3Rivers’ Takeaways: Steelers positives from wild card game with Chiefs

Christina Rivers (3Rivers_Writer on Twitter) offers her Pittsburgh Steelers post-game takeaways, both positive and negative, as Steel City Underground extends its coverage of the Steelers’ on-field performances throughout the 2021-22 NFL regular season.

In my last “3Rivers’ Takeaways” article of the 2021-22 NFL regular season, I felt it was appropriate to talk about the positives seen from the Pittsburgh Steelers despite their NFL Wild Card loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night.

Although there will be months of discussion throughout what may be a highly transitional off-season, and heated debate over what the Steelers organization “must” do, or “should do”, there certainly won’t be a consensus.

The loss to the Chiefs, at least, highlighted some positives that Pittsburgh can build off of in the upcoming 2022-23 NFL season.

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Watt should be the NFL’s defensive player of the year

After the deal the Steelers made with outside linebacker T.J. Watt, there were still detractors who felt they’d given him too generous of a deal. Having seen Watt’s output, however, any negative talk is ridiculous, at best.

Regardless of the time Watt missed due to injury this season, he put an exclamation point on this period of his career. As the all-time franchise sack leader and his tie with Michael Strahan as the all-time NFL sack leader, Watt could have played conservatively against the Chiefs, but he didn’t.

Instead, Watt earned his first career touchdown on a fumble partially caused by his teammates’ zeroing in on a flubbed wildcat-type snap that went awry. His slide into the end zone will be a highlight Steelers fans will long remember.

Watt also batted a ball into the air for Devin Bush to intercept and earned a sack against Patrick Mahomes along with three quarterback hits, and two tackles for a loss.

“I’m very proud to be a part of this team… the grittiness we’ve been able to show in this locker room. We’ve never given up.” – T.J. Watt

If Watt isn’t the NFL “DPOY”, it will be a cryin’ shame – a travesty, really – as he showed a near-constant ability to disrupt opponents throughout the season while showing real leadership among all Steelers defenders. Not many NFL defenders can honestly be compared to Watt performance wise this season. And that isn’t just a “homer” take.

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Future leadership safe in Heyward’s hands

In Ben Roethlisberger‘s post game statements, he alluded to the fact that the torch of veteran leadership should be passed to Cam Heyward.

“I gave Cam a big hug in there and told him it’s on him now.” Roethlisberger on continuing to keep the Steelers’ standard and traditions

Heyward was focused all season; it was arguably his best career NFL performance. On the season, Heyward logged his second career interception, nine pass defenses (career high), one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, ten sacks (career high is 12.0), 89 tackles (career high, with a career high 53 solo tackles), 15 tackles for a loss, and 17 quarterback hits.

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Added personnel that could be building blocks

We didn’t get to cheer Stephon Tuitt or Tyson Alualu in Sunday’s game, but there were a few guys the Steelers added to their roster that could be retained and turn into solid building blocks for Pittsburgh.

Two players on defense include Ahkello Witherspoon and Montravius Adams.

On offense, there’s still a possibility that JuJu Smith-Schuster could be negotiated with while Ray-Ray McCloud outplayed James Washington this season in many ways.

The Steelers have always heavily evaluated talent, despite what many fans believe and debate on social media. Pittsburgh hasn’t always gotten the return they wanted, but they now have the opportunity to additionally look at players from the wild card playoff game and whether those players have the moxie to step up in big games.

Changes on offense are inevitable after a disappointing season, but the offensive line found a new level of consistency in the Steelers’ last few games, including the playoffs. That should be viewed as encouraging even if it remains a major area of focus this upcoming off-season.

There’s no doubt that rookies Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth were draft darlings for the Steelers this season. That duo has strong indicators as to areas Pittsburgh could build around offensively. They didn’t back down against the Chiefs despite being in their first playoff game in the NFL. That is a positive that can’t be ignored or overlooked.

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