3 Takeaways from Steelers' Week 8 Win
Early in the 2021 season, it appeared that the Pittsburgh Steelers could be headed for disaster. An opening-week win over the Buffalo Bills was quickly overshadowed by a three-game losing streak that led to a spot in the AFC North basement.
However, the Steelers have climbed out of the proverbial hole, winning three straight to move above .500 for the first time since Week 1. On Sunday, they survived some inconsistent offense, the loss of kicker Chris Boswell and some late life from the rival Cleveland Browns to notch a 15-10 victory.
Pittsburgh is nothing if not resilient.
The Steelers also proved that counting them out of the playoff mix at 1-3 was a mistake. Here's what else we learned during Pittsburgh's big Week 8 win.
The Steelers Are Still Relevant in the AFC North
The Steelers won the AFC North last season, though that feels like a lifetime ago. Pittsburgh collapsed late in the year, got embarrassed by the Browns in the Wild Card Round and slogged their way to a 1-3 record to start the season.
But counting out Pittsburgh was always a mistake. Yes, the Steelers are still looking up at the 5-3 Cincinnati Bengals and the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens, but they are proving that they have the will to win tough games.
The Steelers are far from perfect. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is no longer the gunslinger he once was, and finding offense can be a challenge—Pittsburgh ranks 24th in total offense and 26th in scoring. However, Pittsburgh does feature a top-tier defense (seventh in points allowed), a battle-tested signal-caller and head coach and the gritty been-here-before attitude of a playoff contender.
Pittsburgh is 1-1 in the division with winnable games against the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions on the horizon. The Steelers could be 6-4 or even 7-3 when they take on Cincinnati in a Week 12 rematch.
The Steelers will need help, but it's not a pipe dream to think that they still have a shot at winning the division.
The Offensive Line Is Beginning to Take Shape
Pittsburgh's new-look offensive line is a work in progress. However, Sunday's game may have been a turning point for a unit that lost longtime center Maurkice Pouncey and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva in the offseason.
Roethlisberger regularly had time in the pocket and was only sacked twice—he finished with 266 passing yards and a touchdown. While the running game wasn't consistently great, Pittsburgh racked up 115 rushing yards against a solid Cleveland run defense.
The Browns rank third in run defense and second in yards per carry allowed.
Most importantly, when the Steelers needed to put away the game late, the offensive line held up. Najee Harris—who finished with 91 rushing yards and a touchdown—wore down the Browns defense, and Roethlisberger delivered a critical final-drive completion to Diontae Johnson that helped seal the result.
Johnson took the pass 50 yards, allowing Pittsburgh to ice the game. Overall, it was a tremendous outing for a line that imposed its will on the suddenly fading Browns.
Pat Freiermuth Is Becoming an Offensive Staple
Back in the spring, the Steelers used a second-round pick on former Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth. While the rookie was only an occasional contributor early in the season, he has emerged as a vital piece of the passing attack over the past two games.
In Week 6, Freiermuth was targeted seven times and caught all seven passes for 58 yards. Against the Browns, he only caught four of seven targets but came up with a critical fourth-quarter touchdown on 4th-and-goal.
That score put the Steelers ahead for good. Freiermuth finished with 44 receiving yards and the go-ahead touchdown.
Freiermuth's emergence is huge for the Steelers. While Pittsburgh has weapons like Harris, Johnson and James Washington, it has also lost star wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster for the season to a shoulder injury.
The rookie tight end came up big when the Steelers needed him most Sunday. Expect Pittsburgh to rely on Freiermuth a lot more over the final 10 weeks of the season.
Advanced statistics from Pro Football Reference.