The Steelers really were a different team yesterday, huh? One week ago they struggled to block anyone and Ben Roethlisberger was getting hit every other play and this week he only got hit two times and the Steelers put 38 points on the board? Which team is the real Pittsburgh Steelers? Hopefully it was this team and if it is then it would be a bad idea to give up on the season like so many wanted to last week.
There was a lot of good things that happened in the game and still some bad things but the good far outnumbered the bad as you might expect in a 38-17 win. Here are some quick notes I took from the game as I watched it on my computer screen from a golf course in Illinois. No, for real, that’s how I had to watch the game as I worked on Sunday.
-A lot was made about how Max Starks was back on the team and some didn’t think he would play. Actually he wasn’t even announced as a starter on the media sheet in the press box and then right before the game it was announced that he was going to start. Max actually played a good game and was one of the guys on the line that actually kept Ben clean. I am not trying to say that Starks is a savior because he was probably an average lineman when he was here before, but he was a great guy for the locker room and might have been able to bring a calming influence to the offensive line that sorely needs it. It was good to see Starks back out there getting the job done. I am not going to sit here and tell you he was great because we have very little to judge him on. He faced a relatively no name Titans pass rush and he should be able to handle that. Give him a few more games and let’s see what he does against better pass rushers this year but so far so good.
-Going into the game we knew that Ben was going to be hobbled and probably figured that was going to hurt him in some form or fashion. If you just saw Ben under center and not walking around after the play then you would never know he was hurt. Ben went 24-of-34 for 228 yards and five touchdowns. Five touchdowns. He tied a Steelers record that he set some years ago for touchdowns in a game and he pressed all the right buttons offensively. A lot of the credit for this has to go to the Steelers staff and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians who took into account the bad foot and the game plan was molded around three step drops and getting the ball out quickly. It was a perfect set up and it worked wonders. Some of the keeping himself clean was due to the drops and we saw that Ben was making quick decisions and getting the ball to the right receivers and on target.
-Sunday was the best the running game that the Steelers have had all season and this was without starting back Rashard Mendenhall. The Steelers were able to rack up 174 yards on the ground led by Jon Dwyer (!) with 107 yards on 11 carries. Granted, Dwyer broke his first run of the season for 76 yards for a big chunk of that but nonetheless a really nice day for Dwyer. Isaac Redman got the start for Mendenhall and had 49 yards on 15 carries but I don’t really think the stats show how well he ran. I talked about how Redman wasn’t really a guy that was going to make you miss but he would run through you and that is exactly what he did. He ran the ball hard and got some really tough yards and it was a nice to have your backup back and third string back come in and rack up over 150 yards on the ground.
-It has been a while since Hines Ward and Heath Miller have been the focus of the passing attack but they were exactly that on Sunday. Ward caught two touchdown passes for the first time in years and Heath Miller had three catches for 46 yards and a touchdown. It was really nice to see as I think Miller might be one of the most underrated tight ends in the game and Ward came back and was Ben’s favorite target with seven catches and eight targets. Some were wondering if Hines could still get the job done and I think we saw that he can do just that. It was really nice to see.
-The defense as a whole really showed me something. After the first drive of the game last week and the gashing that the run defense got a lot of people were wondering if the Steelers defense aged that much overnight. This game started much the same. There were a few penalties that gave the Titans some first downs and the first offensive play of the game for Tennessee was a 21 yard run for Chris Johnson. The Titans got a first and goal down at the four yard line and the clamps came down. They forced an incompletion on third and goal but were flagged for a penalty and then did it again. While they gave up points on the first drive they asserted that this was a new week. Really good to see.
-LaMarr leyWood finally showed up. This was easily Woodley’s best game and he ended up with 1.5 sacks and three tackles but it was much more than that. Woodley was finally able to take advantage when he was getting blocked by a single player. When he wasn’t getting sacks he was getting in Matt Hasselbeck’s face and making him uncomfortable. There was a good bit of talk about how Woodley wasn’t getting to the quarterback but he did yesterday. Sometimes you don’t always have to get sacks to have an impact and his constant pressure and presence was great.
-Overall I think you can talk about the Steelers run defense as completely turning it around from the first four games to what they did to the Titans and one of the best backs in the league. They were without Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and James Harrison and yet the reserves were able to hold the Titans to only 66 yards rushing. They were tackling and swarming to the ball while also taking away the cut back lanes and really looked good for the first time all season. Hopefully this is just a beginning but it was nice to see the Steelers defense get that swagger back and impose its will instead of reacting to what the offense gives them.
-Again Antonio Brown is showing us that he is a special return man. Brown returned two kickoffs for 83 yards with a long of 52 that set up a Steelers touchdown early in the game. He didn’t return any punts but how long has it been since the Steelers had a kick returner that could take the ball to the house every time he touches it. Some of this can go to the blocking because that certainly plays a part in it but it just seems that AB has a feel for finding and hitting the hole quickly and giving the Steelers great field position. While he is good on special teams I would still like him to get on the same page as Ben. He is still making those mistakes and while it wasn’t that noticeable yesterday I don’t think we realize how young that he and guys like Emmanuel Sanders are in that aspect.
-So you didn’t think I was going to talk about the fake punt. Yea right, I mean how often do we get to see stuff like that from the Steelers? On the Steelers first drive of the second quarter the Steelers came up with a fourth and five from midfield and the Steelers special teams got the look then needed and Daniel Sepulveda threw a 33 yard catch and run to Ryan Mundy to convert the first down and it would later lead to a Roethlisberger touchdown pass to Ward. This was a pretty ballsy call as the ball was at midfield and the game was still close and this could have given the Titans some huge momentum but it worked. Cortland Finnegan bailed out as soon as the ball was snapped and he was the only one in the secondary and that left it wide open for Mundy. Like I said we don’t see this too often so it defiantly caught me off guard and it really showed how badly the Steelers wanted to put this game away.
-All that said we have to remember that this was just one win. Things have really been up and down this season and after the Seattle game people thought the ship was somewhat fixed and it went downhill pretty quickly after that. After last week the majority of people were talking about how the Steelers weren't going to make the playoffs and should prepare for a top-10 pick. Both of those sediments were wildly crazy to say and you have to keep a level head during times like this. It would be nice if the Steelers strung together three or four solid games to give us a better idea of what we really have.
Well, it was a great game to watch as a Steelers fan and it was a much needed win against a team that was just not that good. I know they were 3-1 and they were coming in with a lot of confidence but if you read the preview you knew that I didn’t think they were very good and that showed to be true. The Steelers now get to play the Jags so hopefully this is just the start of a good run for the Black and Gold.
Enjoy this one.