Great win, and a confidence boost. On Mean Joe Greene’s day, the Steelers got fired up and were able to have a 3rd consecutive stellar performance. Not just on the scoreboard, but the way this game was played exposed a developing high-octane offense, and a somehow rejuvenated aggressive defense. Playing against what experts say is a quality defense, avoiding a season sweep by the Ravens (which could have given them the tiebreaker), and being able to stop their offense puts this team on the playoff radar again.
The Steelers have been performing better in recent weeks, and that could be accounted to several reasons: Bryant’s presence in the offense, being a threat and creating space for other receivers, Wheaton stepping up after a bad game he had, James Harrison gaining football form and creating pressure, Tuitt getting more playing time, Vince Williams playing instead of Spence, Cortez Allen being downgraded from starting CB, to 3rd CB and to the 4th one.
Get any of those reasons, and couple it with a more aggressive playcalling on both sides of the ball: An offense who is not afraid to throw and spread the ball to its several weapons, or a defense who can create consistent pressure. And that has created the opportunity to create turnovers and get scores after them: Kiesel interception, Gay’s pick-6, McCain’s fumble recovery. All of them, gamechangers.
Offense: Spread the football!
- Coach Haley understood that this was a hard-hitting game, which was much more suited for Blount than Bell (at least while running between the tackles), and pulled Bell from the running game early (who had his worst statistical game this season). Kudos for not insisting on the run, and understanding that, while the Ravens were looking for contact football, the better way to open up the defense was to spread the quality weapons and throw the ball to them.
- Wheaton and Bryant continue their talent display, and have gotten into a nice rhythm with their QB. Somehow unnoticed, not targeted, Heyward-Bey continues to stretch the field, along with Bryant: with both of them going on deep routes, Brown, Wheaton, our TEs and RBs get much more space on shorter routes. Both Bryant TDs were concentration displays, while Wheaton rushed past their fastest DB. As a receiver, having your QB’s confidence means a lot, and both kids are proving Ben right while throwing in their direction.
- Miller one week, Spaeth the next. While Miller enjoyed a great game against the Colts, Spaeth excelled at blocking all night (sometimes, against Suggs or Dumervil), and got rewarded with a couple of nice grabs: the 2 point conversion and his late TD.
- Antonio Brown plays in his own league. Putting fantasy numbers again, while grabbing his first receiving TD against the Ravens.
- The Offensive line gave up 3 sacks on consecutive snaps, and wasn’t able to open running lanes. On the Brightside: after those sacks occurred, pressure was well managed by them (with help from Bell/Blount and Miller / Spaeth) and allowed Ben to throw for more than 300 yards.
- … And then, there is Ben. Most notably, he has options, and confidence in them. Either it is a close throw for a short 3rd down conversion, a deep ball to one of his younger receivers, a pass in traffic for a 3rd and long, a quick toss to a tight end or putting air under the football for a cross pattern, Ben Roethlisberger has excelled the past couple of weeks. Being supported by a crowded bunch of pass-catchers (receivers, running backs, tight ends) is only accountable if your QB is able to read the defense and locate mismatches, while thrusting his receivers’ ability to go for the football. He’s on a record-breaking roll right now, and should be on his way to a ProBowl berth. After lobbying for getting a tall WR since Plaxico Burres left (yes, it sounds as if we were talking about the Paleolithic Age), he finally got Bryant and is making the most out of him, creating positive side-effects for the rest of the receivers he has.
Defense: And here comes the pressure, episode II. Creating pressure, constantly hitting opposing QBs has made them commit turnovers and force bad throws.
- Steelers’ front 7 was able to stop the run early (Ravens got only 63 rushing yards) and create pressure. If you’re looking for big stats, you won’t find what Heyward, Tuitt, Kiesel & McLendon did for this team: create pressure, close running lanes, hit the QB frequently and help LBs stop the run on critical situations. McCullers was deactivated, but could have been of help in this hard-hitting game, where bigger bodies usually are called on in short-down situations. Still, Tuitt needs to get more and more playing time as the season unfolds.
- While Timmons was, as usual, all over the place and got a sack, Harrison, Moats and Worilds stood up pretty well too: with JH collecting 2 sacks, Moats 1 sack and a forced fumble and Worilds an interception (wonder if he still complains about dropping into coverage too often). It’s not a coincidence that our Defense has been playing better lately: Harrison has gained momentum, and been a factor recently.
- Defensive backs were not exposed, and didn’t allow big plays after giving up the first TD.
- As a Cornerback, if your name isn’t called too often, it’s usually a good thing. And Gay wasn’t targeted often because he had close coverage of his receivers. Blake & McCain also had their moments (with an exception on McCain’s blown coverage on the Raven’s 1st TD).
- Benching Cortez Allen was a smart move, not giving Flacco a weak link who has been exposed recently. However, Cortez Allen should make his way back to the lineup with playing time the next 2 weeks.
- Polamalu was having a nice game creating pressure from blitzes. After he went down, Allen stepped up (and did a nice job), but LeBeau stopped calling Safety blitzes (understandable decision). While Allen had a good game, Shamarko Thomas should have been getting those reps (after all, he’s the future SS of this team). Mike Mitchell wasn’t targeted often, which could be seen as if he was in the right spot of his coverage.
- Coverage blew a couple: allowing a punt to be returned for 25 yards, and kickoff for a 108 yard – TD. This issue has to be fixed soon, since in a close game that ones could have proven costly. Suisham didn’t attempt a FG, and Brad Wing had a 51 yard punt. But what stood up for our Special Teams was an extra point attempt that featured a muffed snap that ended with Wing’s pass to Spaeth, getting 2 points. Also, after the last extra point Suisham and Wing were pretty fired up and involved into the brawl that was going on, which could be seen as part of the spirit this rivalry has, and expose what’s been happening to this team for the last 3 weeks: team unity.
Next 2 weeks: @NYJ (1-8), @TEN (2-6). Better not pull the trigger too early, and keep the pedal to the metal on these two games, prior to the Bye Week. Somehow, this team can make it 8-3 to its week 12 Bye, matching their W total from the last 2 seasons… after just 11 games.
- Suddenly, the Steelers are the 3rd team with most points scored this season in the NFL.
- Isn’t it great to see the other team commit the stupid penalties?
- Advice to Flacco: Next time you say you miss someone, be sure you’re not about to face him again soon.
- Advice to Flacco #2: Call Andrew Luck, he can give you the telephone number of the doctor who treated his exact same bruises last week.
- Suggs should have been ejected. He must be hearing from Goodell’s office soon. After his dirty play, penalties were flying all over the field, and he got that started. Hats off to the refs, because they were able to handle this game, which could have gotten out of their hands pretty easily.
- Wish I could get back my old Nintendo, and try those Brown moves on Tecmo Bowl (Madden is great, but will never be the same).
- Speaking about video games: How many of you can throw 6 TD passes in one game, for 2 weeks in a row?
- Was this what Ben envisioned while lobbying for a tall WR? That makes it 5 TDs in 3 games on passes from Ben to Bryant.
- Two close calls went our way Sunday (3rd down QB sneak, last TD), and Coach Harbaugh will probably say those costed him the game.
- Cortez Allen was not benched for lack of ability, nor lack of reps. He was benched because the lack of confidence in him, and that can only be regained with hard practice, and a couple of big plays when his number is called next time. Here’s hoping to see him rebound big after this slump.
- If Harrison, Moats and Worilds continue to perform, Jarvis Jones can take his time to return.
- If this team somehow wins 10+ games, Antonio Brown will be in MVP consideration (yes, I’ll repeat this weekly), and if this team makes the playoffs, his closest competition could be his QB.
- Can’t resist this one: Take a look at the Divisional standings. Last place: Baltimore Ravens.
By the Numbers:
3rd consecutive game where the Steelers score more than 20 points in the 2nd quarter.
12 TD Passes thrown by Roethlisberger the last 2 games, NFL Record.
15 teams have 12 or less TD passes so far this season.
25 Antonio Brown consecutive games with at least 5 receptions-50 yard games, NFL record & counting.
80 Penalties by the Steelers so far this season, leading the NFL.
124 Points scored by the Steelers the past 3 games, half of the Season total of 248.