For the previous six quarters the Steelers looked like a five win team that had no chance of being successful despite having top performers at three huge offensive skill position spots. For the other six quarters of the season the Steelers looked like a team that would win the AFC North and challenge for a bye. For four quarters against the Panthers on Sunday night the Steelers were a dominant team and it was really fun to watch.
I didn't have a good feeling about this game and it mostly had to do with how good the Panthers defense has been but after a back and forth field goal fest in the first half the Steelers opened up a can in the second half. In the second half of the game the Steelers had five possessions and they scored three touchdowns, punted once, and had the ball to end the game on the fifth. They also recovered a fumble on a fumbled punt that was returned for a touchdown. Overall the Steelers gained 454 yards of total offense with 264 of those coming on the ground. It was all good in Carolina and after a really bad performance in Baltimore it was good to bounce back with a convincing win in week three.
There was a lot of good in this game. The run game overall was probably the biggest, in my mind. It really starts with the offensive line who looked much better even though guard Ramon Foster wasn't dressed. As I said above the Steelers torched the Panthers front seven for 264 yards on 34 carries. That is almost eight yards per carry. EIGHT. Le'Veon Bell had 147 yards on 21 carries which was aided by an 81 yard run that actually didn't result in a touchdown. LeGarrette Blount ran for 118 yards on 10 carries (!!!) and ran over a Panthers defensive back on his scoring run and even ripped off a 50 yard run late in the game. Things were all good for the running game and it was the reason the Steelers won the football game. It wasn't like this was against a bad defense, as I noted in the preview the Panthers were eighth against the run (accruing to DVOA) so hopefully this is a sign of things to come. It's true that you can't run for 250+ yards every week but they have to be better in this aspect going forward.
There were plenty of other positives from the game. Antonio Brown continues to be just absolutely outstanding. He caught 10 passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns with the first scoring catch coming in the third quarter, representing the first touchdown of the day. In sort of an arbitrary way (in terms of catches and yards) he became only the second player in league history to catch at least five passes and 50 yards in 19 straight games. He made a bunch of really nice catches throughout the game and is becoming one of the best receivers in the game. Even though the surrounding cast isn't overly great he just keeps brining it and that is fun to watch.
Ben Roethlisberger probably isn't going to get talked about much because of the running game and Brown but he was quietly good in this game. He completed 22-of-30 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns. His yards per attempt wasn't overly good (6.5) but he didn't need to be great tonight. A big key for the Steelers going in was to not turn the ball over and that is exactly what Roethlisberger did. He made the good throws and found open receivers and let the rest of the offense take care of itself. He's thrown his fair share of bad picks but last night he was flawless in that aspect. He used his escapability on the touchdown throw to Brown and utilized Heath Miller four times. Solid all around effort.
The defense has been pretty bad through the first two games but they stepped up and played some good football. They forced three fumbles, recovering two of them, and scored a touchdown on specials teams via one of those fumbles. After not recording a quarterback hit against Joe Flacco and the Ravens the defense hit the combo of Cam Newton and Derek Anderson six times and recorded three sacks. They got turnovers and they got to the quarterback. This needs to happen on a regular basis but at least we have some sort of starting point where the defense played some good football throughout the entire game.
Shaun Suisham probably doesn't get as much credit as he deserves but this dude is basically automatic. This was an all field goal game in the first half and Suisham was perfect in all three of his chances. While his second field goal was only 24 yards the other two were from 40+ and while that are nearly automatic across the NFL it still isn't an overly easy thing to do. One bad game and a couple of misses and this might be a new football game but it wasn't. The kickers never really get talked about unless they have a big miss but ever since Suisham got here he's been money.
While most of this game was all good for the Steelers there were some bad things that happened. The biggest of them is the injury situation. Ike Taylor is going to be lost for about 6-8 weeks as he broke his arm when he was hit with some friendly fire by Lawrence Timmons trying to make a tackle. Ryan Shazier has a sprained knee that will keep him out indefinitely while Jarvis Jones has a wrist injury that will require surgery and lands him on the IR with the designation to return. The Steelers actually have some decent depth on the defensive side of the ball but it looks like they are going to lose a couple of key pieces to the defense for an extended time. Taylor hasn't been good this year and wasn't overly good last year but with Cortez Allen not playing good football it's really going to make the secondary thin. In a passing league that is not good.
A continuing problem for this team continues to be penalties. The Steelers were flagged 11 times for 91 yards. It didn't seem as bad considering the Panthers had seven penalties for 105 yards but this needs to stop. On the season the Steelers average over 10 penalties a game (second-most in the league) for just over 87 yards per game (sixth-highest). That isn't going to cut it. When you are giving up almost a field length worth of penalty yards a game you are going to get burned. It won't really hurt in a game where you score 37 points and your defense plays well but in close games it will lose you the game. This was a problem last year and it needs fixed.
All-in-all it was a great game for the Steelers. The only real negative was the injury situation but in terms of on-field play it was all good. The Steelers now begin a stretch of games against some below average competition so here is hoping they can stack a few wins and continue to play good football.