3 Takeaways from Steelers' Week 17 Win
Though the 39-year-old has yet to officially announce that this season will be his last, he certainly sounded like a player riding on the verge of retirement after the game.
"This game was very special to me," Roethlisberger told reporters after the 26-14 victory. "I told them thank you, how much this place and they mean to me. ... I'm just so blessed to play this game for a long time."
The Miami (Ohio) product, who has spent all 18 of his NFL seasons in Pittsburgh after being drafted in the first round, got to go out a winner as the Steelers bullied the Cleveland Browns to keep their fading playoff hopes alive. While we don't know if Monday was indeed Roethlisberger's final game at Heinz Field, we do know that he will finish his career without experiencing a losing season.
Here's what else we learned during Pittsburgh's win in Week 17.
Najee Harris Finally Has His Breakout Game
The Pittsburgh Steelers used a first-round pick on former Alabama ball-carrier Najee Harris in April to boost their ground game. While Harris has had a couple of strong outings in his inaugural season, he's often been more valuable as an outlet receiver than a runner.
Coming into Monday night, Harris had only produced two 100-yard rushing games (he did have three games in the 90s) and had averaged less than four yards per carry—though he was on the cusp of a 1,000-yard campaign.
Harris exploded against Cleveland, though, hammering the Browns with physical inside and outside runs. He finished with 188 yards on the ground with a late 37-yard rushing touchdown. He also caught three passes for 18 yards.
This was the sort of performance Pittsburgh likely envisioned when it turned in Harris' draft card. It was reminiscent of vintage Steelers football, and it could serve as a glimpse of things to come—if Pittsburgh can continue retooling an offensive line that has been inconsistent this season.
Harris could become the new foundation of the Steelers offense. If he can consistently perform as he did Monday night, that won't be a bad place to start.
Pittsburgh Needs to Question Matt Canada's Philosophy
The 2021 regular season has been Matt Canada's first as the Steelers offensive coordinator. What we saw Monday has been what we've largely seen from his offense over the last 17 weeks: Unless the Steelers are down big in the second half, it's largely been a heavy dose of Harris and a lot of short, quick throws behind the sticks.
The quick passing game has helped the no-longer-mobile Roethlisberger get the ball out before seeing pressure. However, it has also created an offense that lacks explosive plays.
On Monday, Roethlisberger attempted a whopping 46 passes but finished with a mere 123 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
One could argue that he simply isn't capable of stretching the field as he once did, so the short throws are necessary. However, we've seen deep passes and explosive plays during comeback attempts against teams like the Minnesota Vikings and the Los Angeles Chargers.
The reality is that Canada's scheme has been extremely conservative early in games, which has made Pittsburgh's offense easy to defend. It mustered only 10 points in the first half and nine in the second for a five-point lead before Harris' breakaway run with less than a minute in regulation.
Perhaps things will change if and when Pittsburgh moves to a different and likely younger quarterback. However, the Steelers have to wonder if Canada's approach is the best way to take advantage of receiving weapons like Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and Pat Freiermuth.
T.J. Watt Is Likely Your 2021 Defensive Player of the Year
It's hard to imagine Steelers edge-rusher T.J. Watt not winning Defensive Player of the Year after Monday night's performance.
Watt came into the game needing five sacks to tie Michael Strahan's single-season sacks record. He got to Baker Mayfield four times, bringing his season total to 21.5 sacks. Watt, though insists that he isn't focused on making history.
"I'm not really looking at goals like that any more, just trying to be a game-wrecker," Watt said, per Mark Maske of the Washington Post.
Whether Watt gets the 1.5 sacks he needs next week against the Baltimore Ravens or not, he may have already secured the DPOY award. He leads the league in sacks and tackles for loss (20). He also has 59 tackles, four forced fumbles, six passes defended and 46 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Reference.
Watt could face competition from Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs, who has a league-high 11 interceptions. Such a prolific performance on a national stage this late in the season may have pushed Watt over the top.
The Steelers had an impressive nine sacks as a team Monday, and their bludgeoning of Mayfield will leave a lasting impression on award voters.