JuJu Smith-Schuster & Steelers Defense Run Away with Lions Game Ball Poll

As drama goes, the Steelers-Lions game ball poll offered very little. The story of the game revolved around one wide receiver who spent the evening streching the field, and a Steelers defense who effectively shrunk the field in the Red Zone.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers vs Lions

JuJu Smith-Schuster sets Steelers touchdown reception record vs. Lions. Photo Credit: Tim Fuller, USA Today via Washington Post

The young wide receiver is of course the Steelers JuJu Smith-Schuster and the Steelers goal line defense.

  • Steelers vs Lions, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers Lions game ball winnersAs you can see, our voters here didn’t go out for a lot of nuance.

JuJu Smith-Schuster was the top vote getter by a whopping 23 votes, but he was course the Steelers goal line defense, anchored by Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu and Javon Hargrave.

  • Javon Hargrave led the individual voting with 4 votes, while Vince Williams followed  with 3 with another 3 for Tyson AluAlu and Cam Heyward.

Sean Davis got two votes, while Ryan Shazier polled one rounding out the defensive vote getters as Artie Burns was left shut out.

On the offensive side Ben Roethlisberger got 2 votes, the only player to draw multiple clicks.

Le’Veon Bell was shut out, which is a little surprising since he scored the team’s first touchdown and helped burn up the clock when the game’s outcome remained in doubt.

However, Bell did have a fumble, which cost the team dearly as it took 3 points off the board and gave the Lions a chance to add 3 more.

Thanks again to everyone who took time out to vote, and a special thanks to those who submitted write ins.

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Steelers Report Card for Win Over Lions – Triumph of Physicality over Fantasy Mentality

Taken from the gradebook of a teacher whose again late with his gradesheet and hopes that his students can incorporate the lessons they learned in the first semester to the second semester, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Lions in Detroit.

Le'Veon Bell, Ziggy Ansah, Steelers vs Lions, Steelers report card lions

Le’Veon Bell dives forward as Ziggy Ansah makes the tackle. Photo Credit: Krithmon Dozier, Detroit Free Press

Quarterback
After a very strong game against Cincinnati, Ben Roethlisberger took a bit of a step back as evidenced by his over thrown attempt to force the ball to Number 84 that got intercepted. But Roethlisberger didn’t always have a lot of help, as one easy touchdown pass was dropped, as was another overthrown, but still catchable ball later. But Roethlisberger kept the chains moving as the Steelers improved on third down, which was a plus. Grade: B

Running Backs
So Le’Veon Bell doesn’t automatically get 100 yards when he touches the field. One could be forgiven for concluding that after dominant performances in 3 out of the last four games. Bell didn’t quite have the offensive line push that he normally gets, and his fumble resulted in at least a six point swing. James Conner had 1 yard rushing. Still, Bell scored the only touchdown and helped move the chains when it counted. Grade: B-steelers, report card, steelers grades, coaching, special teams, unsung heroes, steelers 2017 season

Tight Ends
Jesse James caught two passes, including a 30 plus yarder and could have caught another long one had Roethlisberger’s throw been on target. The Steelers run blocking wasn’t on par with what it has been and the fact that Vance McDonald was out probably has something to do with that. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown had 5 catches for 70 yards and while he wasn’t dominant, he did help convert key third downs. Eli Rogers dropped a gimmie in the end zone, and Darrius Heyward-Bey dropped an overthrown ball that still could have been caught. Justin Hunter has yet to do anything to distinguish himself. The real star of the game was JuJu Smith-Schuster. On a night when the Lions seemed intent on shutting down Antonio Brown, JuJu made them pay. That was true before his 97 yard touchdown, and truer after. Nonetheless, he dropped a third down conversion pass after that. Grade: B-

Offensive Line
If ESPN’s statistics are to be trusted, the Lions tackled Le’Veon Bell 5 times below the line of scrimmage. Generally, when you allow an opponent to dictate to you at the line of scrimmage like that, you lose football games. On the positive side, the line kept Ben Roethlisberger clean for much of the night. Grade: C+

Defensive Line
This is why you invest 3 premium picks and a major free agent signing in your defensive line. Both Tyson Alualu and Cam Heyward had sacks, but the star of the night was perhaps Javon Hargrave, who completely stoned Dwayne Washington on 3rd and 1 and then shoved the center into Matt Stafford on 4th and goal to set up the final pass defense. Detroit spent much of the night knocking of heaven’s door, and the defensive line made sure they did nothing more than knock. Grade: A+

Linebackers
Ryan Shazier defensed the Lions pass. Had Shazier not looked up before securing the ball, he might still be running. Beyond that, it was a quiet night for the Steelers linebackers as neither Bud Dupree nor T.J. Watt were much of a force in the pass rush in a night when Matthew Stafford had too much time to throw. Grade: B-

Sean Davis, Darren Fells, Steelers vs Lions

Sean Davis takes on Darren Fells. Photo Credit: Kirthmon Dozier, Detroit Free Press

Secondary
Normally a quarterback passing for 420 is a sign of a secondary in disarray. And to be sure, this is not something the Steelers can allow to happen with any frequency. But like the rest of the defense, the Steelers secondary excelled inside the 20, with Joe Haden, Artie Burns and Sean Davis breaking up would-be touchdown passes, while Sean Davis and Mike Hilton came up big at the goal line. Grade: B

Special Teams
Chris Boswell was a perfect 2 for 2 on field goal attempts and hit both of his extra points. Jordan Berry had a 47 yard punting average and placed two with in the 20. The Steelers didn’t return a kick or a punt, while their coverage units two punt returns for 21 yards. Steelers special teams coach Danny Smith must find a way to improve punt coverage. Grade: B-

Artie Burns, Marvin Jones Jr., Steelers vs Lions

Artie Burns breaks up a touchdown pass aimed at Marvin Jones Jr.. Photo Credit: Kirthmon Dozier, Detroit Free Press

Coaching
Some of Todd Haley’s play calling left room for head scratching – will splitting Roosevelt Nix wide keep any opposing defensive coordinators up at night? Yet that was balance by Haley getting creative at the end when one final third down was needed. Likewise, twin drops by wide open receivers in the end zone show that Haley was trying to do the right thing in the Red Zone.

Keith Butler also opened himself to criticism. Matthew Stafford entered the game as one of the most sacked if not the most sacked quarterbacks in the league, yet he probably had more time to throw than any quarterback opposing the Steelers has had all season long.

  • The decision not to use James Harrison in an obvious mismatch with Brian Mihalik also puzzles, although that might not have been Butler’s call.

With all that said, the truth is that Matthew Stafford and his recievers might have made a lot of fantasy owners happy, but telling statistic of this game is that the Lions had 17 shots at a touchdown form inside the Steelers 20 and came up with ZERO touchdowns.

  • I’d gladly yield the Lions another 100 yards of offense to get that type of Red Zone dominance from the Steelers defense.

Mike Tomlin came into the week, having to deal with yet another distraction created by Martavis Bryant, and took his team on the road into a game that they’ve typically struggled with. The Steelers weren’t perfect, but they executed each and every time the game was on the line, and that was the difference in the game.

The stories of the Steelers finding ways to lose games like this are too common, too painful and too recent. In Detroit, Mike Tomlin’s Steelers found a way to win. Grade: B

Unsung Hero Award
Purists love to argue that football is a game won in the trenches. Often times that true, but in today’s pass-happy, Fantasy/Madden ’18 infused mentality that aspect of the game sometimes gets lost.

  • Yet, physicality was the defining difference for the Steelers against Detroit.

As he has done all year long, Vince Williams helped establish the physical tone for the Steelers defense. His name show up in some of the goal line stops, but Vince Williams was there, making his presence felt and for that he wins the Unsung Hero Award for win over the Lions.

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Goal Line Stand: Steelers Red Zone Defense Delivers Pittsburgh to Victory in Detroit

Head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t invoke is “We don’t add style” points dictum in his press conference following the Steelers 20-15 win over the Detroit Lions.

Tomlin’s “We don’t add style points” is simply another variation of Bill Cowher’s “It wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to win.” It’s a reminder to his team, to the press and to the fans that all wins in the NFL are created equally.

The reminder is often necessary, given the number of fans who’re really to summarily fire Tomlin and/or Kevin Colbert after anything less than a double digit win.

But perhaps its fitting that Mike Tomlin didn’t use his “Style” points reminder, because given the pat the Steelers used to secure victory, perhaps a few style points are in order.

Ryan Shazier, Tyson Alualu, Matthew Stafford, Alualu Stafford Sack, Steelers vs Lions

Ryan Shazier gloats over Matthew Stafford after Tyson Alualu’s 4th down sack. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Typical Trap Game for Tomlin’s Steelers

The Steelers went to Detroit as favorites which should have served as a warning sign. Mike Tomlin teams get too often tripped up by trap games. Following to uninspiring wins and 2 ugly losses, plus a strong win against the Ravens, Tomin’s Steelers had won hard fought contests over the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals.

They took a 5-2 record to Detroit against a 3-3 Lions team coming off a bye week with a penchant for coming back and winning games late. So just how dangerous was this game for the Steelers? Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell put it into perspective:

Classic flat(ulence) spot for the Steelers, who are 0-5 under Mike Tomlin when traveling to an NFC team after two AFC wins that include a divisional win.

In other words, Pittsburgh has historically found ways to lose games like this.And at any number of moments during the evening, the Steelers seemed set on following the script:

  • Eli Rogers dropped a gimmie touchdown in the end zone
  • Le’Veon Bell fumbled the ball away inside the Red Zone, taking at least 3 points off the off the board
  • Bell’s fumble also allowed the Lions to kick a field goal
  • Ben Roethlisberger overthrew Darrius Heyward-Bey in the end zone who nonetheless probably could have
  • The Steelers offensive line failed to dominate the line of scrimmage, allowing to Detroit to tackle Bell for a loss 5 times

The bullet points above add up to a net 14 point swing in Detroit’s favor and a lot of 3rd and long situations. Normally, those types of numbers come back to you on the score board when the clock reaches zero.

  • But, if 8 games into the season the Steelers offense still lacks the potency everyone expected it to demonstrate, it nonetheless showed resiliency.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Glover Quin, Steelers vs. Lions

JuJu Smith-Schuster burns Glover Quin. Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski, AP via Penn-Live

Antonio Brown didn’t make many fantasy owners happy, but he did convert third downs when it counted. Jesse James came up with a couple of key receptions, albeit on drives that ended in turnovers. Le’Veon Bell moved the chains late in the game, and with Martavis Bryant on the bench, JuJu Smith-Schuster served notice to defensive coordinators that the Steelers can make them pay by doubling and tripling Brown.

The efforts of the Steelers offense and particularly the emergence of JuJu Smith-Schuster as a real threat were necessary for victory. But they weren’t the story of the game, and that isn’t the reason why style points should be awarded.

Steelers Goal Line Stands Against Lions Define Game

In days of old when knights were bold and you wanted to protect your gold you surrounded it with a stone wall. If someone wanted to take that gold, they had to either scale the wall with hooks or ladders while dodging slings and arrow. When that failed, your only other choice was to force your way in.

  • The days of battering rams, draw bridges and flaming pitch are no more. But perhaps football gives us their modern day equivalent – the goal line stand.

It says here that Keith Butler didn’t enter the game intending to spot Matthew Stafford over 400 yards of passing.

Joe Haden, Marvin Jones, Steelers vs Lions

Joe Haden breaks up a pass for Marvin Jones in the end zone. Photo Credit: Tim Fuller, USA TODAY Sports via Steel City Insider

But an on looker from Mars might be forgiving for assuming that Butler’s plan was to yield the first 80 yards of the field, only to break the Lion’s will inside the 20. Because that’s just what the Steelers defense did.

  • Excluding field goal attempts, the Detroit Lions ran 17 plays from inside the Steelers 20 including 9 from inside the 10.

Each time Keith Butler’s defenders responded with a definitive “You Shall Not Pass!”

  • Joe Haden and Artie Burns both broke up would-be touchdown passes in the end zone
  • Sean Davis went toe-to-toe with 6’7” 270 lbs tight end Darren Fells and ripped a touchdown from his hands
  • Sean Davis returned on another drive to make two touchdown-saving tackles at the goal line
  • Mike Hilton and Ryan Shazier both defended away passes and both stuffed runners at the line of scrimmage
  • Tyson Alualu stepped up and sacked Stafford who tried to run for it on 4th down
  • On the prior play, Javon Hargrave simply ate Dwayne Washington alive

Looking at the play, it’s difficult to determine which is more impressive, Hargave’s play or the look of utter disbelief on Jim Cadwell’s face.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, that’s why they call Javon Hargrave “The Grave Digger.”

Style Points for Steelers Defense in Order

If you give even an average NFL team 17 shots at the end zone from inside their own 20 – at home – and they’re going to come away with a couple of three touchdowns.

  • The Steelers defense didn’t yield a single touchdown.

The NFL won’t award any extra style points for Pittsburgh’s defensive performance in Detroit, but perhaps it should. Against the Chiefs and then the Bengals, the Steelers defense put in stealer 1st and 2nd half efforts.

  • Against the Detroit Lions the Steelers defense went into bend but don’t yield a single blade of grass mode in the Red Zone.

While you never want to see an opponent march down the field with video-game like efficiency, getting tough inside the 20 is perhaps the greatest defensive asset a football team can possess. Against the Detroit Lions the Steelers defense proved it can deliver in the Red Zone.

At the end of the day, the NFL won’t award any style points for that, but shut down ability in the end zone is a priceless commodity that could prove to be priceless to Pittsburgh down the stretch.

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Steelers Defeat Lions in Detroit – Rapid Reaction & Game Ball Poll

Wew! What a nail biter. The Pittsburgh Steelers held on to beat the Detroit Lions to the tune of 20 to 15 in a hard fought road match up that went down to the wire. As we always do here after Steelers wins, we invite you the citizens of Steelers Nation to vote Game Ball Winners.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Quandre Diggs, Steelers vs Lions

Steelers JuJu Smith-Schuster burns Quandre Diggs in his 97 yard tochdown scamper. Photo Credit: Duane Burleson

JuJu Smith-Schuster earns the top ballot slot which is no surprise.

Steelers vs Lions, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers Lions game ball winners

The esteemed Steelers rookie was easily the star of the night for Pittsburgh catching 7 passes for 193 yards including the game sealing touchdown. Right behind him however, we’re giving a nod to the entire Steelers Goal Line defense.

  • Keith Butler’s boys couldn’t do much right outside the 20, but they were impeccable at the goal.

Really, the Steelers goal line defense did the franchise’s defensive legacy proud. Joe Greene is smiling from his perch in Texas while Ernie Holmes, L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White are smiling down from above.

After that, we’re giving Ben Roethlisberger a ballot nod. Ben didn’t have the  best of nights, but he also had 2 sure touchdowns dropped. Le’Veon Bell gets a nod. Bell, who fumbled the ball, didn’t have one of his better nights either, but he ran hard and helped burn up clock late in the game. Antonio Brown also gets a nod after a quiet night that nonetheless saw him a few critical catches. Jesse James gets a ballot slot due to his 40 yard catch.

  1. On defense, Artie Burns leads the individual nominees.

Burns led the team in tackles, and recovered a fumble late in the game. Followed by Burns, we have Vince Williams, who was spectaular at the goal line. Ryan Shazier also had a strong game including breaking up at the goal line. Cameron Heyward and Tyson Alualu, who both had sacks and both excelled at the goal line also get nods.

Rounding out the defensive nominees are Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave. Davis came up big at the goal line and was 5th on the team in tackles, while Javon Hargrave simply ate Dwayne Washington alive at the goal line.

Remember, you, the citizens of Steelers Nation are not limited to these choices. If you think someone else deserves a game ball, write their name in. Or better yet, write their name in and leave a comment stating your case as to why you think they deserve one.

The Steelers win over the Lions ended at 12:30 am here in Buenos Aires and the work day looms tomorrow. But please check back for our full analysis of the Steelers latest victory.

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Mike Tomlin Benches Martavis Bryant – It Says Here Tomlin Made Right Move

As you undoubtedly know by now, Mike Tomlin has benched Martavis Bryant for the Steelers upcoming road game against the Detroit Lions. The move came two weeks after someone tied to Bryant leaked that he’d made a request to be traded, and after a social media outbust where Bryant had seemingly contradicted his claim of happiness in Pittsburgh while taking a shot at rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Mike Tomlin, Martavis Bryant, Mike Tomlin benches Martavis Bryant

Mike Tomlin benched Martavis Bryant following his latest social media outburst. Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports

When asked whether Martavis Bryant’s latest tantrum would alter the Steelers stance toward trading him, Mike Tomlin minced few words:

I have no desire to sit up here with a catcher’s mitt and field questions about Martavis and his social-media habits, to be quite honest with you. We invested a lot in Martavis since we drafted him. He is not available via trade. We have invested a lot. We have covered a lot of ground. It’s obvious that we still have more ground to cover with him because we are having a conversation about him that’s not football-related. He’s done a lot in the period of time that he’s been here in terms of improving, not only as a player but a man. We still have a ways to go. He was out of bounds with some of his actions in terms of what he said on social media. It will be dealt with appropriately so…
…I’ll visit with him at some point. When I do, I’ll rain down my judgment and we’ll move forward.

Mike Tomlin’s judgment contains no grey area – Martavis Bryant got demoted to the scout team in favor of Justin Hunter and will not dress for the Lions game.

It says here that Mike Tomlin made the right move.

Martavis Bryant Must Grow Up

Martavis Bryant’s struggles and apparent success with substance abuse are well known. It’s been commonly observed that “Martavis Bryant has both said and done all the right things” since his return. Hardened Steelers beat reporters have opined that they’ve sensed a sincerity in Bryant this time around that they didn’t sense in 2015.

  • Here’s to hoping that Bryant has definitively mastered the proverbial monkey on his back for good.

But doesn’t mean that Martavis Bryant doesn’t have more growing up to do. During his suspension Bryant tussled occasionally on social media. Then came his exchange during the 2017 NFL Draft when he jibed Sammie Coates that the Steelers had drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster to replace Coates and not Bryant.

  • Those incidents didn’t and shouldn’t have caused panic.

But they did indicate that Martavis Bryant was prone to social media tantrums, and that’s a tendency that can get you into trouble here in 2017.

Having an agent leak that a play has wants a trade while the player publically proclaims his happiness is nothing new in the NFL, let alone in Pittsburgh. A week ago Bryant seemed to be following just that script.

  • But going off on a teammate, and a rookie no less, who is arguably out performing you is something else.

After a rocky start, the Steelers are standing at 5-2 with a chance to make it 6-2 going into the bye. Most importantly, they’re tied for 1st in the AFC. That should be the story of the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers going into week 8, not Martavis Bryant.

Martavis Bryant Must Shut Up and Put Up

The mind boggling element to the on-going Martavis Bryant saga is that Martavis Bryant is his own worst enemy on and off the field. Ron Cook has observed that there are two Martavis Bryants, on one the South Side and one away from the South Side.

  • Remember folks that Heinz Field is situation on Pittsburgh’s North Side.

A year ago, after doing and admirable job in the regular season, the AFC Championship made it painfully obvious that, both individually and collectively Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers, weren’t Super Bowl caliber number 2 wide receivers alongside Antonio Brown.

Ben Roethlisberger has had a chance to throw to Bryant seven games into 2017 and, outside of the win over the Vikings, Bryant’s most notable plays have been the one’s he’s failed to make. Against Chicago he slowed down on a route but still got his hands on what likely would have been a touchdown. Against the Bengals he lost the ball and missed what would have been another touchdown.

  • The Steelers have tried hitting Bryant on short routes, but he hasn’t come close to breaking one.

At this point the Steelers offense best offensive play call remains a hand off to Le’Veon Bell. Martavis Bryant might not be happy with his role in the Steelers offense, but he has no one to blame for himself for it.

Does Bryant think that, based on his play, any NFL General Manager is going to offer the Steelers anything other than a conditional 7th round 2021 compensatory pick in exchange for Bryant’s services?

The Steelers knew of Martavis Bryant’s substance abuse issues, but gave him a chance anyway. They’ve stood by him not once, but twice after failed drug tests, because they saw and still believe in his potential.

  • Martavis Bryant’s antics suggest that he doesn’t quite appreciate what that means.

Mike Tomlin benching Martavis Bryant for a game will give him a chance to give it the consideration it deserves. Hopefully when he returns Martavis Bryant let his play between the lines on Sundays do the talking for him.

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Looking @ the Steelers Thanksgiving Record – Can Pittsburgh Break the Turkey Day Curse?

The NFL is “honoring” the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 8th time by putting them in the national spotlight on Thanksgiving Day. Given the Steelers Thanksgiving record, one can imagine Art Rooney II saying a heartfelt “Thanks but no thanks” the next time the NFL offers them a turkey day slot.

Here is a look at the Steelers Thanksgiving record that has made for many a memorable turkey day that most of Steelers Nation Wish they could forget.

steelers thanksgiving record, steelers thanksgiving history, le'veon bell, le'veon bell concussion ravens, steelers ravens thanksgiving

Le’Veon Bell loses his helmet in the Steelers 2013 Thanksgiving loss at Baltimore. Photo Credit: Matt Hafley, Post-Gazette

Pre-Noll Era Steelers Thanksgiving Record 1-2

The Steelers played the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving Day in 1939 and 1940. The Pittsburgh Pirates, as they were still known then, lost to the Eagles on Thanksgiving in 1939 17-14. In 1940 the newly renamed Steelers had no better luck, losing to the Eagles 7-0.

The Steelers would have to wait another ten years, including their World War II stint as the Steagles, before playing on Thanksgiving Day. However, the NFL matched the Steelers up with the Chicago Cardinals on Thanksgiving day in 1950 and Pittsburgh prevailed led by Joe Geri’s 101 rushing yards, two touchdowns and 3 extra points.

1983 – The Thanksgiving Day Massacre

November 24th, 1983 @ The Pontiac Silverdome
Detroit 45, Pittsburgh 3

The 1983 Steelers had played the entire season without Terry Bradshaw, but despite that Cliff Stoudt combined with a defense that looked to be Super Bowl caliber had given the Steelers a 9-3 record and command of the AFC Central Division heading into their Thanksgiving Day game against Detroit. Detroit for its part was only 6-6.

As defensive coordinator Woody Widenhoffer admitted later, the Steelers weren’t prepared. And then some:

  • At the time, it was the Steelers worst loss in 36 years.

Cliff Stoudt threw 4 interceptions Mark Malone threw 1, Franco Harris gained 16 yards on 5 carries as both Harris and Walter Abercrombie’s combined totals were less than Frank Pollard’s. Meanwhile, Bill Sims looked like genetic fusion between Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, and Eric Hipple looked like Johnny Unitas.

The Steelers would lose the following week in Cincinnati. The week after it would take the last throws left in Terry Bradshaw’s arm to left them over the Jets as the Steelers stumbled into the playoffs where the LA Raiders quickly eliminated them.

1991 – Joe Walton Fails the Steelers. Again.

November 28th, 1991 @ Texas Stadium
Dallas 20, Pittsburgh 10

Considering that Dallas went to the playoffs and won a game and followed the next season with a Super Bowl Championship, one might wonder why this game was close at all. But it was.

  • And in many ways it symbolized all that was wrong with the Joe Walton era of the Steelers offense.

The Steelers still had a talented defense that had finished number 1 overall in 1990, led by players such as Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd and Carnell Lake. It still had the offensive core that had led the rallies that fueled the 1989 Steelers improbable run. But unfortunately, Chuck Noll’s last hire was his worst one, as he’d name Joe Walton his offensive coordinator and gave him total control.

The Steelers defense kept the Dallas Cowboys to 13 points until late into the third quarter, when Warren Williams narrowed the score to three.

  • Alas, Steve Beuerlein to Michael Irvin pass put the gave the Cowboys a 10 point lead.

And under Joe Walton’s offense, Neil O’Donnell couldn’t muster more than 167 yards, and no other skill player could break the 60 yard mark. In other words, in those days 10 points was far too much to overcome in a quarter.

1998 – The Phil Luckett Coin Flip Thanksgiving Day Fiasco

November 26th @ the Pontiac Silverdome
Detroit 19, Pittsburgh 16

For as bad as 1983’s Thanksgiving Day Massacre was, the Thanksgiving Day Coin Toss Disaster is standard by which every disappointment on the Steelers Thanksgiving record will be judged because it signified the end of an era.

The 1998 Steelers had had their ups and downs. Without a doubt, this Steelers team was missing something and Kordell Stewart clearly lacked the mojo he’d shown in the season before. But these 1998 Steelers had authored enough Tease Games – convincing wins over serious contenders – to give fans legitimate hope Bill Cowher’s boys could pull it together for a deep playoff run.

The scenario for the 1998 Steelers Thanksgiving Day game had all the trimmings for one of The Chin’s late season surges. The Steelers were fresh off a win at home over the division leading Jacksonville Jaguars and took a 7-4 record to Detroit. Jerome Bettis’ parents even had the entire team over for Thanksgiving dinner the night before.

  • It was not to be.

The Steelers played a sloppy game filled with blown coverages and easily catchable balls that receivers dropped. Nonetheless they opened a 13-3 lead in the third quarter, only to see the Lions kick a field goal, followed by a Charlie Batch to Herman Moore hook up that tied the score. Jacksonville added another 3 and the Steelers had to fight to get into position for a Norm Johnson field goal to tie the game.

  • Carnell Lake and Jerome Bettis approached midfield, called tails, the coin landed on tails but referee Phil Luckett awarded the ball to the Lions as Detroit’s captains struggled to suppress their laughter.
Jerome Bettis, Steelers Thanksgiving Record, steelers thanksgiving coin flip, phil luckett

Jerome Bettis clearly called tails, but Phil Luckett said he heard “heads” in the infamous Thanksgiving Day Coin Flip. Photo Credit: USA Today For the Win

The Lions got into scoring position thanks to another Herman Moore reception that came at Carnell Lake’s expense. A ticky tacky face mask penalty gave Detroit even more yards as they kicked the overtime field goal for the win.

The loss knocked the wind out of the 1998 Steelers sails, who would go on to lose their next 4 games. The Pittsburgh Steelers had been contenders since Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe began in 1992, but that era ended on Thanksgiving Day 1998 in Detroit.

2013 – The Tomlin Two-Step and the Failed 2 Pointer

November 28th @ M&T Bank Stadium
Baltimore 22, Pittsburgh 20

Outside of Pittsburgh, everyone remembers this game because of Mike Tomlin’s sideline two-step, but inside Steelers Nation this one was a heart breaker – not because the Steelers played poorly, but because they played so well. The 2013 Steelers had of course started at 0-4 and the 2-6 yet had clawed their way back to 5-6. A win vs. the Ravens would have restored the Steelers record to .500 and put Pittsburgh within striking distance of the AFC North title.

  • Alas, it was not to be.

The Ravens scored a quick touchdown, but the Steelers defense held Baltimore to field goals for the rest of the night. The Steelers offense stalled during the first half, but in the second half Le’Veon Bell and Emmanuel Sanders scored touchdowns, as Ben Roethlisberger connected with Heath Miller 9 times.

With time expiring the Steelers moved into scoring position:

  • Ben Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for 19 yards and an apparent touchdown. Overturned on replay.
    Le’Veon Bell rammed it in from the one. Overturned on replay because his helmet slipped off as he was being concussed.
  • Two plays later Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone…
  • ….but the two point conversion failed.

The Steelers tried an on-sides kick, but failed and the Ravens ran out the clock. While this loss was disappointing, it was Steelers-Ravens slugfest in the truest sense of the word.

Can the Steelers  break their Thanksgiving Day curse vs. the Colts in 2016? Time will tell.

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Steelers Report Card vs. Detroit Lions @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who wants to extol his star pupil for “having found something deep inside himself” but who does so with the knowledge the he said the same thing a year ago after the road win at Baltimore, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the victory over Detroit. As a caveat, no other Steelers report cards have been consulted prior to this posting.

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Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t perfect. In fact, during the second and third quarter one could fairly say he struggled mightily. And if he did suffer some Red Zone drops, he also badly overthrew Paulson in the end zone. Does that matter? Yes, but only a little. Ben Roethlisberger was good when the Steelers needed him to be, driving the Steelers to two consecutive opening scores, keeping drives alive even if they resulted in field goals, and most especially on the 97 yard, 8 minute go ahead touchdown drive that was simply vintage Ben. Grade:  A-

Running Backs
The Steelers totaled 40 yards rushing. Le’Veon Bell averaged 2 yards a carry. Felix Jones had one carry for a loss. Therefore it was a bad day for the running backs, right? Not exactly. The Steelers really didn’t try to run much. But Le’Veon Bell made an impact in the passing game, especially with his 3 yard catch on fourth down. Jonathan Dwyer likewise got the Steelers into the Red Zone on the go ahead catch, and Will Johnson delivered when it mattered, when the ball came his way in the end zone. The failed rushing attempts at the goal line cannot be overlooked, but this group found ways to deliver when necessary. Grade:  C+

Tight Ends
As a downside, and a major one, the Steelers tight ends are not helping much in the running game, and the offensive line’s run blocking could use some help (see below.) But Heath Miller worked himself into the offense, catching a season high 8 balls, making everyone count, although the end zone drop must be accounted for.  Grade:  C

Wide Receivers
Who was it that the Steelers let go to Miami? At some point no one will remember, because Antonio Brown will make them forget. Brown was explosive, turning two short passes into touchdowns early in the game, and generally doing what he does – finding ways to get open and catch the ball when the team needs him. Jerricho Cotchery has another specialty, and that’s the Red Zone. Cotchery got the Steelers into position for the go-ahead touchdown, and then perfectly sold the flanker screen on the insurance TD. Markus Wheaton got his first real action of the season was a welcome sight as he caught 3 passes. Grade:  A

Offensive Line
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” to borrow a quote from BTSC, such was the offensive line. The Steelers attempts to rush the ball were nothing more than an exercise in futility. This was made poignantly evident by the Steelers woeful inability to punch it in to the end zone in short yardage. Yet, for as bad as that was, the Steelers offensive line made up by provided Ben Roethlisberger the best run blocking he has had all season. Ben was sacked once and only hit twice, and its no coincidence that he also played his best game.  Grade:  C+

Defensive Line
The Detroit Lions came into the game with a strong rushing game which looked to dominate what has been a very well Steelers rush defense. On paper, it should have happened that way. But that’s why we play games. Cameron Heyward’s stats do not do justice to the disruptive force he is becoming up front, and he clearly hit Matthew Stafford on the interception. Ziggy Hood registered a sack, made two tackles for a loss and another QB hit. This unit played well. Grade:  B+

Linebackers
As usual the Steelers linebacking corps was led by none other than Lawrence Tim… Actually, Jason Worilds led the group and did so in fine fashion with a sack, tackle for a loss and a quarterback pressure. Lawrence Timmons was next, who was all over the field and had the presence of mind to recover the first fumble of the day. Jarvis Jones also got into the act, batting down two passes, including a key one on Detroit’s comeback attempt. All in all, a solid day from the linebackers.  Grade:  A-

Secondary
If ever there was a case for invoking the parable of The Prodigal Son in football analysis this was it. The Steelers secondary started stopping Detroit’s platinum powered passing game cold. Then Matthew Stafford and Megatron aka Calvin Johnson thoroughly torched them for 27 points in a single quarter. But then the secondary followed the flight of the phoenix, rising from the ashes. Along the way Troy Polamalu negated Reggie Bush, Ryan Clark KOed Megatron in the end zone, Ike Taylor had a solid 3 quarters, and William Gay did not see a pass completed against him all day (even if he did benefit from drops.) Oh, and the secondary came up with a game-sealing interception. The report card grades on performance and results. The results speak for themselves. Grade:  A-

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham was 3-3 and if you think that’s small potatoes consider the fact that the Steelers margin of victory was 10 points. The Lions did have one above average kick return and another above average punt return, but no damage was done. Mat McBriar shanked one punt but boomed off a 70 yarder. The Steelers return game was average. What wasn’t average was the attention to detail by the field goal kicking unit. A year ago the Steelers got caught asleep at the switch twice on fake punts. This time the Lions thought they could sneak a fake field goal in. Steve McLendon didn’t bite, smothering their punter while Cam Heyward forced a fumble which Ryan Clark recovered. Grade:  A-

Coaching
The quality of the game plans devised by Dick LeBeau and Todd Haley spoke for themselves. But Coaching isn’t just about roster choices, practice schedules, play calls and other game-day decisions.

  • Coaching is about establishing a culture.

Two weeks ago after the Steelers suffered a pulverizing vs. the Patriots the likes of which could have folded the will of any NFL team. That did not happen.

The same thing could have occurred during the Lions game itself. The Steelers, sitting at 3-6, could have easily decided to mail it in and accept 3-7 as inevitable. But this group has too much pride, too much confidence, and too much belief in one another. Not only did they not quit, they corrected their errors, remained focused and committed to themselves and one an other. That is to the credit of every man in the locker room, but it starts at the top, with their field general, Mike Tomlin.  Grade:  A

Unsung Hero Award
This gentleman joined the team in the 2010 free agent spending frenzy and sat on the bench for two years. Last year he started on the bench but came off it, and that’s when the line started moving up on the defense’s play. Yet, when he defected to Dallas, hardly a word was said. No one questioned the impact of his absence. But after the Cowboys picked him up, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin wasted no time in bringing him back. Vs. the Lions you could see why, as he led the team in tackles, defensed a pass, forced the first fumble, and essential ended the game with an interception. And for that safety Will Allen is the Unsung Hero Award winner for the victory vs. Detroit.

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Steelers Tame Lions, Megatron, 37-27 an Heinz Field

Several factors determine success or failure on the football field – talent, coaching, preparation, or perhaps just the bounce of the ball. But there are defining moments in a game, in a season, or even in a career, where circumstances force the men on the field to dig to find something deep inside them that takes them beyond where simple talent and coaching dictate.

Vs. the Detroit Lions, the Pittsburgh Steelers experienced one of those moments. The only question is whether the moment will define the season, the careers, or simply the game for the men on the field.

Ziggy Hood, Matthew Stafford, Steelers vs Lions

In one of his brighter moments as a Pittsburgh Steeler, Ziggy Hood sacks Matthew Stafford of the Lions. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA Today

Steelers Start Fast Out of the Gate Against Lions

Throughout 2013, Todd Haley has been scripting Pittsburgh’s opening drives and all season long the entire Steelers team has followed the same script — starting ineptly slow out of the gate. By any measure the Steelers 1st quarter performance has been anemic.

Versus the Lions, Haley opened his bag of tricks and allowed Ben Roethlisberger to unleash the no huddle.

  • The results spoke for themselves.

Three minutes and fifty eight seconds into the game, Ben had gone 5 for 5, Heath Miller was back in the game, the Steelers had converted two third downs, and Antonio Brown had transformed a short check down pass into a 34 yard touchdown.

The Steelers defense also did its part too. On its opening possession Detroit chanced it it on 4th and 2 only to see Ike Taylor successfully defend Megatron aka Calvin Johnson. On the next series the defense forced a Detroit 3 and out.

Ben Roethlisberger only needed 4 plays to take the score to 14-0, hooking up with Brown for a 45 yard touchdown.

  • The route that many predicted looked to be on, except that the Steelers were the routers and not the routees.

As the first 15 minutes expired, it wasn’t too much to ask  if the Steelers had authored their most stunning first quarter drive since the 2005 AFC Divisional playoffs. And yet Steelers Nation couldn’t resist that nagging question…. can they keep it up?

Lions, Megatron Roar to Life in Second Quarter

Execution has not been the Steelers problem in 2013. Even at 0-4 and 2-6, Mike Tomlin’s team has shown it was capable of making plays. Now, making plays on a consistent basis has been an entirely different question.

So it was only fitting that:

  • Detroit got on the board early in the second quarter

The Steelers defense responded with a forced fumble. The offense promptly moved to the 7, where the Steelers would of course settle for 3.

  • Matthew Stafford roared back with a 79 yard strike to Megatron aka Calvin Johnson

The Steelers drove again, this time reaching Detroit’s twelve where Ben Roethlisberger got sacked, ending another trip to the Red Zone with a kick for three. That set the stage for one of the more humiliating 7 minute spans the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense – and that’s including the Pulverizing vs. the Patriots.

  • It took Stafford and Megatron six plays to hook up for their next touchdown
  • Steelers responded with a 3 and out
  • Next, Stafford only hit Megatron once, who didn’t score but set up a touchdown run,
  • With 1:42 left in the half, the Steelers managed to regress from their 20 to their 4 before punting from their 10
  • With 1:02 remaining Stafford and Megatron failed to make end zone magic again, but they did hook up twice as the Lions kicked a field goal.

When the dust settled, in one quarter Calvin Johnson had 6 catches for 179 yards 2 touchdowns, Detroit had scored 27 points and the Steelers were down 27-20 in a game they’d once led 17-3…

Defense Quietly Digs In, While Offense Struggles

Heinz Field began emptying out at the half. Twitter lit up with calls to fire Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, Todd Haley, and/or Dick LeBeau and for Art Rooney II. After seeing so many Steeler self-destructions, it’s no surprise so many in Steelers Nation gave up.

  • The bigger question was, would the Mike Tomlin’s Steelers give up on themselves?

When all is said and done, Ben Roethlisberger will be remembered for his 4 touchdown, 367 yard passing performance vs. the Lions. And so he should.

But the fact that will be forgotten is that in between a fast start and a strong finish, Big Ben struggled mightily in the middle, going two drives without a completion, and another where he badly over threw a WIDE OPEN David Paulson in the end zone from the 1, resulting in yet another Red Zone failure.

After carving up the Steelers secondary in the second quarter, Matthew Stafford only completed three passes the rest of the day. Unfortunately for the Steelers, all three of those completions came just after the Steelers made it 27-23. On the strength of those three throws and some decent runs by Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, Detroit drove to the Steelers 10, and from there Stafford targeted Calvin Johnson again.

  • This time Ryan Clark was there, KOing Megatron and saving a touchdown in the process.

Lion’s coach Jim Schwartz was feeling his oats nonetheless. Rather than make it a 7 point game he went for all the marbles with a fake field goal. Punter Sam Martin never had a chance. Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward stopped him cold, forced a fumble and Ryan Clark recovered.

Now the Steelers offense, the same unit which had sent its punter on the field 5 times since the first half, only needed to go 97 yards….

Roethlisberger, Steelers Dig Deep for a Fine Fourth Quarter

…As a franchise, the Pittsburgh Steelers may have almost certainly put together finer fourth quarters. But its been a long time since Steelers Nation has witnessed the Steelers making such a strong 4th quarter statement.

The statement was so strong, because the Steelers saw plays from the top to bottom of their roster, as veterans worked in tandem with rookies, mentoring them on the art of learning to win. Consider:

  • At 3rd and 9, with Ben Roethlisberger standing in his own end zone, Antonio Brown caught a 16 yard pass
  • On 3rd and 12, Ben Roethlisberger saw nothing and ran for 10
  • On 4th and 2, Le’Veon Bell, who did nothing running all day, caught a 3 yard pass
  • Will Johnson, who has not touched the ball all year, scooted into the end zone untouched and caught the go-ahead touchdown for the Steelers

Next it was the defense’s turn, and with over 4 minutes to go, they needed to make it happen. On third and 10 Stafford ran the exact same play to Calvin Johnson that netted Detroit 79 yards and 6 points in the first half.

  • Will Allen, however, read the play from the very beginning and picked off the ball, returning it to the Lion’s 34.

After some dinking and dunking, Ben Roethlisberger called a fake screen, which sprung Jerricho Cotchery wide open into the end zone giving Pittsburgh a10 point lead.

Jarvis Jones batted down passes and Ziggy Hood ended the game with a sack, ensuring that Detroit’s last drives was nothing more than a desperation gasp.

After giving up 27 points in 1 quarter, the Steelers had shut out the Lions and come back to win the game.

All This Has Happened Before… Will It Happen Again?

Steelers Nation has every right to celebrate such a dramatic victory, but they should do so with their memories open.

One year ago today, another Steelers team, minus several key starters, authored a similar game, complete with a dramatic 4th quarter comeback. That of course was the Charlie Batch inspired road victory over Baltimore, a win that seem to signal that an otherwise uneven Steelers team had gotten its act together.

  • Unfortunately, the Steelers have been a model of inconsistency since then.

Versus the Detroit Lions the Pittsburgh Steelers swooned downward hard and fast. Yet what they found inside themselves that allowed them to rebound was real.

Now the question for Mike Tomlin is can he ensure that what they found remains both real and lasting…?

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The Difference in the Steelers 28-20 Defeat of Detroit

Match the defending champions with a 1-23 team that is missing its starting quarterback and its All Pro wide receiver, and what do you get?

Another 4th quarter nail biter.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Detroit Lions 28-20 at Ford Field, improving to 3-2 and a share of second place in the AFC North.

Alas, the 2009 Steelers have an uncanny knack for keeping it interesting until the final gun. This one never should have been close.

Steelers vs Lions, Rashard Mendenhall, Marquand Manuel, Anthony Henry

Steelers Rashard Mendenhall beats Lions’ Anthony Henry & Marquand Manuel for a touchdown in Steelers win at Ford Field. Photo Credit: Duane Burleson, AP via Penn Live.com

Steelers Run Up Stats on Lions

If statistics dictated score, the Steelers would have run away with this one.

Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdowns and completed 76% of his passes for just under 300 yards. He hit six receivers with Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and Mike Wallace scoring touchdowns.

Rashard Mendenhall ran strong in his third start, averaging 5.1 yards for 77 yards.

  • The Steelers offense went 4-4 in the Red Zone.

The Steelers defense held Kevin Smith to 54 yards and tossed Dante Culpepper to the turf 7 times, one shy of doubling their season sack total. They cut short four promising drives, intercepting the Lions once and forcing 3 field goal attempts.

Despite the dazzling stats, the Steelers almost stumbled into another fourth quarter meltdown.

Why?

Strong Stats Don’t (Always) Equal Consistent Play

The Steelers victory over the Lions shows how offense, defense, and special teams can all perform well, but you can still fail to play complete game.

The scoring summary tells the tail:

  • The Steelers defense held Detroit to 13 points
  • The Steelers offense put up 28

A 15 point differential is a victory formula on any given Sunday…

…but Ben Roethlisberger weakened that formula with an interception returned for a touchdown.
The defense diluted its accomplishments by letting Detroit quickly drive 82 yards for a touchdown that put the Lions within 8 with 4:57 remaining to play.

But the Steelers defense has no monopoly on 4th quarter difficulties. As Jim Wexell indicated in Steelers Digest, against the Chargers last week the Steelers offense added to a fourth quarter lead for the first time since week 16 of the 2007 season.

Alas, the late scoring streak lasted one game, as the Steelers fourth quarter offensive output amounted to:

  • 13 net yards on 12 plays that ended in 3 punts.

This time Pittsburgh did not stubbornly stick to an ineffective rushing attack late in the game.

If anything, Bruce Arians’ desire to deliver a knockout punch was too zealous. Early the in 4th, Ben Roethlisberger twice took sacks trying to go deep – a broken series which opened the door to Detroit’s final touchdown drive.

Arians mixed the play calling on the two other 4th quarter possessions, but Pittsburgh executed poorly, giving up a sack and failing to convert separate third downs.

With 3:07 remaining, the Steelers once again couldn’t move the chains while the defense once again was giving up quick scores. Once again, the all elements for meltdown were assembled.

Except one.

The Difference Against Detroit

Laymen chalked the losses to the Bears and Bengals to Troy Polamalu’s absence. Pittsburgh certainly missed Troy, but an astute analysis of those collapses revealed that the Steelers defensive emphasis too often shifted from pressure to coverage on key plays.

  • Dick LeBeau took note, and he did something about it.

Like their feline counterparts two weeks before, the Lions began at their own 29 and drove deep into Pittsburgh territory.

The difference in Detroit was that LeBeau mercilessly unleashed the blitz. The Steelers planted Dante Culpepper on his back on four out of final nine pass attempts.

When the Lions reached the Steelers 21 yard line, LeBeau turned it up a notch, sacking Culpepper three consecutive times, backing him up to the Steelers 45.

The Meaning of 3-2 for the Steelers

The Steelers have taken leads into the fourth quarter in each of the four games since the opener. The first two times Steelers Nation agonized as Pittsburgh lost in the closing moments. Against San Diego the offense stepped up, and against Detroit the defense took its turn and both times Steelers won.

As Mike Tomlin says, “they don’t add style points.”

At 3-2 the Steelers aren’t playing dominating football, but nor have they played their best football yet.

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Tomlin’s Test — Steelers to Face Detroit, Cleveland

The next two weeks on the Steelers schedule have them at Detroit and then the Browns travel to Pittsburgh. The opponents’ boast a collective 1-7 in the won-lost columns. If you think the Steelers have nothing to worry about, think again.

Winning the Games You’re Supposed to Win

What is the difference between the 2005 Steelers and the 2006 Steelers?

Besides the fact that the 2005 Steelers delivered One for The Thumb.

The 2005 Steelers defeated the Tennessee Titans (4-12), the Houston Texans (2-4), and the Green Bay Packers (4-12).

The 2006 Steelers lost to the Atlanta Falcons (7-9), Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8), split with the Cincinnati Bengals (8-8), and lost to the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/(someday again to be) Los Angeles Raiders 2-14.

  • The 2005 Steelers regular season record was 11-5. The 2006 finished at 8-8.

Certainly, its true that Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, a lack of a back to share the load with Willie Parker, and perhaps the uncertain status of Bill Cowher’s future clouded the 2006 Steelers.

But the fundamental principle remains the same:

  • The 2005 Steelers beat the teams they were supposed to beat*
  • The 2006 Steelers lost to teams they should have beaten

Those 2006 Steelers win 3 out of those 4 games they lost, and they go to the playoffs and get a shot at repeating.

They lost those games and stayed home.

Avoiding the “Schedule Game” Trap

Everyone denies they play the schedule game, looking at a schedule and saying “we got a W there, another W there, the following week’s going to be tough tough, but we got another easy win the next week after that….”

One of Cowher’s achievements, at least in the latter part of his career with the Steelers, was to keep his team focused the week’s opponent. They walked the walk when it came to the schedule game.

Tomlin’s Test

Mike Tomlin certainly does not play the schedule game. Listen to Tomlin in this week’s press conference, and you’d think the Steelers were traveling to Green Bay to play Lombardi’s Packers in late December.

But can Tomlin get the team to follow his example?

Steel Curtain Rising asked that question last year before the first match up against the Benglas, but the truth is, given the brutal nature of the Steelers schedule, Tomlin needed no help keeping the team focused.

He seemed to admit as much when he remarked that he really didn’t need to do anything to focus the team for the playoffs, because their schedule had already focused them.

However, one of the criticisms of Tomlin during his first year was that the Steelers seemed to sink to the level of their competition. The 2007 Steelers lost to:

  • The Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
  • the Denver Broncos (7-9)

To make matters worse, they also dropped one in overtime to the lowly New York Jets (4-12).

  • Curtain’s Call: Tomlin will pass this exam but, given the 4th quarter meltdowns against the Bengals and Bears, one can legitimately classify this as a “test.”

*Full Disclosure: Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola made this observation early in the 2005 season, after the Steelers opened with victories against the Titans and Texans.

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