The Pittsburgh Steelers improved to 7-5 on Sunday following a pivotal 20-13 win over the Cleveland Browns. With the victory, the Steelers are in a very good place after Week 13. They’re at the moment projected to be the sixth seed within the AFC, and with a pair extra wins, the Steelers can lock down a playoff spot

That’s been fairly the turnaround from the place they had been two months in the past. The season obtained off to a rocky begin, as Pittsburgh went 2-Four earlier than heading into its bye week.

However what’s extra spectacular is how Pittsburgh has been capable of win — each in back-to-back weeks and all through the season — given its circumstances. A lot of the credit score for that ought to go to move coach Mike Tomlin, who’s managed to maintain his staff targeted and motivated regardless of a whole lot of ups and downs.

It’s been an eventful season for the Steelers, to say the least.

Within the offseason, the Steelers lower ties with two of their greatest offensive gamers, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. For the reason that season began, Pittsburgh has had its justifiable share of setbacks. The primary large blow got here throughout Week 2, when franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down with a season-ending elbow harm.

Roethlisberger’s backup, second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph, hadn’t performed within the common season earlier than his Week 2 debut. Rudolph then missed the Steelers’ Week 6 recreation towards the Chargers, however his backup, undrafted free agent signee Devlin Hodges (who you’ll be listening to about once more), was capable of get a 24-17 win rather than Rudolph.

Since that recreation, the Steelers have misplaced the next gamers as a result of both harm or suspension:

  • beginning defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, positioned on injured reserve in Week 7
  • beginning working again James Conner, missed 4 of the final 5 video games with a shoulder harm
  • beginning wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster, injured since a Week 11 loss to the Browns
  • beginning middle Maurkice Pouncey, suspended two video games throughout Weeks 12 and 13 for involvement in on-field struggle vs. the Browns

The Steelers’ solely loss of their final seven video games got here to the Browns on Nov. 14. Though that recreation was overshadowed by the struggle between Rudolph and Browns go rusher Myles Garrett, it additionally shined a lightweight on what wasn’t working for them: Rudolph at QB.

The Steelers switching from Rudolph to Hodges has given the offense extra of a pulse.

The Steelers had been profitable video games regardless of, not due to R,udolph. In his final 5 begins, Rudolph threw seven picks and had one other three fumbles.

Tomlin made the choice to bench Rudolph for Hodges throughout Pittsburgh’s recreation towards the Bengals in Week 12. The Steelers got here again to win after which Hodges was named the starter within the rematch with the Browns. Tomlin’s reasoning was easy, but unbelievable:

Within the final two video games, Hodges has thrown for 330 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and has a passer score of 102.3. These numbers aren’t extraordinary, however he’s led an offense coping with a whole lot of accidents to some much-needed manufacturing — and he’s conserving the errors at a minimal. He’s now 2-Zero because the starter, which is a uncommon feat even with Pittsburgh’s historical past of QBs:

Hodges has additionally proven good chemistry with receiver James Washington, which has helped the second-year receiver lastly put all of it collectively.

With Rudolph, Washington’s greatest recreation was towards the Rams in Week 10, when he had six catches for 90 yards and a landing. Within the final two video games with Hodges as his foremost quarterback, Washington has had 209 yards and two touchdowns on 11 targets, together with a career-high 111 yards towards Cleveland Sunday. He already has 578 receiving yards and three touchdowns on the season — greater than doubling his numbers as a rookie.

The Steelers are getting again to their defensive roots.

Pittsburgh’s protection is admittedly the guts and soul of this staff, and is a big motive for its success within the second half of the season.

The unit is fifth within the league in yards per play allowed, seventh in passing protection, and seventh in scoring protection. It’s scored three touchdowns this season, too.

The protection’s efforts have been the driving power behind the Steelers’ shut wins. Their final 4 wins have been determined by seven factors or fewer. In Pittsburgh’s final three video games, the Steelers are permitting simply 4.Three factors per recreation within the second half, a determine that’s second within the NFL.

Linebacker T.J. Watt and security Minkah Fitzpatrick have been brilliant spots on this unit. Watt leads the AFC with 12.5 sacks, and he’s on the high of the convention with 27 quarterback hits and 5 pressured fumbles. Fitzpatrick, who the Steelers traded for in early September, has 54 whole tackles and 5 interceptions, tied for probably the most within the NFL.

Regardless of the robust performances from Fitzpatrick and Watt, it’s been a gaggle effort on protection. With out their staunch protection, the Steelers doubtless wouldn’t be in playoff dialog in any respect.

Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes stay alive, regardless of its gradual begin initially of the season.

The Steelers will probably be trying to keep away from the identical letdown they suffered final December. At the moment a yr in the past, Pittsburgh was 7-4-1, however the Steelers misplaced to the Raiders and Saints to complete 9-6-1 and get overlooked of the postseason.

Proper now, the most important risk to Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes is a surging Titans staff. Tennessee has gone 5-1 over the past six weeks, and can also be 7-5. The excellent news for the Steelers is that they at the moment maintain the convention report tiebreaker by a recreation. The unhealthy information is the Titans could make up that distinction subsequent week by beating the Raiders in an AFC matchup (the Steelers play an NFC opponent, the Cardinals).

It’s not simply the Titans the Steelers must fend off, both. The Colts and Raiders are shut behind, too. Right here’s a have a look at the present AFC playoff standings:


1. Ravens (10-2)

2. Patriots (10-2)

3. Texans (8-4)

4. Chiefs (8-4)

5. Payments (9-3)

6. Steelers (7-5)

Within the hunt: Titans (7-5), Raiders (6-6), Colts (6-6), Browns (5-7)

The Steelers have video games remaining towards the Cardinals, Payments, Jets, and Ravens. Whereas Pittsburgh most likely gained’t go Baltimore within the AFC North, if it could actually win simply two of these video games, that might get the staff to 9 wins and is perhaps sufficient for a wild card slot.

The Steelers have a a lot simpler highway than Tennessee, which has video games remaining towards the Raiders, Texans, Saints, and Texans once more. The Colts and Raiders would possibly have the ability to sneak in as effectively, although the Steelers have a 26-24 win over Indianapolis from Week 9 that would assist them there.

The league’s divisions are fairly top-heavy this season, with 4 10-2 groups within the playoff combine already. Pittsburgh won’t be a whole sufficient staff to create some chaos within the postseason, however then once more, this yr may very well be ripe for unpredictable outcomes.

It doesn’t matter what, the Steelers rallying to succeed in playoff rivalry after a 1-Four begin was sudden, and you need to tip your cap to Tomlin and his staff for the resilience they’ve proven this season.

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