The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Atlanta Falcons 27-20 at the Georgia Dome to raise their record to 9-5 on the year. The win, of course, allowed them to keep pace with Cincinnati and Baltimore in the AFC North race.
- This victory also exorcise a demon that has plagued the 2014 Steelers – under performing against teams with losing records.
All of those things are important, but perhaps what is more important is how the Steelers pulled off the feat.
Steelers Heed Labriola’s Advice
Steelers Digest isn’t what it used to be (more on why in a future Watch Tower column). But you still get to read words and wisdom of editor Bob Labirola. Digest is now published twice weekly, so its most recent issue came after the Titans win and the loss to the Saints.
After summing up the root causes of the Steelers disappointing loss to the Saints, Labriola had an observation and one piece of advice for the men in Black and Gold:
There is but one month left to this 2014 NFL Season, and these next four games will label these Steelers. These four games will reveal once and for all what kind of team they are. Therefore, it would beehove the Steelers to play them as a team.
- And that’s really the key to this Steelers victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Yes, the “Killer Bees” Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’Veon Bell will win a lot of accolades in for getting it done.
- Ben Roethlisberger went 27 of 35 for 360 yards, protected the ball and kept chains moving on third down
- Antonio Brown literally caught everything thrown at him, and his first half toe-tapping catch was a work of art
- Le’Veon Bell had difficulty running the ball, but made plays in the passing game and he made Atlanta pay on the ground when it counted
And each of these three players deserve every bit of praise they get.
Ben Roethlisberger broke his single season passing record. Antonio Brown broke the Steelers single season receptions. And Le’Veon Bell broke Barry Foster’s single-season yards from scrimmage record. It’s safe to say that with the Killer Bee’s, the Steelers are as deep at the three skills positions has they have been since the days of Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, and Lynn Swann/John Stallworth.
- But the Killer Bees can’t and didn’t do it alone.
Dick LeBeau’s defense might be a pale imitation of his ’05, ’08, and ’10 defenses. But it was William Gay’s third pick six of the season that put gave the Steelers their first touchdown. Twice in the third quarter Atlanta’s offense got deep into the Red Zone – both times they went away settling for 3. Indeed, the same thing would have happened in the second quarter, had Jason Worilds not been hit with a bogus roughing the passer call.
- As the old cliché goes, the Steelers special teams didn’t stop Devin Hester, but they did contain him.
The Steelers return units also allowed Antionio Brown to notch a 31 yard punt return to his resumes, and Markus Wheaton looked strong.
Nor were the Killer Bees the only stars on offense. Heath Miller ended the 3rd quarter with a 26 yard catch and Markus Wheaton opened the 4th quarter with a 30 yard catch that set up Bell’s second touchdown. On the next drive Wheaton had an impressive third down conversion catch which kept the clock running.
- None of these types of plays are sufficient to winning football games in December, they all are necessary.
And so it goes with the offensive line with the offensive line and the defense. The offensive line kept the Falcon’s defenders away from Roethlisberger for most of the day. While the line didn’t put on a road-grading quality day run blocking the Steelers converted on 3rd and short when they needed to.
On the Falcon’s final possession, Matt Ryan simply had no where to throw, and William Gay and Vince Williams made sure check down receivers got nothing.
2014 Steelers Coming Together at the Right Time
Bob Labriola was right. The 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers were a team has defied identity during the season’s first 12 games. During the season opener vs. Cleveland for two quarters they looked unstoppable on both sides of the ball, then two quarters later they allowed the Browns to look just as unstoppable.
A horrendous performance followed in Baltimore, followed by a game in Carolina where the Steelers offense looked “scary good,” followed by a game at home vs. Tampa where a street free agent named Vincent Jackson (again – see the ’09 debacle vs. Oakland) channeled his inner Jerry Rice.
- As Labriola declared, the real Pittsburgh Steelers will reveal themselves during the final four games of 2014.
So far those Steelers have shown themselves as a team capable of overcoming faults to win two tough games on the road. So far those Steelers have seen different teammates step up with others have faltered. So far those Steelers have passed two sections of a four-part pass-fail exam.
If the Steelers play the next two games with the determination and cohesion which they displayed vs. the Bengals and again vs. the Falcons, their prospects for passing this exam look very good.