By David Todd
The Pittsburgh Steelers got a chance to perform on the road in front of a national television audience for the second week in a row and it was a completely different outcome this time. After being outclassed in Baltimore last week, the Steelers dominated the Carolina Panthers 37-19, snapping Carolina’s five game regular season win streak and nine game home win streak. The running game was the story as both Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount went over one hundred yards and the offense totaled 264 yards on the ground, the third highest output since 2000 and the most ever under Mike Tomlin. It’s the first time two Steelers backs have gone over one hundred yards in the same game since 1986. An interesting feature of the run game was the extensive use of Matt Spaeth as a second tight end and Will Johnson in the H-back/fulback role for the first time this season.
In addition to a potent run game, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown for two seven-yard TDs and the defense recorded its first turnover of the season leading to one touchdown, and special teams created another resulting in a fumble recovery for another touchdown. With 0-3 Tampa, 0-3 Jacksonville and 1-2 Cleveland on the schedule the next three weeks the Steelers have a chance to be in very good position come mid-October. The one big negative coming out of this one was the injury report.
The second half was brutal in terms of injuries for the Steelers defense, two of which came on inadvertent contact from Lawrence Timmons. On Carolina’s opening drive of the half Ryan Shazier was standing near the pile when Timmons fell backwards onto his right leg. Shazier suffered an MCL sprain to his right knee and did not return, but he was walking on the sidelines. Later on the same drive Jarvis Jones registered his second sack of the season which the Steelers recovered, but injured his right wrist on the play. It is being reported that Jones needed surgery on his wrist. Ike Taylor suffered a broken right forearm when he was hit by Timmons who joined in on a tackle. It might mean the end of Taylor’s 12-year career. I think Taylor will prove to be the most significant injury of the three because of the Steelers lack of quality depth at the position.
Both Ramon Foster and Dri Archer were inactive due to injury. Lance Moore returned, but surprisingly only saw action on one play.
*Le’Veon Bell is quickly turning into one of the most complete backs in the NFL in his second season. The one big question coming into the season was whether Bell had the breakaway speed to consistently break off long runs. Consider that one answered as Bell broke off an 81-yarder in this one, the longest run by a Steeler back since Frenchy Fuqua went for 85 in 1970. Bell has had runs over 20-yards in all three games this season and he finished this one with 147 yards on 21 carries his second 100-yard game of the season and third of his career. HIs patience and vision are outstanding and he has done a great job of running between the tackles this season.
*LeGarrette Blount is known as a bruising downhill runner and that was on full display on his 8-yard touchdown run when he ran over safety Thomas Decoud after a great seal block by Will Johnson. But Blount speed and athleticism are probably underrated and we saw him break of a 50-yarder in this one and hurdle corner Antoine Cason on another 17-yard run. Blount finished with 118 yards on ten carries.
*The Steelers offensive line gets a game ball in this one. The team averaged 7.8 yards/carry on 34 attempts and gave up a season-low one sack. The double team block by David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert on Star Lotulelei opened up a crease and Maurkice Pouncey and Cody Wallace won their blocks on the other side allowing Bell to burst through on his 81-yard jaunt. It was a dominating performance by the unit, by far their best of the season against a solid Carolina front seven.
*Antonio Brown caught two seven-yard TDs and extended his streak of games with five catches for at least 50 yards to 19, tying the NFL record, ending with ten catches for 90 yards. Brown is an elite playmaker and it is clear Todd Haley will do whatever necessary to get the ball in ABs hands early and often.
*Ben Roethlisberger was solid, going 22-for-30 for 196 yards, two TDs and a QB rating of 112.6. There were also pass interference penalties of 42 and 19 yards. His first touchdown pass to AB was again vintage Ben, pumping left, scrambling right and making a sidearm toss to the back of the end zone, dropping perfectly over safety Roman Harper into the hands of Brown. It wasn’t as dramatic as his Super Bowl winning throw to Santonio Holmes, but it was just as good.
*Not much here, but penalties on the offensive side of the ball are generally drive killers and the Steelers again had too many. David DeCastro’s unnecessary roughness penalty was particularly bad, potentially costing the Steelers points right at the end of the half.
*The offense was unable to score a touchdown in the first half which made it eight straight quarters without a TD.
*Michael Palmer got an opportunity in the red zone from the Panthers one-yard line in the third quarter. Not only did Palmer drop the pass from Ben (it was tipped), he also committed offensive pass interference. For a guy who gets few opportunities, he has to do better.
*On 3rd-and-4 from the Carolina 11 and the Steelers leading 9-3, Ben missed didn’t see an open Markus Wheaton on a slant and instead threw incomplete to Heath Miller. The Steelers got a break when Carolina jumped offside on the ensuing FG attempt and Ben converted to AB with the second chance.
*The Steelers were able to bring constant pressure on Carolina QB Cam Newton. After getting no sacks last week they registered three sacks including Jarvis Jones’ second sack of the season creating his first career forced fumble which was recovered by Jason Worilds. Cameron Heyward and Brett Keisel were both notable and had excellent games.
*The defense, which gave up 157 and 183 on the ground the first two weeks, held Carolina to 42 yards on ten attempts. The play calling by Carolina, particularly in the first half when they only attempted to run the ball five times, was curious to say the least.
*I raved about Arthur Moats (and Shamarko Thomas) all training camp and he got an opportunity to play in this one, filling in after Jones’ injury. He made an immediate impact, registering his first sack coming off the right edge. Both he and Sean Spence were solid coming in after injuries to starters.
*The tackling was better throughout in this one.
*The pass defense was not great. The defense gave up three explosive plays in the fourth quarter with a big lead. Most notable was Cortez Allen getting beat for a 37-yard TD to tight end Greg Olsen with the Steelers up 23-6. That just can’t happen. It was a really bad decision by Allen who looked like he wanted to undercut the out route and didn’t get there and then couldn’t catch Olsen down the sideline.
*Antwon Blake got beat on a 35-yard TD to Kelvin Benjamin with 3:53 left in the game. Blake was giving up eight inches to Benjamin, but he was in great position. His technique broke down with the ball in the air and he got turned around and couldn’t make the play.
*With his third field goal Shaun Suisham set a franchise record for the most consecutive field goals made in team history with 23.
*It’s easily overlooked, but the Steelers have been good at drawing the opposition offside with less then five yards to go on fourth down when attempting a field goal. I don’t know if it’s Brad Wing‘s cadence or something else, but they did it again last night, got a first down and scored a touchdown on the next play.
*Brad Wing averaged 46 yards on three punts and boomed a 59-yarder in the second half which ended up being fumbled and eventually recovered for a Steelers touchdown.
*Shamarko Thomas created a turnover getting down quickly to cover Wing’s 59-yard punt which was recovered by Robert Golden for the touchdown.
*Kudos to Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin for getting Will Johnson and Matt Spaeth more involved. It will be interesting to see if the “fullback” becomes more of a staple in the Steelers offense going forward.
*I would call this curious as opposed to bad, but it was interesting that Justin Brown remained the Steelers slot receiver with Lance Moore active. It will be interesting to see how this plays out going forward.
*Again, I would have expected more no-huddle when the Steelers were struggling to score touchdowns in the first half.
Big Officiating Calls
*The Markus Wheaton no-touchdown call was unclear. Did Wheaton re-establish in the field of play? I don’t know if the refs got that one right or not.
Up Next: The Steelers will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, September 28 at Heinz Field. Kick-off is scheduled for 1:00 EST.
Reminder: You can hear me on the pregame show on WDVE & 970 ESPN before every Steelers game and on weekdays on 970 ESPN from 3-6 pm. You can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.