelers worsened their draft position with this win, it was encouraging to see some players put up terrific performances. Larry Ogunjobi had several big run stops, while Terrell Edmunds made his presence felt all over the field.
The problem is that both of these key contributors will be free agents following the 2022 season, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have some big decisions when it comes to whether or not to bring them back in 2023 and beyond.