Steelers fans can complain with the best of them. They are so good at it, that they can find stuff to complain about when the team they root for has:
• the most Super Bowl trophies in history (6)
• the most AFC Championship game appearances in history
• head coach who is 13th all time in win pct, 7th since 1970
• QB who is a 1st ballot HOFer w 2 rings, 9th all-time win pct, 6th in playoff wins, 5th in GWD & 4QCB
• A defense that hasn’t allowed 30 points to an opponent in 22 straight games, 3rd longest treak in team history
• A defense that has a sack in 65 straight games, only 4 behind Tampa Bay’s all-time record of 69
• Have scored 25 or more in all 7 games to start the season for the first time in team history
• Tied the team record by starting the season 7-0
• Are two games and a tiebreaker ahead of 2nd place Baltimore in the division and 3 games + tiebreaker over 3rd place Cleveland
Spoiled rotten is a phrase that comes to mind.
So the run D got shredded… did you see the scoreboard? Did you notice the 4 sacks, 3 Interceptions and 3 fumbles, which stopped 6 of the Ravens’ 12 drives, scored 7 points and set up another 7 for a previously moribund offense? Hell, if not for a gratuitous and ridiculous personal foul call on Cam Heyward for hitting Lamar Jackson before the whistle and while he still had both feet inbounds, they might have only given up 17 points with all those yards.
So the offense was stone cold in the first half, disorganized and dysfunctional on 3rd down… did you see the 2nd half where they had their way with the league’s #1 scoring defense and put the ball in the end zone 3 times?
This just in: complain all you want, this team’s been good so far. It even has a chance to be great.
At halftime, Steelers fans’ anxiety was in full bloom. The Ravens and their MVP QB were on the verge of blowing a Steelers team that was on the verge of getting blown out. Our resident in-game naysayer laid it out perfectly at halftime:
We’re gonna find out if Ben can hang with the reigning MVP right now. — K_C_
Oh, I think we can put that question to rest.
Once Alex Highsmith and the D took the ball away and gave him a short field, Ben shook off a terrible first half for the offense and just calmly took over the game in half 2. The Steelers made just enough plays on D and put up 21 glorious 2nd half points against a terrific defense as the team in black and gold moved to 7-0 and opened a virtual 2.5 game lead in the division.
Coming into the game, Baltimore had the advantage of a bye week to rest, get healthy, and prepare. The Steelers, in contrast, came off of a tough, physical game against Tennessee. The first half looked like it. The loss of Tyson Alualu combined with the commitment to accounting for Lamar Jackson’s running on every play led to an outrageous 265 rush yards given up in the game… and most of that was in the first half!
The adjustments made in-game and at halftime turned the tide impressively. None were bigger than Ben spending most of the second half making up plays on the fly in no-huddle mode. Baltimore is famous for its predictive analytics study of other teams––but running stuff that isn’t even in your playbook completely negates that advantage and relies on a ringmaster point guard to run it and make sense of the chaos. Roethlisberger in the second half was 16/22 for 187 yards and 2 Touchdowns, leading his team to 3 TDs in 3 Red Zone opportunities. Ben did all of that and more, in a rivalry game, against a team that has thwarted many of his offensive plans throughout the year, on a day where his team was getting smoked. It was his NFL 5th all-time 33rd 4th quarter come-from-behind victory and it may have been one of the more impressive Lazarus jobs of his entire career. Ben is now 5-1 in his last 6 vs his teams’ biggest rival.
So it is that this team has now vanquished all 7 opponents so far this season. They don’t ask how, they just ask ‘how many’. Maybe we can avoid asking how many yards allowed and focus on the scoreboard. Next week will be an opportunity to feel good about the yardage and get everything humming on both sides of the football. Until then, no amount of complaining in the world can take away those first 7 Ws.
Tyson Alualu has just become an absolute must re-sign for 2021. Yesterday’s run gashing was what I had in mind when I wrote of losing Javon Hargrave:
I’ve been saying since the schedule came out that the early opponents were going to try and run the shit out of the football vs PIT. It’s my biggest concern going into the season, particularly vs teams that run the zone stretch play over and over again (the Shanahan/Alex Gibbs offense). Not having a penetrating NT is going to make the task of stopping that play difficult. ––Bradshaw2Ben
Yesterday was the answer to people who say, “Why should I draft/pay a Nose Tackle when they’re only on the field 30% of the time?” As much as we complain about the Steelers giving up conversions on 3rd and long, getting gashed in the run game sets up 3rd and short and/or converts to 1st downs without ever having to get to 3rd down. Let us hope Alualu doesn’t miss too much time and, as a side as when you’re making your daily prayers, let us hope Carlos Davis becomes the latest in this year’s draft class to shine in 2020, especially if Cam Heyward is out injured.
Speaking of the draft class, How good do Chase Claypool, Kevin Dotson, & Alex Highsmith look on the field? They are contributing weekly to this team’s win streak. And they’re part of perhaps the most amazing thing about the season thusfar: the backup players stepping in for starters & key contributors and playing at an extremely high level, arguably providing an upgrade in some cases.
Chuks for Banner
Dotson for Decastro
Spillane for Bush
Sutton for Hilton
Berry for Colquitt
Jerald Hawkins bumped up to the 3rd OT.
Justin Layne has come in for more snaps the past couple of weeks and he’s pitched a shutout so far as the outside corner in dime.
Isaiah Buggs got past the first-half running blitzkrieg and made a key run stop late in the game.
Even Henry Mondeaux has shown up as a part-time fullback and disruptive interior rusher.
Remember when the Steelers’ depth was a big question mark? When Shazier was lost forever and there was no one available to fill his shoes? When Lev’eon Bell would go out and the offense would crater? When the Steelers couldn’t find anyone to play OT? I do. Their depth this season is not just theoretically solid, they’ve been fantastic when asked to play.
Robert Spillane, in particular, has exceeded expectations and has arguably exceeded the play of Devin Bush. Yesterday, all he did was lead the team with 11 tackles––10 solo, 1 TFL, 2 PD, 1 FR, and one pick-6 INT. Anyone who thinks Avery Williamson is coming here to take Spillane’s job is dreaming. One reason I don’t like taking on even $1.4M of Williamson’s salary is that, barring an injury to Spillane, Williamson might see 5-7 snaps on D in the best-case scenario. It’s a nice contingency plan, but that $1.4M not rolling over into 2021 might cost you a starter or key contributor in an offseason where so many are Free Agents. We shall see.
One of the places where salary could be adjusted or saved could be TE, where Pittsburgh has two players with contracts built to be cut or restructured with positive cap impact. Ebron is a bit of a luxury on this team, but he played really well again yesterday. Watching him burst out of his break on his key 3rd quarter TD reception shows you what a difference a true move TE can make for your offense. McDonald is a likely salary cap casualty, but Ebron is a sleeper casualty as well, simply because his contract is one of the very few that offer an opportunity for cap relief.
Speaking of previous question marks becoming strengths, how about that Steelers coaching staff? They’re developing defensive backs (!) under Teryl Austin and Tom Bradley, developing offensive linemen under Shaun Sarrett (even after Mike Munchak’s departure), developing EDGE players under Keith Butler and Denzel Martin after Joey Porter’s departure, developing young WRs under Ike Hilliard even after the untimely demise of Darryl Drake, developing young off-ball LBs better than ever under Jerry Olsavsky, the DL is playing better than ever under Karl Dunbar and John Mitchell, and Matt Canada and Eddie Faulkner have already added so much to the Steelers offense in terms of modernization of the run game. This has to be a high point of Tomlin-era position group coaching staffs and it shows on the field.
Yesterday wasn’t the best day for either coordinator, but, honestly, how many times is that true for a Baltimore game? As previously mentioned, Baltimore might be the best team in the league at understanding and preparing for your tendencies––a huge part of their success. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this team’s 7-0 start is the legitimate sense that the team hasn’t played a complete game yet. Their offense has been unstoppable at times… and absolutely useless at times. Their defense has been 1976 Steelers quality at times and then has had bad halves where they got annihilated. Somehow they’re 7-0 and 4-0 vs. current playoff teams. We can’t complain.