Updated: Nov 14, 2020
(Photo by Ronald Martinz/Getty Images)
The Pittsburgh Steelers are sitting atop the AFC at the halfway point of the NFL season, achieving their first 8-0 start in franchise history. The contests haven’t all been glamorous, but they continue to find ways to win games in different ways. Whether it be the timely defensive turnovers and stops we saw in Baltimore or the electric offensive performance we saw against Philadelphia, these Steelers are for real. In this article, we are going to dive into a few of the driving forces behind the Steelers' first-half success, as well as what to expect from them the rest of the way.
MVP: QB Ben Roethlisberger
Runner Up: LB T.J Watt
To start things off, we look no further than the man running the offense. Coming into the 2020 season, there were many doubts about Roethlisberger’s effectiveness after a career-threatening elbow surgery a year prior. However, the future Hall of Famer has been able to put those doubts to rest as he has returned as strong as ever. He may not be the risk-taking, deep shot throwing quarterback we remember, but he hasn’t had to be. He instead is playing like an NBA point guard this year, simply handling the ball and distributing it to his playmakers. GM Kevin Colbert has done an outstanding job surrounding his QB with playmakers who are explosive after receiving the rock, and Roethlisberger had adapted his style of play to maximize their talents. Roethlisberger has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards so far, has thrown 18 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. Roethlisberger will look to do more of the same in the second half of the season as it has clearly been a road to victory. He doesn’t have to be the 2018 player who eclipsed 5,000 yards for this team to keep stacking wins. In fact, he is on pace to finish this year with his career-best QBR with it standing at 68.1.
Offensive Player of the Year: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
Runner Up: WR Chase Claypool
I gave the edge to Smith-Schuster over rookie Chase Claypool as the veteran receiver has been Roethlisberger’s go to on a lot of crucial third downs this year. Smith-Schuster has brought in 45 of Roethlisberger’s passes already and has found the endzone 4 times. Just as important, JuJu has taken care of the ball as he has not fumbled it all year. His 439 receiving yards are just 5 shy of Claypool who leads the team, but he has 14 more catches than his young counterpart. Fans have often found themselves asking where Smith-Schuster has been this year, but the answer is clear. He is on the field bringing in passes, picking up crucial first downs, and scoring in important times. He is still the Steelers number one WR and is still the guy opposing teams have to fear the most.
Defensive Player of the Year: LB T.J Watt
Runner Up: DE Stephon Tuitt
An obvious answer here for the Steelers’ first half DPOY, as Watt is among the favorites to win the league’s DPOY honors as well. Watt’s importance to this defense cannot be understated, nor taken for granted. Watt ranks 4th in the league in sacks as he has notched 7 through 8 games. He also has tacked on 26 tackles and an interception to his resume thus far. However, what the stat sheet doesn’t show is his game-wrecking ability. Watt leads the league in QB hits and QB hurries, and his 14 tackles for loss are second only to teammate Vince Williams’ 15. This does not come as any sort of shock as we have grown accustomed to this kind of production from the OLB, but it is never wrong to recognize greatness when you see it. It hasn’t just been Watt making plays on the Steelers' defense. Teammates such as DE Stephon Tuitt, LB Bud Dupree, LB Vince Williams and S Minkah Fitzpatrick have all played at a Pro Bowl level, but T.J is undoubtedly the most feared man on that side of the ball.
Rookie of the Year: WR Chase Claypool
Runner Up: LB Alex Highsmith
For not having a first-round pick, the Steelers 2020 draft class is sure looking strong. LB Alex Highsmith has turned it on the past few games and G Kevin Dotson has shown signs of becoming a future star when his name has been called. With that being said, the Steelers' first selection in the draft at 49th overall was certainly the best. WR Chase Claypool has been dominant through his first 8 games as a pro, catching 31 passes for 444 yards and 5 receiving touchdowns. In Week 1 he proved himself early with an amazing toe-tapping catch along the sideline between two Giants' defenders, and in Week 2 he recorded an 84-yard catch and run to torch the Broncos' secondary. The rest has been history as Claypool continues to produce week in week out. He is a matchup nightmare for every opposing defense and has taken a lot of pressure off of fellow WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. While the stats are dispersed rather evenly throughout the Steelers' offense, Claypool’s raw talent and ability make him one of the scariest receiving threats in the league. In just 8 games we have already been able to tell that he will be something special.
Comeback Player of the Year: DE Stephon Tuitt
Runner up: QB Ben Roethlisberger
For this award, I decided to stray away from writing another Roethlisberger blurb as we already have highlighted what he has done thus far. Instead, I opted to highlight another player coming off of a 2019 season lost to injury. In 2019, DE Stephon Tuitt was only able to play 6 games due to a season-ending pectoral injury. He has been a staple on the Pittsburgh defensive line for years now, and he has not missed a beat since returning for the 2020 season. He is one sack shy of Watt for the team lead and has tallied 29 tackles and a forced fumble through 8 games. Just as well, he is tied for 10th in the league with 9 tackles for loss and 2nd in the league in QB hits. Tuitt’s impact has been an integral factor in the success of the Pittsburgh defense, and that should not change as the season progresses.