By Jeremy Hritz
Happy New Year, and Happy Monday Night Football, Steelers Nation! It’s a big day in Pittsburgh, as we await Ben Roethlisberger’s final performance at Heinz Field in what will be hopefully a celebratory evening, though at the same time sad and sorrowful. The signal caller who for 18 years we have watched lead this Steelers team to 3 Super Bowls, securing 2 wins, including one for the thumb, by all accounts and purposes, is hanging them up, and in 2022, a new era of Steelers football will begin. As you get your mind right for tonight’s game, here are my Steelers Study Notes for January 3.
- There’s nothing more I’d like to see than Big Ben go out in a blaze of glory, throwing for 500 yards and 5 touchdowns in a rout of the Cleveland Browns. With the offense as dreadful as it has been, and the defense as a sieve, it’s going to take this team’s best effort in years to make that happen. You’d think that every one of Ben’s teammates will be laying it all on the line for him, and so the effort and performance should be at an all-time high. If this is the case, coupled with a riled-up Heinz Field crowd, it could be a game to remember.
- The Cincinnati Bengals are your AFC North Champions, and rightly so. They have been the most consistent in probably the most inconsistent division in the NFL this season, and Joe Burrow is showing that he is an elite passer. As the Steelers formulate their long-term plan following the departure of Big Ben, they will have to account for how they will defend Burrow if they want to compete in the division for the next 10+ years.
- Playoffs? Well, mathematically the Steelers are still alive, though what they need to happen is a small miracle. Not only do they have to win their next two, they also need the Raiders vs. Chargers game next week to not end in a tie, and the Jaguars to defeat the Colts in Jacksonville. Seems like a snowball’s chance, but with this season, you never know.
- Not that it would matter anyway, because with the way the Steelers have been playing they’d get smacked in the first round.
- Najee Harris should break Franco Harris’ rookie rushing record tonight against the Browns. Najee should be proud of this feat, as he did it behind one of the worst offensive lines (and rushing schemes in football). Makes you think what this kid can do behind an average, or even good offensive line? I very much expect a major jump in performance from Harris in 2022.
- Speaking of 2022, in terms of what the Steelers need to target in the draft, right now, I see it as five positions: offensive line, defensive line, quarterback, middle linebacker, and cornerback. The reality is, they will not be able to get quality players at all of these positions in the draft, which will force them to be more active than usual this year in free agency. We know the organization struggles to draft cornerbacks, and so this position is best suited in free agency. Depending on where they pick, they should have an excellent selection available to them.
- What do you do in the situation that a supremely talented wide receiver falls to them at 15-18 in the first round? Even though it’s not a need, to you capitalize on the talent?
- What is Kenny Pickett is available? Do you not let him pass you by?
- I have read a lot of criticism of the Steelers for not selecting Creed Humphrey in the second round, and instead opting for Pat Freiermuth. Humphrey went 63rd, while the Steelers selected Freiermuth 55th. This is valid criticism, as the Steelers have a gaping need at center, but there also has to be acknowledgment of what Freiermuth has provided in his rookie season, and ultimately, they type of player he can become as he gets stronger and more knowledgeable of the game.
- One final thought… if the Steelers are eliminated from postseason contention before the Ravens game, does Ben not play, and does Mason Rudolph get the start? That would mean a loss to the Browns. But at that point, other than playing one final game in Baltimore, what does Ben stand to gain by playing? All the more reason to truly savor tonight’s contest against the Browns.
That is all for today! Let’s go Steelers!