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Derrick’s Dudes & Duds: Johnson Shines, Peterson Struggles (+)



Pittsburgh Steelers WR Diontae Johnson and CB Patrick Peterson

The Pittsburgh Steelers dug themselves a giant hole that they ultimately could not climb out of, as they fell to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round. There was serious concern all week about what the playing conditions would be but the weather wasn’t a monumental factor in the outcome as previously assumed. Pittsburgh made it interesting by fighting back after getting knocked down to the mat, but it was crystal clear that Buffalo is the more talented team and one that is still considerably ahead of them on the NFL pecking order. Here’s the final list of winners and losers for the 2023 season finale.

Dude- Diontae Johnson

Johnson did some damage in the red zone, scoring a touchdown and drawing a pass interference penalty for another first down. He would have had a multi-touchdown game if Mason Rudolph hit him on his outside shoulder on a play that was ultimately intercepted in the first half. Even beyond that, Johnson fought for extra yards after the catch, including converting huge 3rd and 7 which set up another touchdown a few plays later. The Bills didn’t have much of an answer for him so it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t even more involved.

Dude- Alex Highsmith

Yet again, Highsmith’s effect on the game isn’t able to be truly captured by the box score. He did get home on a sack on the opening drive of the second half, forcing a three and out. But it was really obvious when watching live that he was dominating Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins in passing situations. He won outside, with speed to power and even hit a nasty spin for a quick pressure that forced a high throw from Josh Allen. He created havoc and additional opportunities for his teammates which has really been a consistent theme of his season even if the sack numbers dropped in 2023. There should be some positive sack regression next season.

Dude- Montravius Adams

While he wasn’t noticeable on defense when watching live, there’s no doubt that Adams made one of the biggest plays of the game. His blocked field goal near the end of the first half helped set the Steelers offense up with excellent field positon, leading to their first touchdown of the day. Pittsburgh went on a 17-3 run following that momentum swing, so he deserves credit for helping swing the tide.

Dud- Patrick Peterson

With Minkah Fitzpatrick and Damontae Kazee back in the lineup, Peterson shifted back to his cornerback post, but this was a performance to forget about. He gave up a couple of catches, most notably a 34-yard catch and run on a play where he missed a tackle underneath. That was a theme of the day which ultimately raises a lot of questions about his role within this defense moving into 2024. With his athleticism waning, a move to safety might be beneficial but his struggles as a tackler make that transition a bit more of an uphill climb, especially considering his potential cap hit.

Dud- Myles Jack

The Steelers ended up losing the war of attrition when it came to their inside linebackers this season, meaning they were back to relying on Myles Jack in a pivotal game. His limitations were clearly on display today, with him getting toasted down the middle by Dalton Kincaid for a 29-yard touchdown. Later in the fourth quarter, he was flagged for holding and picked up a questionable unnecessary roughness penalty on a sliding Allen. Pittsburgh just ran out of options in the middle.

Dud- Pressley Harvin III

There’s not much to be said about Harvin’s play that hasn’t been said for the last several years. After another sub-40 yards per punt afternoon, it was again obvious that Pittsburgh was at a disadvantage in the punting department. There’s something to be said for some of the impressive holds that he’s had this season, but they just cannot continue to lose the field position battle due to poor punter play. This needs to be addressed in the offseason.

Dud- Keys to the Game

Heading into the weekend, it was obvious that the Steelers have a slim shot to come away victorious, but a few things had to happen: they needed to run the ball more effectively than the Bills and they needed to win the turnover battle. They did neither. The Bills did whatever they wanted to on the ground, finishing the day with 179 yards rushing and a whopping 52% success rate. The Steelers defense struggled to tackle all day long, with perhaps the most embarrassing evidence coming on Allen’s 52-yard TD run that featured some questionable effort from multiple defenders. On the flip side, the Steelers didn’t run the ball effectively on early downs which proved costly as they bottled up Najee Harris all afternoon. This was supposed to be an advantage coming in, but the results were lopsided.

It didn’t take long for the Steelers to shoot themselves in the foot today, with George Pickens fumbling in the first quarter to set up a Josh Allen touchdown strike on the very next play. Turning the ball early in playoff games has been a consistent theme of losses in the Mike Tomlin era. As mentioned above, Mason Rudolph left a thrown inside which was picked off in the end zone. Josh Allen came into the day leading the NFL in turnovers, but the Steelers defense wasn’t able to generate a single one. As evidenced all season long, this team just doesn’t win games when they lose the turnover battle and that was true again today.