By David Todd
The Pittsburgh Steelers took on the Baltimore Ravens in their third consecutive nationally-televised game at Heinz Field on a night when they retired Joe Greene’s jersey. They did Mean Joe proud, throttling the visitors 43-23 to raise their record to 6-3. It wasn’t quite a throwback to the dominating days of the Steel Curtain, but the Steelers defense played its best game of the season and the two first half turnovers they created helped jump-start a now-explosive offense. Ben Roethlisberger and the offense continued their assault on the record books, as Ben threw six more touchdowns to become the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 12 in two games and the Steelers put up 40+ points in back-to-back games for only the second time in their history.
The Steelers came into their three game homestead against AFC teams needing to win at least two and got a sweep. They now go on the road to take on the Jets and Titans (another Monday night matchup and their fifth night game in ten), two of the weaker teams in the conference, before hitting the bye week the week of Thanksgiving.
Troy Polamalu left in the second quarter with a knee sprain, Ryan Shazier was hobbled by an ankle injury and Shamarko Thomas injured his other hamstring after missing the pass two weeks with a hamstring pull. James Harrison suffered a knee injury but returned to action.
Marcus Gilbert, Steve McLendon and Shamarko Thomas all returned after missing time. Ike Taylor remains sidelined due to injury and Daniel McCullers was inactive after seeing action the past two weeks.
*Last week Ben Roethlisberger was superb. This week he was nearly as good. The QB admittedly got of to a slow start going 1-for-5 as the Steelers generated no offense in their opening four drives, but from that point he was lights out. Ben finished 25-for-37 for 340 yards, 6 TDs, 0 INTs. He became only the second player to throw for six touchdowns in a game and he’s now done it two weeks in a row. Helped by some exceptional play design, Roethlisberger did a great job of looking off defenders (not always a strong-suit), pump-faking and delivering the ball with touch and accuracy. Ben is now in the top five in the league in yards/game, TDs, completion percentage, passer rating, completions of 40+ yards and Interception percentage. He has only thrown three interceptions in 338 attempts on the year.
*Last week regarding Antonio Brown:
“Antonio Brown is the best receiver in football and continues to demonstrate it weekly. Much has been made about his now 24-game record of 5 catches and 50+ yards receiving, but it speaks to his amazing consistency over the past two seasons. And Brown only seems to be getting better. He was targeted 13 times in this one and finished with 10 catches, 133 yards and two touchdowns. Each week he adds to the highlight reel and this was no exception.”
I’m running out of superlatives. This week Brown had 11 catches on 16 targets for 144 yards and a TD. The touchdown, his long of the year, was a 54-yard catch and run very reminiscent of the two TD catches he had against the Lions last year. He leads the league in catches, is second in yards/game and became the first player ever to have 80+ receiving yards in 11 consecutive games. Brown repeatedly used a stiff-arm in this one to ward off defenders and gain more yards. He continues to get better.
*Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are emerging as an explosive tandem opposite Brown. Bryant caught two more touchdowns and now has five in his first three games. His play-package and route-tree are expanding and on one of his TDs he did a great job of shielding the defender from the ball as he made the catch at the goal line. Wheaton caught a TD in his second consecutive game and appears to be back in-sync with his quarterback after a rough stretch.
*The Steelers red zone problems from earlier in the season have disappeared. They went 3-for-3 in this one after going 5-for-6 last week. It is worth noting that the Steelers have almost completely eschewed the no-huddle during this three-game winning streak.
*The offensive line gave a passable effort and seemed to get better as the game went on, but they did have a stretch of giving up sacks on three consecutive plays in the second quarter.
*James Harrison. For the second week in a row Harrison registered two sacks and for good measure added two tackles-for-loss and four QB hits. He looked like the James Harrison of old. I didn’t think Harrison would be a factor in this defense when he was signed. If anything, I figured he might help in the run-game. He is proving me wrong, getting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks the past two weeks and becoming the oldest player to have multiple sacks in back-to-back games.
*The Steelers defense has now recorded multiple turnovers in three consecutive games. Sunday night they generated two within 2:18 of each other in the second quarter that completely changed the complexion of the game. Arthur Moats forced a fumble recovered by Brice McCain that setup the first touchdown and a Jason Worilds interception setup the second as the Steelers took a 14-7 lead and never trailed.
*After getting gashed by the Ravens outside-zone running game in week two, the Steelers held the Ravens ground game largely in check limiting them to 63 yards on 18 carries. Steve McLendon was solid coming back from injury getting some good push and disrupting the Ravens interior line.
*The Steelers held the Ravens to only two explosive plays (20+ yards) after giving up seven last week to the Colts.
*Brice McCain continues to perform well as the starter replacing Cortez Allen, but on the Ravens first touchdown his play was very reminiscent of Allen. He had decent position against Torrey Smith but failed to get his head around and Smith caught a 35-yard TD.
*With the struggles the Steelers have had in the return game I guess we should note the fact that LeGarrette Blount had a 29-yard kickoff return.
*The Steelers kick coverage units have been good this season, but they gave up a 108-yard return to Jacoby Jones, always deflating immediately following a score.
*Brad Wing made the best of a botched hold on an extra point attempt completing a conversion-pass to Matt Spaeth, but this is now two holds he has blown in the past month.
*The offensive game plan was excellent. The play-design on the touchdown passes to both Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant stood out. In both cases the Steelers lined up to create favorable matchups and the route combinations created the desired results.
*I liked the aggressive gameplan Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau implemented for the second week in a row (certainly playing with a lead was a factor each week). The Steelers brought pressure often and pounded Joe Flacco. It was the unit’s best 60 minutes of the season.
*Mike Tomlin was aggressive on a fourth down call late in the game for the second week in a row. With his team up 36-23 and 2:00 left, the offense faced a 4th-and-2 at the Ravens 33, Ben went play-action and found Matt Spaeth open behind the defense for a touchdown. It was another gutsy call that worked.
*The team generally kept their composure in a game that got chippy, particularly on the Ravens side.
*Classify this as curious rather than bad, but I have no idea what is dictating the use of Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams and Sean Spence at the inside linebacker position next to Lawrence Timmons.
Big Officiating Calls
*Lots of penalty calls in this one, but nothing game-altering.
The Steelers will take on the (1-8) New York Jets, November 9 at Met Life Stadium. 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.