By Michael K. Reynolds
The Pittsburgh Steelers nearly had to leave Nashville like so many others before them; with nothing more than a worn-out guitar case and a broken heart. Fortunately, with a masterful fourth quarter performance, the team beat the Tennessee Titans 27-24 in Grand Ole Opry style.
So before the banjo gets any further out of tune here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions:
An Ugly Way To Be Sitting Pretty
When the lanky Tennessee tight end Chase Coffman snatched the ball over the diminutive Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake for a touchdown with 3:42 left in third quarter it looked once again as if the Black and Gold was going to be bullied by a 90-pound weakling. It even had that feel toward the end of the second half when Ben Roethlisberger threw a poor interception only to be followed up by William Gay inexcusably getting beat on an 80 yard stop and go by former Steeler Nate Washington. But the Steelers rallied and despite looking meek against the Titans (2-8), New York Jets (2-8), Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8), the team finds itself with an impressive 7-4 record going into the Bye week. This isn’t how anybody would have drawn it up at the beginning of the season, but it’s a pretty picture for the Steelers nonetheless.
Air Coryell Makes Way For Ground Chuck
Rumor has it that with seven minutes left in the game former Steelers Coach Bill Cowher and Jerome Bettis performed an effective coup d’état and took over the driving wheel of the offense. Between the will of the offensive line, the play calling of Todd Haley and talent of Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers closed out the game in the most impressive way possible. It was old school Steelers football complete with the wheels spinning on the bus once again. It was the kind of closeout win that will give the team confidence in their running game the remainder of the year.
Third Best Player on Offense?
The Steelers offensive line certainly shifted things into a higher gear in the fourth quarter of the game, but many of Le’Veon Bell’s 204 yards were about Bell being…special. His patience, shiftiness, versatility and unexpected burst are rapidly getting him in the conversation of the league’s best at his position. And speaking of All-Pro’s? Antonio Brown seemingly is getting better each game. Can a 5 foot 10 receiver be the best in the NFL? Antonio’s play says “Yes”. Which leaves us with Ben Roethlisberger. It must be said this was not a great game for Big Ben. Sure, the Titans blitz pressure was tough, but it’s on the quarterback to make quick decisions and accurate passes to make defenses pay for gambling. Ben’s miss of a wide-open Dri Archer and under-throw of Martavis Bryant were two opportunities to get the Titans to change their approach. His interception at the tail end of the second half was as poor as they come. Roethlisberger had similar errant throws last week against the Jets. Credit Big Ben for hanging tough and fighting back against the Titans, but if he can bring more consistency to his greatness, the Steelers can add some hardware to the Rooney’s trophy case this season.
Junior Varsity Kickoffs
Squib kicking the ball in the first half against a 2-7 football team? Has the team’s special teams sunk to such lows that they are willing to spot the opposing team a start on the 40 yard line? Why not just kick it out of bounds if your tail is so firmly between your legs? Shaun Suisham continues to be a liability on kickoffs in what is increasingly a disappointing year for special teams. Isn’t there some guy in a bar somewhere who could be tasked with kicking the ball out of the end zone? Maybe he can punt as well.
Mount Run Stopper?
The Tennessee Titans managed only 49 yards of rushing against the Steelers. Can that be attributed to the rookie starting debut of Daniel McCullers? On the first play of the game, Big Dan drew a double team, the first of many throughout the game. His best play (unfortunately) came on Tennessee’s first touchdown when he took the Titans center and in one smooth motion picked him up and Gronked him out of the bar. Altogether this was an uneventful game for the big fella and he appeared to be relegated to a back-up role in the second half for some reason. It will be interesting to hear why the coaches had him ride the pine.
Steelers Fans Don’t Travel Well
It seems like every national broadcast of a road game you’ll hear the announcers in awe about the number of Steelers fans attending and waving their Terrible Towels. It almost always invites the incorrect journalistic comment that “Steelers fans travel well.” Steelers fans don’t travel from Pittsburgh. The proof is clear. They don’t even travel twenty minutes to their own home games. The real reason away games look like home games is that Steelers fans are everywhere. Which brings up an important point. If road game Steelers fans can brave inflated ticket prices, getting their cars keyed and having beer tossed on them, shouldn’t the home fans step it up and fill Heinz Field to capacity?
LeGarrette Blount Exit May Save Archer’s Season
The Titans game was another bad Dri day. He catches one ball for negative five yards. Then drops another and receives a nationally broadcast hollering by Big Ben. And then when Archer finds himself open down the sidelines without a single Titan defender in sight he gets ignored by his quarterback. The young man needs a big play in a bad way. With LeGarrette Blount being released following his early walk-off, Archer might benefit greatly by moving up to the back-up spot. Archer needs more field time to get comfortable and to make his presence known and he may prove to be a much better change of pace back than Blount. Otherwise the “bust” murmurs will only get louder.
Primed To Retool
The Steelers battleship is 7-4 and on the high seas to the playoffs but make no mistake about it, this is a team with some serious leakage. The defense is suspect, the offense is inconsistent and the special teams are unimpressive. The Bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for the Steelers as they’ll be joined in health by players like Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Shazier and Steve McLendon. If the Steelers are smart, they won’t look at this Bye week as a break, but rather as a power packed mini-camp. If they put some serious work in they could emerge from the Bye fully fit, retooled and as a serious contender for a Super Bowl run.