Before a record-breaking crowd, the Pittsburgh Steelers made Heinz Field a field of dreams for their fans by crushing the San Francisco 49ers by a margin of 43-18.
With offensive coordinator Todd Haley doing his best impression of Bruce Arians, it was bombs away for the Black and Gold in an impressive display of offensive dominance.
Even the woebegone Steelers defense displayed some fireworks of their own with a promising hint of their burgeoning potential.
So with the streets of the Burgh overflowing with high hopes, here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions:
World Peace Breaks Out
After its first bumbled drive the Steelers offense ran off of the field saying, “Hey…isn’t this great? Even the refs are waving Terrible Towels.” There were so many flags against the Steelers at the start of the game it looked like a gathering of the United Nations. Fortunately, the team settled down and the rout was on.
Equipment Manager Busted
After such a dominating offensive display it is easy to get upset with the Steelers equipment manager. Why? For apparently neglecting to pack the team’s high scoring offense on their road trip to New England. Following this second week of play, the Patriots now have the 29th ranked defense yet the Steelers only mustered 21 points against them. After witnessing the melting of the 49ers defense, it does underscore the missed opportunity of the week prior.
Top Of The Charts
The Antonio Brown Show is in full swing this season. Who would have thought it possible that the All-Pro is on pace to outperform his lofty accomplishments of 2014? He’s still years away from taking the crown, but Antonio Brown has what it takes to compete with G.O.A.T. status. Just like Jerry Rice, he has unparalleled consistency, an out-of-this-world worth ethic and an unwavering desire to be the very best. His career will be extended by his ability to create separation and to make the difficult catch in traffic. Even when his speed fades in old age he will still be a gifted slot receiver for many years. His health is the only limit to what he can accomplish.
Is it time to stop worrying about Antonio Brown as a punt returner? Could he get hurt? Yes…just as he could on a bubble screen, a deep fly, a skinny post…or even…dare we say it…attempting to throw an ill-advised double pass. The punt return is just another play. Why wouldn’t we want the ball in his hands on punt returns?
There’s much to cheer with the emergence of Darrius Heyward-Bey as a deep threat and a third down receiver. If his confidence can continue to grow, expect to see Todd Haley to shift to more four receiver sets when Martavis Bryant returns. With Le’Veon Bell as one of the top receiving backs in the league and the always steady Heath Miller as an option, how will defenses be expected to cover the Steelers?
The Other Tackle
The offensive line is clearly a Steelers strength now (excepting some struggles with penalties) and Coach Mike Munchak deserves as much of the credit as anyone. But with all of the attention surrounding Kelvin Beachum and his contract situation, the “other tackle” has been quietly performing at a high level. Marcus Gilbert, a huge man at 6-6 and over 330 pounds may have benefited more than any other player from Munchak’s tutelage. He has silently become a dominant force on the right edge of the line.
There is no question “The Book” on playing the Steelers includes throwing in front of Antwon Blake on third downs, and over him in the Red Zone. But in reality, Blake isn’t that far away from being a productive cornerback. His superior Special Teams play shows on the field with his ability to crash against the screen and provide attitude to the defense. He reminds a little of the early struggling days of William Gay. At the start of his career, Gay’s fear of getting beat deep resulted in surrendering short pass after short pass to the point where he was practically vilified by Steelers fans. Blake, who is reported to have 4.3 speed, needs to be encouraged by coaches to be more aggressive on the short routes and given a pass if he gets beat deep. He’s not that far away from being successful.
Not too long ago, it was Keith Butler’s (in his former role as linebacker’s coach) belief that it took a few years for an outside edge linebacker to find his groove. Yet, Bud Dupree has already registered 2 sacks in two games. Since he only plays half of the snaps, does that mean he’s on the equivalent pace of a 32 sack season? He’s still plenty green around the gills but there is real hope that Dupree might be another notch in the win column for General Manager Kevin Colbert.
What may be most surprising about Ryan Shazier’s breakout performance against the 49ers is that it occurred while the Steelers are employing their new D-Line philosophy. Rather than having their talented lineman merely grip onto blockers (as the defensive line strategy of the past) they are slashing and dashing. Still, Shazier looked untouched for most of the game. So…maybe the best way to tie up a blocker, is not to hold them…but to blow them up.
Big Apple, Big Orange
Last week’s Internet almost broke here at Steelers Depot over the street fight between the Steve McLendon Gang and the Daniel McCullers Posse. Who’s the better nose tackle? Who cares? Why can’t we all just get along? In truth, the two players are like comparing one Big Apple to one Big Orange. Two totally different hombres. McLendon will never have the natural power and size of McCullers and Big Dan will never have McLendon’s unique strength/agility combination. Yet, both of them have proven to be formidable weapons in the defensive line rotations and offer the capability of being flexed out to the tackle position. Right now the Steelers have four top notch talents in Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, McLendon and McCullers. It seems as if the Steelers are finally realizing all four of them should get plenty of time on the field.
In the post game show a caller raised the name of Roy Gerela. Charlie Batch responded by saying, “I’ve never heard of him.” Really Charlie? C’mon brother. You’re a beloved Pittsburgher for what you’ve done both on and off the field…and now are doing great things on the air…but this was a gaffe. Gerela is number three on the Steelers all-time scoring list, has three Super Bowl rings and had his own fan club, “Gerela’s Gorillas”. In the 1976 Super Bowl, he was most famous for missing a field goal as the Steelers were struggling early on. After Cowboys safety Cliff Harris mocked Gerela following the miss, Jack Lambert threw Harris on his head and the momentum shifted in the Steelers favor. Charlie…for the benefit of us old dudes…you’ve got to crack open those Steel Curtain history books.
Scobee, Scobee Doo
Speaking of placekickers who miss easy shots, Josh Scobee continues to “step in it” with his kicking. Even his kickoffs have been inconsistent, which is one of his strengths. Not to fear. Although a kicker’s head is a fragile jar, Scobee is too much of a pro not to get this ironed out soon.
The Most Boring Play in Football
The NFL went out of their way to add some adrenalin in the extra point play by moving kickers back. But why didn’t they address kickoffs at the same time? The worst rule change in the past decade was moving the kickoff up to the 35 yard line making touchbacks a breeze for most NFL kickers and destroying the careers of players like Devin Hester. Roger Goodell won’t eliminate kickoffs because it’s too good of a spot to cram commercials down our throat. But as it stands now, the amount of touchbacks are an insult to the intelligence of the fans.
The Most Exciting Play in Football?
All right. Maybe it’s not the most exciting play, but admit it. You get a rush when Jordan Berry is punting out of the Steelers end zone. Don’t you? You get the feeling that one of these days…with a healthy bounce and roll…he may just get a 100-yarder.
In playing the San Francisco 49ers we were reminded that Joe Montana’s old squad has five Super Bowl rings. So too have the Cowboys, and despite Tony Romo’s injury, they may be a contender for another this year. With the Patriots and the Packers at four, and legitimate threats to add to their trophy chests, it’s getting way too crowded at the top. Hopefully the Steelers do something about this situation this year.
Jeff Fisher’s status as a star coach in the league has faded over time, but make no mistake, he has delivered many whippings to the Steelers during his tenure with several teams. Expect the St. Louis Rams to bounce back from their disappointing loss to make this weekend’s match an intensely physical game.