Sundays 27-24 season ending win over Cleveland, the Steelers seventh staight, provided important answers to questions about depth as they head into the postseason. Despite Mike Tomlin’s decision to rest several key starters on both sides of the ball, he still expected his team to win, because as he said afterwards, “Football may be our game, but winning is our business”. Tomlin has a succinct way of putting his beliefs into words, just as he places his belief in the backups that he sent out to do battle against the Browns. He consistently preaches “The standard is the standard”, that the “next man up” mentality will determine the Steelers success. Mike Tomlin also readily admits that it’s the players belief in what he preaches that makes his message successful.
With Ben Roethlisberger, LeVeon Bell, Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncey, James Harrison, and Stephon Tuitt all sitting out the season finale, it was up to guys like Landry Jones, DeAngelo Williams, Cobi Hamilton, Jarvis Jones, BJ Finney, and Daniel McCullers to pick up the slack. After a slow start, falling behind 14-0, these guys helped the Steelers to come back with a vengeance, outscoring the Browns 27-10 the rest of the way. Here’s a look at each of their contributions.
In a lot of NFL cities, the most popular player on the roster is often the backup quarterback, which is certainly not the case in Pittsburgh, where the starter is future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger. There are very few starters in the NFL who are comparable to Big Ben, and the most unenviable position to be in, would have to be the guy who has to replace him for any length of time, for whatever reason. Currently that guy is Landry Jones, who has been harshly criticized for his inability to play like Ben Roethlisberger. On Sunday, after a rough start, Jones put up a Roethlisberger type of performance with 3 touchdown passes and a 103 quarterback rating, while surrounded by other backups at the skill positions. His numbers numbers show better play than he is given credit for, and he has the temperment to handle the pressure of postseason duty should the need arise.
Cobi Hamilton was signed to the Steelers practice squad on August 5, 2016. They liked his combination of size and speed, and as it turned out, they would have a need for both after losing both Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton to injuries. Hamilton caught a touchdown pass in his first start/game against the Dolphins, and has been making clutch grabs all season. Against the Browns, Hamilton caught three more passes for 54 yards including the game winning touchdown in overtime, proving he can be a relied upon option.
Demarcus Ayers is one of three young wide receivers who have helped bolster the position in recent weeks. Making his NFL debut on Christmas against the Ravens, Ayers had 5 receptions for 44 yards against the Browns, including his first NFL touchdown that gave the Steelers the lead late in the fourth quarter. Similar in statue and speed to Emmanuel Sanders, Demarcus Ayers has the look of being another big play target for Ben Roethlisberger in the postseason.
With Cam Heyward lost to IR for the season, and Stephon Tuitt sitting out the season finale against the Browns, Dan McCullers got an opportunity to show what he could do this past Sunday. With 5 tackles and a sack, playing mostly the 3 technique, McCullers proved to have a formidable presence. On his sack of RGIII, McCullers devoured the center and was all over Griffith III before he knew what was happening. Daniel McCullers has more tackles (9) in the last three games than he had in the first nine (8), which bodes well for the defense in the playoffs.
unashamedly, I am a Jarvis Jones guy, and was extremely satisfied with the game he put together on Sunday. With 3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, and a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage, Jones displayed the potential that he still has. While he’s been labled a bust and is not a favorite among fans, Jarvis Jones has done what’s been asked of him and is known quantity. He has the talent to make big plays and just might have a few in him if called upon during the playoffs.
Every Super Bowl team in history had it’s share of stars, sure, but what made them chamoions was having quality depth behind and around them. The Steelers seemingly have much better depth on the roster now than they had at the beginning of the season. In addition to those named above, players like L.T. Walton and the hustle of players like Darius Heyward-Bey have the ability to turn games around. It may be the presence of the Killer B’s that make the Steelers the most dangerous team in the postseason, but it’s their newly found depth that can make them Super Bowl champions for the seventh time.