The Pittsburgh Steelers 28-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts not only snapped the franchise’s 66 year-long losing streak on Thanksgiving Day, but the way in which the Steelers beat the Colts offers hope that both the offense and defense have made important strides that, if consolidated, can pay dividends during December football.
Signs of an Assist for The Steelers Triplets?
Football is the ultimate team game – Even stars depends on their supporting cast for success. The Steelers loss to the Cowboys brought that painful reality clearly into focus.
- Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown undoubtedly made their fantasy football owners happy, but when the dust cleared their heroics alone weren’t sufficient for a Steelers win.
The Steelers Triplets were again in fine form against the Colts. Le’Veon Bell was rushing downhill and catching the ball with authority. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown teamed for 3 touchdowns with each one looking easier than the last.
But if the Steelers Triplets’ authored “the story” of the Colts victory, members of their supporting casts made small, but potentially significant strides towards building a back story that could provide the foundation for future success.
- Eli Rogers set up the Steelers first touchdown with a 30-yard reception
- Ladarius Green set up the Steelers third and fourth touchdowns with 32 and 35 yard “field flipping” receptions
- The Steelers offensive line opened holes and kept Ben Roethlisberger clean for a second straight week.
It says here that the Steelers still need a legitimate number 2 threat opposite Antonio Brown that Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and/or Darrius Heyward-Bey was supposed to provide. But for the first time in weeks, it looks like the Steelers have made strides towards identifying that person.
Because Compulsive Complainers Gotta Complain…
At the end of the Browns game, Jim Wexell offered the following gem of insight via Twitter:
Must not be a Steelers fan. He's actually enjoying this asskicking. https://t.co/Yi6QabokZY
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) November 20, 2016
There is a segment of Steelers Nation that suffers from a compulsion to find something to complain about regardless of the circumstances. A 21 point Steelers win on a short week on the road after playing on the road offers no exception.
The Steelers Thanksgiving victory in Indianapolis certainly came with its share of flaws:
- Donte Moncrief came dangerously close to catching a field flipping deep ball on the Colt’s 2nd drive
- William Gay got burned badly by T.Y. Hinton on the next play
- Ross Cockrell got burned on a long pass that put the Colt’s into the Red Zone
- The Steelers made a number of drive stalling/extending penalties
- Big Ben tried and failed to connect with Sammie Coates deep 3 times
- Danny Smith’s special teams got caught with their pants down on a fake punt
Indeed, going into the fourth quarter, it was easy to look at the scoreboard and say, “If the Colt’s hadn’t missed a field goal and opted to kick at the goal line, it would be a one-score game….” Yes, that is true. But it wasn’t a one-score game and there’s a reason for that….
Butler’s Boys Blossoming into Men….?
Sometimes statistics provide the best way to measure a defense’s performance; other times you measure it best with plays. The Steelers Thanksgiving win over the Colts falls into the latter category.
Keith Butler set the tone on the first series by blitzing William Gay who hit Scott Tolzien with a strip-sack. On the next series, James Harrison did the honors by dropping Tolzien to set up a third and long which led to Adam Vinatieri’s field goal.
- After that, Keith Butler’s boys put on a “Bend but don’t break” clinic.
Credit Chuck Pagano for playing to win. Going all in twice at critical junctures like that requires real guts. Two times Pagano tested the Steelers defense, and two times the Steelers defense answered his challenge.
On the first goal line stand, Pagano twice tried to impose his will by forcing Frank Gore up the middle, but Sean Davis and Ricardo Mathews stopped him cold both times. Then Tolzien tried to boot-leg it, but the rookie safety Davis read the play and committed to stopping Tolzien.
- The rookie safety won the battle of wills with the quarterback, just as he should
- On 4th down the veteran safety Mike Mitchell followed by knocking away a would-be touchdown pass
Undaunted, Chuck Pagano refused to blink the next time the Colts reached the Red Zone, as his offense converted a 4th and 4 and advanced to Pittsburgh’s six. From there, Pagano followed the same script, attempting to ram the ball down the middle of the Steelers defense, only to have Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt stonewall his rushers.
- On third down Tolzien again tried to run it in himself, only to be cut off by Mike Mitchell, and his next pass fell incomplete.
Over the course of two possessions, the Indianapolis Colts had controlled the clock for 16 minutes and 19 seconds. During those possessions, the Colts converted four 3rd downs, one 4th down, enjoyed 7 first and 10’s, and amassed 151 yards.
When an offense controls the clock for that long, moves the chains that frequently, and builds those types of yardage totals, they generally break a defense’s will, if not its back.
- But Keith Butler’s boys refused to bat an eye
And because of that, the Steelers defense authored 8 critical plays at the goal line that defined the entire game and potentially signal one of the season’s corner-turning moments.
Steelers Must Consolidate Progress
The Pittsburgh Steelers have accomplished a lot in a short time. In the space of 5 days they’ve:
- Snapped a 4 game losing streak,
- Won back-to-back road games
- Increased their sack total from 13 to 24
- Boosted their interception total from 4 to 7
- Notched victories against teams they were “supposed” to beat, something which Mike Tomlin teams have struggled to do of late
But emergence of potential receiving threats on offense and the development of rookies on defense are the most important achievements during this stretch. The next challenge will be to consolidate this against the New York Giants, who promise to provide Pittsburgh with a stiffer test.