The Pittsburgh Steelers went on the road in week 3 and beat the St. Louis Rams 12-6 in what will certainly be their last appearance in the Edward Jones Dump. The start of this one was delayed 26 minutes because pregame pyrotechnics burned the field near the five yard line and the final result was overshadowed by a Ben Roethlisberger knee injury sustained in the third quarter. (After an MRI on Monday it was determined that Roethlisberger suffered an MCL sprain to, not a tear, to his left knee and is expected to be out 4-6 weeks)
The Steelers offense opened fast putting up 9 points in their first two drives but an interception, penalties and sacks slowed them the rest of the way as the Rams defensive front took control of the game in the second half. The defense continued to show improvement holding a weaponless Rams offense to only six points and getting a turnover late to clinch it.
Ben Roethlisberger left with a knee injury suffered on a low hit by Rams safety Mark Barron. He left the stadium on crutches. The team is cautiously optimistic that there is no ACL/MCL tear, but Roethlisberger is certain to miss extended time, even if the injury is not season-ending. Antwon Blake was checked for a concussion, but returned to action. Matt Spaeth fractured his hand and will be in a cast. James Harrison suffered a thumb injury. Ryan Shazier, Cortez Allen and Daniel McCullers were all inactive.
The Steelers started right were the left off against San Francisco, piling up 169 yards on their opening two drives, but only gained 90 yards the rest of the way.
*Antonio Brown. More of the same. 11 receptions in 13 targets. 108 yards. Brown had an outstanding catch-and-run in the middle of the third quarter. On 3rd-and-13 he caught a quick slant about four yards past the line of scrimmage and reversed field, turning it into a 14-yard gain and a first down. His short-area quickness is unmatched. His 436 yards receiving after three games is fourth best in NFL history. Unfortunately the loss of Roethlisberger is likely to crimp AB’s production going forward.
*Le’Veon Bell picked up right where he left off last season. He put up 132 yards of total offense, 62 rushing on 19 carries with a TD and 70 receiving on 7 catches. With 5:38 left in the game and the Steelers clinging to a 9-6 starting from their own 25, Bell ripped off a 23-yard run that ensured the Rams would not have good field position to start their last possession, if they got the ball back. He also continues to be a matchup nightmare in the passing game. Linebackers and safeties just can’t cover him.
*Before leaving with an injury, Ben was 20/24 for 192 yards. He made the first two drives look like simple pitch-and-catch going 13-15 for 132 yards, finding Antonio Brown 7 times and making it look like he could do whatever he wanted.
*The offensive lined got manhandled by the Rams front seven after the opening two drives. They gave up five sacks, committed numerous penalties and had trouble creating holes for the run game. The silver lining is the Rams front will be the best they see all season.
*Down 9-0 in the second quarter the Rams tried a fake punt near midfield. The play was open but the punter underthrew Stedman Bailey. With a chance to put an early dagger in the Rams, Kelvin Beachum drew an illegal hands-to-the face penalty on first down. On 2nd-and-19 Ben threw deep and was intercepted. The penalty put the Steelers behind the chains. It was one of two penalties on Beachum who really struggled in this one.
*Michael Vick has a history of fumbling. He lost the ball once in this one but Le’Veon Bell recovered. Something to watch going forward.
Another solid overall performance by the defense which does appear to be getting better. Holding any team in today’s NFL to 6 points is an achievement.
*Stephon Tuitt played his best game as a pro for the second week in a row. He has violent hands and is a max effort guy, continually showing up in plays to the other side or downfield. He recorded another sack while leading the team in tackles and recording two tackles for loss.
*Sean Spence got the majority of snaps ahead of Vince Williams in place of the injured Ryan Shazier. With 7:35 left in the game and Pittsburgh up 9-3, the Rams got a first down on the Steelers 7. They ran Tre Mason off right tackle and Spence knifed in and made the tackle for a 2-yard loss. It was a huge play and the Rams ended up settling for FG.
*The Steelers may have found a useful player in corner Ross Cockrell picked up on waivers from Buffalo. Early days but he looked solid in the 20+ snaps he played and apparently has moved ahead of Brandon Boykin on the depth chart.
*Will Allen got a pick, the first by a Steelers safety in over a year and the first by the team this season.
*Not a lot here, but the defense and more specifically the defensive backs missed a ton of tackles. They have to be more sound.
*The Steelers got some breaks again due to the opponent’s poor execution. The Rams should have converted a fake punt in the first half and in the second Lance Kendricks was open deep behind James Harrison for a potential TD, but dropped the pass. The Steelers have had trouble covering tight ends and Kendricks had a couple drops that really helped them out.
*The Rams were effective with play fakes and misdirection. You want the defense to play fast and aggressively, but I’m sure future teams will see this on tape and look to take advantage. The throw-back pass to the tight end discussed above was used by the Browns for big gains against the Steelers last year. Look for other teams to do the same.
*Punter Jordan Berry is off to a great start. His four punts went 57, 51, 54 and 34 yards with two inside the twenty. The Steelers haven’t had a punter who can consistently flip the field in years. It looks like they found one.
*The coverage units continue to be sound and were generally able to control a dangerous Tavon Austin.
*No missed kicks from Josh Scobee. He made both of the FGs he attempted and was solid on kickoffs.
* Antonio Brown has to stop fair catching punts inside the 10 yard line. He did it again at the 7 on Sunday. Put the heels on the 10 and don’t go backwards.
*Todd Haley’s opening game plan was excellent. The Steelers spread the Rams out and were able to minimize the pass rush.
*Keith Butler seems to have solved the early season communication problems.
*With less than ten seconds left in the first half, the Steelers had 2nd-and-19 from their own 24. Ben completed a short pass over the middle to Heath Miller and the half ended. There is no point in running that play. Just take a knee.
*As the game went on and the Rams were able to dominate the Steelers OLine, I think it is reasonable to question if the Steelers should have changed their protection schemes.
Big Officiating Calls:
*I’m not sure why the officials didn’t flag Barron for the low hit on Roethlisberger. Mike Tomlin expressed his displeasure with the call after the game.
Up Next: The Steelers are back on home on a short week. They take on the division-rival Baltimore Ravens Thursday night. Kickoff is 8:25 pm EST.
Reminder: You can hear me on the pregame show on WDVE before every Steelers game and on weekdays on ESPN Pittsburgh from 4-7 pm. You can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.