The story on the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2014’s first six weeks focused on what this team was not. The Steelers weren’t disciplined. They didn’t rush the passer. Their offense had star performers, but couldn’t get it together. They couldn’t deliver in the Red Zone. They failed to close games. Their secondary struggled etc….
The Steelers Monday Night win over the Houston Texans shook up that narrative a bit, but behind the glow of their 21 points in 73 second scoring surge, lay all of the same nagging inconsistencies.
- Besides, even if their record stood at 4-3, who had they really beaten, anyway?
The Indianapolis Colts, led by superstar Andrew Luck, figured force the Steelers back into that “win-lose-win-lose” pattern that’s plagued them all year.
Instead, Mike Tomlin turned the tables during the Steelers 51 to 34 victory, and in doing so the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers might just have flashed a glimpse of what they can be….
Steelers Offense Makes Statement
The Pittsburgh Steelers began 2013 by going 2-6 and closed the year going 6-2 and during the back stretch of the season, the Steelers offense was supposed to have emerged as a legitimate power.
Pittsburgh’s offense was only supposed to get more potent in 2014. Tomlin brought Mike Munchak in to stabilize the offensive line. LeGarrette Blount arrived to provide depth behind Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers bolstered their receiving corps. Ben and Todd were finally getting along.
- By any measure, with the exception of the Carolina game and the first half vs. Cleveland, the Steelers offense regressed 2014.
Receivers couldn’t get in sync with Ben Roethlisberger. The Red Zone became the Dead Zone. The offensive line was OK, but nothing special. Roethlisberger’s autonomy was called into question. The Steelers offense put up consecutive, twin 10 point performances against terrible defenses.
- Lots of finger pointing, at least outside the Steelers locker room ensued.
Todd Haley needed to be fired. So did Mike Tomlin. People questioned Tomlin and Colbert’s drafting abilities. But few could agree on the problem, everyone seemed to implicitly understand that the lion’s share of the solution fell on one person’s shoulders: Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger entered the Colts game as a good quarterback who simply wasn’t up to par with the Brady’s, Mannings, Brees, Rivers and Lucks of the league.
- By the end of the game, Roethlisberger confirmed once again he is very much an elite quarterback.
This is one case where numbers provide a telling truth:
- 522 yards passing
- 6 touchdowns
- the first NFL quarterback to throw for 2 500 yard games (the other was vs. Green Bay in 2009)
- ZERO interceptions in 49 pass attempts
- 100 career victories in 150 starts
For one game at least, Ben Roethlisberger ended the struggling and stumbling and brought the Pittsburgh Steelers offense together.
The offense in fact, functioned like a well oiled machine. Markus Wheaton redeemed himself by catching the day’s first touchdown pass. Rookie Martavis Bryant caught 2 touchdowns in his second NFL game. Antonio Brown caught everything thrown at him, including 2 TD’s. Heath Miller returned to his role as “Mr. Reliable.”
- Despite all of the fireworks in the air, Bell managed 92 yards on the ground and another 56 receiving.
Previously, the Steelers offense had simply hinted at something better. Vs. the Colts, the Steelers offense displayed that it was capable of executing with lethal effectiveness.
Defense Doesn’t Dominate, but Does Disrupt
Most of the attention and praise after a victory like this will focus on the offense, as it should. But the defense deserves a good word too.
- YES, the defense gave up 34 points
- YES, the defense allowed a 400 yard passing game
So clearly, the Steelers defense didn’t deliver a dominating performance worth of the Steel Curtain of old. But if the Steelers defense didn’t dominate, it did disrupt.
Cam Heyward had at least two sacks negated by penalities. Lawrence Timmons had another. Jason Worilds laid numerous hits on Luck. Ryan Shazier got into the act as did Brett Keisel. Yes, Luck threw for 400 yards, but he most often did so under duress.
The Steelers defense also made its share of splash plays. William Gay toasted Andrew Luck for a quick six; Antwon Blake made a leaping end zone interception, and the Steelers forced a safety.
“We were not taking our foot off the gas.” -Mike Tomlin
At several points in 2014, the Steelers late-game play calling has come into question. But when asked why he threw the ball on 4th and inches late in the game – a throw which resulted in Heath Miller’s touchdown” Tomlin explained that he had no intention of taking the foot off the gas pedal.
- The strategy was wise vs. the Colts, and it is a philosophy which the entire team must embrace moving forward.
It’s 2014 now, the Steelers have just beaten an AFC Contender, and the Baltimore Ravens are coming to town – on Sunday night no less.
- Against the Colts, for the first time all season, the Pittsburgh proved that their potential lies somewhere beyond 8-8.
But to get there, they must not take their foot off the gas pedal.