“Pro football teams define their identity during the first 4-6 weeks of the season.”
It is a cliché uttered by Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher alike. Those words also probably passed Chuck Noll’s lips, in some form or fashion. Truth transforms phrases into clichés. Six weeks into the 2015 NFL season the truth on Pittsburgh Steelers have defined their identity as a gritty team ready, willing, and able to claw and scratch its way to victory.
Cardinals Can Outmatch, but Not Outwit the Pittsburgh Steelers
And that gritty identify served the Pittsburgh Steelers well against the Cardinals just as it served them in the win vs. the San Diego Chargers.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers are quite simply a different team without Ben Roethlisberger on the field.
Most teams are different without their starting quarterback, but at this stage of his career, Ben Roethlisberger is clearly a quarterback who helps unlock the talents of the players around him. After playing 3 games without him, Antonio Brown will whole heartedly agree.
And so it was that early in the game it became clear that the Bruce Arians’ Arizona Cardinals were going to be able to move the ball on the Steelers. It was also painfully clear that Pittsburgh’s offense was give punter Jordan Berry a lot of reps.
As it was, the Cardinals dominated the Steelers in just about every phase during the first half, as the Steelers offense managed 1 field goal and 5 punts. Yet, the Steelers were only down by 7. Grittiness was keeping the Steelers in the game, but it was an unexpected hero would push the Steelers over the top.
Landry Jones Rides to the Rescue
The third string quarterback is an afterthought on many, if not most NFL teams. Some franchises only carry two on their active rosters.
- Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have long marched to the beat of their own drummer on this one.
The Steelers have firmly committed themselves to a three quarterback system. When final cuts came in, many fans ridiculed the decision to keep Landry Jones. Yet today, Landry Jones vindicated the Steelers patience in carrying him on the roster since drafting him in 2013.
- Michael Vick wasn’t getting it done at quarterback during the first half.
3 of 8 for 6 yards simply will not do it in the NFL. You can believe Mike Tomlin when he says he wasn’t thinking of pulling Mike Vick, but Todd Haley’s decision to let Vick scramble at will shows how little confidence he had in his backup signal caller at that point. Scrambling had its price, as Vick pulled a hamstring paving the way for Landry Jones first NFL action.
Quarterbacks do not get a choice about the conditions in which they make their NFL debut, but Landry Jones can thank Antown Blake and James Harrison for forcing a fumble that gave him the ball on Arizona’s 32 yards line. Next he can than Le’Veon Bell for ripping off a 22 yard run on a play when the defense HAD to know it was coming.
- Let the record reflect that Landry Jones first NFL pass fell harmlessly incomplete to the turf at Heinz Field.
His second pass found its target in Martavis Bryant and suddenly the Steelers were leading instead of struggling.
With the help of Chris Boswell, Jones added six more points in his next two possessions. 12 points on your first four NFL drives isn’t bad. But would it be enough? The Arizona Cardinals were driving….
Pittsburgh Steelers Reality Football Brought to You by Keith Butler
Carson Palmer threw for 421 yards. John Brown had 10 catches for 196 yards. Larry Fitzgerald had 8 catches for 93 yards. Michael Floyd had 5 catches and a touchdown. Like Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense made a lot of Fantasy Football owners happy.
- Fortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is concerned with “Reality Football.”
And that is where the true grittiness of this team becomes so important. No one is ready to call Keith Butler’s unit a “Bend but don’t break unit.” It doesn’t feel right. But after six games a few things are clear about Keith Butler’s defense:
- They struggle against elite tight ends
- They play extremely tough in the Red Zone
- They bring pressure and penetration from any and all angles
- They create turnovers at opportune times
Consult the Steelers defensive stat sheet and you’ll be surprised. Only James Harrison recorded a sack. That doesn’t seem right, given the amount of pressure Palmer was facing all day, taking hits from Cameron Heyward, Arthur Moats, Lawrence Timmons and William Gay.
Keith Butler’s defense put on a clinch demonstrating how you can give up yards, but still turn in an “Above the line” performance as evidenced by Lawrence Timmons’ Troy Polamaluesque interception and Michael Mitchell’s end zone interception.
The lesson Keith Butler’s defense has left thus far is simple, “We will defend the field blade of grass by blade of grass. We might give up a few, but you will only game them at a price.” (Full disclosure, we have it on good authority that you’ll soon find more on “Steelers Reality Football” at Rebecca Rollet’s “Going Deep”
Oh Yeah, Martavis Bryant’s Back…
Five years ago the Steelers found themselves playing their third string quarterback, backed up against their own end zone with the two minute warning approaching and a need to convert a first down.
- Charlie Batch did a masterful job during his stint as starter in 2010, but he couldn’t quite get it done that day, and Joe Flacco got his first win at Heinz Field.
Mike Mitchell’s interception and James Harrison’s personal foul penalty left Landry Jones in the same situation. On first down Le’Veon Bell got 2 yards. Like he did against the Chargers, Mike Tomlin refused to play it safe. Landry Jones again found Martavis Bryant. Bryant caught the ball far enough down the field to get the first down the Steelers needed. But Bryant didn’t stop there:
Martavis. Bryant. pic.twitter.com/2SrWavpm1e
— The Sports Quotient (@SportsQuotient) October 18, 2015
The Steelers offense has been “Good” with up until this point in the season. With Bryant in the lineup they can be lethal….
…The “Downside” of Martavis Bryant’s 88 yard touchdown romp is that it gave Arizona the ball back with almost two full minutes left. Those of you who took notes at home will remember that the Cardinals advanced all the way to the Steelers 9. And those who pay attention to what is important will note that Steelers defense buckled down in the Red Zone and turned over the ball on downs…
The 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers are indeed a gritty team that fights and claws tooth and nail to find a way to win.