By Michael K. Reynolds
Before the bright lights of Sunday’s nationally broadcast game against the Carolina Panthers, the young and heavily remodeled Pittsburgh Steelers might have given the league and their fans a glimpse into a fabulous future.
No. The defense wasn’t perfect and Carolina’s offense isn’t exactly explosive. But this was a dominating running performance against the Panthers elite front seven.
Could this be the game to shift the team’s fortunes? It’s too early to tell, but at least it makes for some much needed cheerful rapid fire conclusions:
Now That’s Entertainment!
Talk about giving the people what they want. Something to give a Terrible Towel a good twirling. A real, genuine, Steelers-like victory. A dominating run game, steady defense, forced turnovers and reliable special teams. This was one of the most satisfying wins for the Black and Gold faithful in quite some time.
Most Impressive Part About The Victory
What’s most notable about this crucial and resounding Steelers victory is that they overcame a rough start. The game began with the Steelers once again looking disheveled and unprepared, with some poor penalties, wasted timeouts and ineffectiveness on the field. But credit the emerging character of the squad as the leaders began to rally their teammates, belief grew and then the rout was on.
Cody Wallace Deserving of Starting Consideration?
You can do all kinds of film study, detailed analysis and make considerations for experience and leadership qualities. Or you can keep it simple. When Cody Wallace played last year at center for injured Maurkice Pouncey the offensive line performed well and exuded toughness in the trenches. When he covered for guard Ramon Foster against the Panthers the team’s run blocking performed better than it did for years. Perhaps he is a better dance partner for Pouncey and David DeCastro in the interior of the line?
Injuries Tough…But Not Crippling
The news wasn’t all good with big injuries to Ike Taylor, Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier. But the Steelers may be fine while these players are healing. Antwon Blake is struggling with confidence, but he has elite speed and his abilities on special teams shows he’s got core talent. Maybe this opportunity allows him to rise to the challenge and be the player the team has hoped. William Gay has been the team’s most reliable defender and he’ll get a chance to raise his leadership in Taylor’s absence. Sean Spence is not only capable of filling in for Shazier but is deserving of the chance to get precious game experience. Arthur Moats may be the team’s best pass rusher. Although this leaves the Steelers depth thin for now, it will make them a much more well-rounded defensive unit when these starters return from injury.
Touchdown Answer: The Red Zone Shuffle
Did the Steelers find the answer to their Red Zone woes? Forget the elaborate short yardage plays and the desire to recruit seven foot receivers. Just give Big Ben the ball, have him scramble and let Antonio Brown dance around until he finds an opening.
Following his “Pancake Performance” against the Baltimore Ravens, right tackle Marcus Gilbert had an outstanding comeback game it must be said. The entire defensive line were impressive at various points in the game with Steve McLendon, Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward all flashing well. Punter Brad Wing is really settling in and Shaun Suisham’s preseason hangover seems like a distant Las Vegas adventure. Still on the “Looking for Redemption” list is Cortez Allen, who is continuing to struggle in coverage and tackling and needs to find his game quickly now with the Taylor injury.
For those of us who listen faithfully to The Terrible Podcast, you got an earful of Dave Bryan’s unrelenting rants on the potential of Kelvin Benjamin and his urging of the Steelers to consider him as their number one pick. While other experts were dismissing Benjamin because of a perceived lack of speed and a case of the dropsies, Dave held firm. Looks like Dave was right. Not saying he was a better option than Shazier but Benjamin is definitely a heck of a player and may be positioning himself for Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration.
Some More of Say Hey Bey?
If the Steelers continue to have success with the running game they are going to find opposes defenses beginning to crowd the line of scrimmage. Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, a one-time Raiders bust, yet still an elite physical specimen, continues to be a revelation for the Steelers. His drawing of a long pass interference penalty was a key part of Steelers offense finding its groove. What was surprising was they never threw deep to him again the remainder of the game. Isn’t it time for Todd Haley to try to give Heyward-Bey more of a Mike Wallace role in stretching the field and work him deeper into the game plan?