Under Mike Tomlin’s tenure, at least since 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers have developed a nasty habit of losing to sub .500 teams on the road. It’s a tendency that has hurt Pittsburgh time and time again when playoff pecking order is defined..
In the Steelers 20-17 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh simultaneously relived part of the old story, while forging a new ending.
Steelers End Bye Week 30 Minutes Late
While Mike Tomlin’s teams are 6-4 coming out of their bye, 3 of those 4 losses have come in the last three years. The hope was that, after proving their mettle and tough contests against the Chiefs, Bengals and Lions, this time things would be different.
- Unfortunately, for 30 minutes it appeared things would be the same, but only worse.
Everything that could go wrong went wrong for the Steelers in the first half against the Colts. Indeed, it only took two plays for Ben Roethlisberger to throw an interception instead of connecting with Martavis Bryant deep.
That pick might not have been Ben’s fault, as it looked like Martavis Bryant under ran his route. Regardless, Roethlisberger struggled for the entire first half, posting a 33.0 passer rating as the Steelers failed to convert a third down. The offensive line struggled to open holes for Le’Veon Bell, and allowed defenders to pressure Ben more than usual.
Just how bad were the Steelers in the 1st half? Their third series perfectly illustrates the point:
- A penalty on a punt return pushed Pittsburgh back to its ten
- After getting 2 first downs and moving to their 43, Ben Roethlisberger got sacked losing 8 yards
- Two plays yielded 4 yards, bringing up a punt from the Steelers 39
- 3 straight penalties pushed the Steelers all the way back to their 19
- 5 plays later Artie Burns was getting burned for a 60 yard touchdown
The Steelers staged a bit of a mini-rally second half’s end on a defensive series that saw Stephon Tuitt stop Frank Gore for a loss, and Bud Dupree sack Jacoby Brissett for a 13 yard loss. The Steelers got the ball back, and did well enough to position Chris Boswell for a 41 yard field goal.
While they authored a strong end to a weak two quarters of football, the Steelers were lucky to only be down by a touchdown at the half, especially when you take into consideration that the Steelers had lost Mike Mitchell and Joe Haden to injury in the first 30 minutes.
Steelers, Stumble then Turn New Page in the Second Half
Any warm and fuzzy feeling the Steelers might have enjoyed at the close of the second half was quickly extinguished 4 plays into the second half as Chester Rogers got ahead of Coty Sensabaugh a 61 yard touchdown pass, giving them a 17 to 3 lead.
- It was a scene that Steelers Nation has seen too many times in previous years, but also a situation that the 2017 Steelers had put themselves in.
And, as they had done several times already this season, the Steelers refused to blink. Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger found JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 44 gain that got them to the 20. Six plays later, the Ben again connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster in the end zone.
The Colts quickly countered by blocking Chris Boswell’s extra point, but Jesse James atoned for blowing his blocking assignment by making the tackle
It would be the Colts last charge of the game.
As Steelers Defense Corrals the Colts, Offense Takes Advantage
Big special teams plays super charge teams and often rapidly shift momentum. But momentum shifts never shifts automatically. The Steelers defense ensured the Colts could not reach a gallop by corralling Frank Gore and turning up the pressure on Jacoby Brissett.
The Steelers defense limited the Colts first possession after the blocked extra point to a punt, and on their next try, Ryan Shazier showed incredible concentration by breaking off his blitz to drop into coverage where deflected and then intercepted a pass.
Armed with excellent field position at the Colts ten, the offensive line give Ben Roethlisberger rock-solid protection, as he connected with Vance McDonald. A series of miscues cost the Steelers a time out and a delay of game penalty, but neither could stop Ben Roethlisberger from connecting with Martavis Bryant for the 2 point conversion.
The Steelers defense followed by tightening the screws on the Colts as:
- They forced an incompletion on first down
- Vince Williams sacked Jacoby Brissett on 2nd down
- Stephon Tuitt sacked Brissett on 3rd down
The Steelers offense had a chance to get ahead on a drive that included a nice 10 yard run by James Conner but, if there is a motto that’s developing for the Steelers 2017 season, its “Never keep simple what you can complicate.”
Chris Boswell saw a 41 yard field goal bounce off the uprights and the game remained tied with 6:17 remaining to play.
Steelers Reshoot Old Scene to Craft New Ending
The Colts got the ball at their 27 and only needed to get into Adam Vinatieri field goal range, but the Steelers defense forced a punt.
- If the Steelers offense sprang to life during the second half, one thing remained missing: Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown.
The Steelers entire second half resurgence came despite the absence of a single Ben Roethlisberger Antonio Brown connection. Two critical 3rd down conversions first by Eli Rogers and then by Martavis Bryant set the stage for that connection.
At 1st and 10 from the 50, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back and found no one open. The Colts defense swarmed. Ben shuffled. A defender grabbed his jersey but Ben bought time with his legs and found Antonio Brown who scampered 50 yards to put the Steelers into field goal range.
It’s a scene Steelers Nation has seen many times before, and one that Roethlisberger and Brown reenacted to write a new ending to an old story. Boswell’s field goal split the uprights as time expired and the Steelers defeated the Colts and advanced to 7-2.
Another Battle Won, But Work to Be Done
The Steelers have won another battle, but 9 games into the season, its clear that Pittsburgh didn’t exit is bye week having found the cure to its offensive woes. Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley still have a lot of work to do if the Steelers are going to make a serious run at Lombardi Number 7.
But a win is a win.