Week 16 was an opportunity for the Pittsburgh Steelers to shake off last week’s defeat to the New England Patriots. This would be no easy task, but there was still work to be done. New England took care of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, so Pittsburgh could not take control of the number one seed. But after a Jacksonville Jaguars loss on Sunday, Pittsburgh had the chance to clinch a first round bye with a win. Pittsburgh did just that, as they easily defeated the Houston Texans 34-6 on Christmas day. Pittsburgh won handily with a stout defensive effort and offensive efficiency.
Week 16 Pittsburgh Steelers Takeaways
The pass defense was the difference maker for Pittsburgh on Monday. Houston’s offense does not look the same without Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Houston was also without their second string quarterback Tom Savage. However, Pittsburgh still had to show up against third string quarterback T.J. Yates, and they did. Pittsburgh’s defense gave up just 93 yards through the air, a large improvement from last week.
Haden Shines in Return
This can be largely attributed to the play of cornerback Joe Haden. Haden was making his return to the field after missing five weeks with a fractured fibula. As the Steelers best cornerback, Haden was given the task of covering Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has become one of the best receivers in the league over his five year career. Haden was up to the task, and held the star receiver without a catch up to the very end of quarter three. Haden’s return helps the Pittsburgh secondary immensely, and bolsters the defense as a whole.
Hilton Continues Success
Another bright spot in Pittsburgh’s secondary this season has been Mike Hilton. Hilton has displayed himself as one of Pittsburgh’s best tacklers in the secondary. He has also shown himself to be the only one worthy of running Keith Butler’s corner blitz. Hilton had more success with the blitz this week, picking up three sacks. Hilton has had a rather successful season, considering it is only his second year in the league after going undrafted. Both Hilton and Haden have been much needed difference-makers in the Steelers secondary, helping elevate them as a defensive unit.
Offense Efficient in Win
While the offense did not put up large numbers, they did score 34 points by being efficient. Ben Roethlisberger threw only 29 times, but completed 20 of his passes. The run game did not rely too heavily on Le’Veon Bell. Bell got a few breaks while recently acquired Stevan Ridley carried the ball nine times. Ridley was added to replace the injured James Conner, but saw more snaps than Conner typically does. JuJu Smith-Schuster had a good game, stepping up in the absence of Antonio Brown. Smith-Schuster caught six passes for 75 yards and a touchdown.
Next week, the Steelers will close out the 2017 regular season as they host the winless Cleveland Browns. Pittsburgh can move into the number one seed in the AFC playoffs with a win and a Patriots loss to the New York Jets. With a win, Pittsburgh will finish the season 13-3, far good enough to finish first in the AFC North. Pittsburgh will also finish the season undefeated in AFC North play if they win on Sunday.