Pittsburgh Steelers Week 15 Stock Report
The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14, 33-20, bringing their record to 8-5 on the season. With the postseason in their sights, wins are necessary to remain on track to earn a playoff berth.
Sunday's meeting with the Denver Broncos will be just as important as last week's against Cincinnati. So which Steelers are best suited to help the team toward a winning effort and who may struggle? Here is the Steelers' stock report for Week 15.
Stock Up: TE Heath Miller
Tight end Heath Miller has long been an integral part of the Steelers' passing offense, and that was certainly on display in Week 14 against the Bengals.
While Miller did not rack up the most yards for the team or the most targets, he did prove to be Ben Roethlisberger's most reliable receiver, catching all 10 passes thrown his way for 66 important, chains-moving yards.
Though the Steelers have one of the most explosive passing offenses in the league thanks to the big-play abilities of receivers Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, it is Miller who quietly and consistently keeps drives alive.
With Pittsburgh trying to make a late-season push to the playoffs, adding more Miller into the mix when defenses expect Brown or Bryant means the Steelers have additional ways to spread opponents thin. Miller may not be a touchdown-producer, but his role is a necessary one.
Stock Down: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
At the early part of the season, when Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant was serving a four-game suspension (and didn't return to the field until Week 6), fellow receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey became nearly as important to Pittsburgh's offense as he was on special teams.
But, since Week 5, he's seen a mere five passing targets with one lone, 21-yard catch coming in Week 13. Against the 49ers, Heyward-Bey played 17 offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (eight running routes, nine in run-blocking) but saw no passing targets. Roethlisberger threw passes to only five players in the game: Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, Bryant, Markus Wheaton and DeAngelo Williams.
Though he's not completely out of favor in Pittsburgh, given that he is dressing for games, Heyward-Bey's usefulness in the passing game has decreased to almost nil. Once needed, now not—it's a common occurrence in the NFL.
Stock Up: CB William Gay
Coming into Week 14, Steelers cornerback William Gay was ranked behind Ross Cockrell at the position, according to Pro Football Focus. But, because of one big play, that order is reversed, with Gay's stock literally on the rise—he went from 51st (out of 116) to 39th in a one-week span.
Why? Because Gay had a 23-yard pick-six of Bengals cornerback A.J. McCarron, who took the field early in the game in relief of starter Andy Dalton, who suffered a fractured thumb.
It was Gay's first interception of the season, and it led to a 23-7 lead after halftime that the Bengals could not overcome. It was inevitable to happen at some point, with only linebacker Lawrence Timmons playing more snaps than Gay on defense for Pittsburgh this year.
Quietly, Gay has been one of the Steelers' sole bright spots in the secondary. His Week 14 interception returned for a touchdown only made that more tangible.
Stock Down: Coverage, in General
In Week 13, Pittsburgh's pass coverage looked to be improving, having given up only 186 yards and a lone passing touchdown to the Indianapolis Colts. However, it took a step backward in Week 14, despite the Cincinnati Bengals being without starting quarterback Andy Dalton for most of the game.
The Steelers gave up 25 catches on 34 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns against Cincinnati. Cornerback Antwon Blake allowed five catches on seven targets for 117 yards and a touchdown, including a 66-yard grab by Bengals receiver A.J. Green. Fellow corner Brandon Boykin allowed four catches on four targets, safety Will Allen allowed two catches on three targets, and while safety Robert Golden had an interception, he also gave up a touchdown.
Ultimately, the Steelers allowed 132 receiving yards to Green and four receptions of 20 or more yards. Pittsburgh's pass coverage remains inconsistent and needs to improve—and stay that way—in order to best the Denver Broncos Sunday.
Stock Up: RB DeAngelo Williams
Every week it seems like Steelers running back DeAngelo Williams' stock continues to climb. Though he didn't crack 100 rushing yards against the Bengals, his contributions directly led to a Pittsburgh victory.
Williams rushed 23 times for 76 yards and two touchdowns—the team's only offensive scores—as well as caught two passes for another 15 yards. The performance brings him to 773 rushing yards and eight scores on 164 carries this season; he also has 27 receptions for 271 yards.
Without Williams' two one-yard scores, the outcome of Week 14's game—and the Steelers' current playoff hopes—could be drastically different. And without him on the roster, in general, who knows where Pittsburgh's run game would be after losing Le'Veon Bell to a season-ending knee injury in Week 8.
Williams has been crucial to the Steelers all season long, and his Week 14 performance is just the latest example.
Advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus.