What. A. Game. Felt like this one should have been played in the 1970s.
Antonio Brown: I mean, what else can you say? 17 catches, a team record, for 284 yards, also a team record history and second most in regulation. He racked up a 10/180 line in the first half alone while the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receivers (not running backs or tight ends) had one catch for negative two. The fumbled punt return was ugly, there’s no getting around that, but it doesn’t override the historic day 84 had. And there have been a lot of good days.
DeAngelo Williams: It’s not Le’Veon Bell but if you looked at just the box score, it’s hard to see any difference. 156 yards on the ground. 55 through the air. He found the end zone twice, giving him five rushing touchdowns on the season. He again showed a burst many didn’t think the 30 year old had with a 53 yard run to get the Steelers out of their own end zone. Williams finished with 170 yards rushing and 55 yards receiving and has consistently proven to be a wise investment by the Steelers in the offseason.
Jesse James: Just as Heath Miller did in 2005, James scored in his first game. That was easy but his blocking was supreme, throwing a key block to spring Martavis Bryant on a 14 yard touchdown. For a guy in his first game who, frankly, I expected to do nothing more but block on kick returns, it was an impressive outing.
Roosevelt Nix: Quickly becoming a hero in Pittsburgh, Nix’s special teams have been strong all season long. But he made an impact play today, forcing the fumble that would set up James’ touchdown catch. He continued to plow the way at fullback. The Steelers run that Counter OF as well as any team in the league.
Mike Mitchell: There is no question Mitchell can do some dumb stuff. But he doesn’t get to ignore the fumble if he doesn’t force it, and there’s no doubt that was a must-have play for the Steelers’ defense. In a physical game where each side was hit by injuries, Mitchell was a tone-setter. He finished with four tackles.
Ross Cockrell: Cockrell played catch points well consistently today. And though the pass was thrown right at him, his interception in the end zone was obviously huge. For a guy who didn’t spend a day in training camp with this team to now play close to 70% of his teams snaps, at a relatively high level, is remarkable and shouldn’t be undersold.
Cam Heyward: The Steelers did get chewed up against the run but it was rarely Heyward’s fault. He constantly worked off blocks and wreaked his usual havoc. He finished with eight tackles, second on the team. It’s minor but I love how active and encouraging he is on the sidelines, too. Real leader.
Kick Return Unit: Despite not coming into this game with special teams star Terence Garvin, and temporarily losing another in Darrius Heyward-Bey, the coverage unit has been spectacular. Nix’s forced fumble highlights it but there’s credit all around to be dished out. Taiwan Jones averaged 18 yards on four returns. Danny Smith’s coverage units have been excellent in 2015.
Pass Rush: It simply wasn’t there today. Credit to the Oakland Raiders – they’ve kept Derek Carr upright all season long. But the Steelers blitz couldn’t get home and the outside linebackers didn’t sniff Carr today. According to ESPN, the Steelers registered just one QB hit on Carr’s 46 dropbacks.
Ryan Shazier: Not sure if it’s rust he’s knocking off or just bad play, but Shazier was sub-par today. Struggled to find the running back and fill the lane and was generally caught out of position today. Failed to make any impact plays behind the line of scrimmage or in coverage.
Splash Plays: Too many ones allowed by the Steelers as a unit. And they were easy too. Amari Cooper’s TD is going to be the easiest one he ever has in his NFL career. It’s impossible to be able to pin the blame the first time through, even with All-22 tape, it could be tough, but the Steelers have to do a better job eliminating those ugly big plays.
Return Unit: The Steelers covered well. They blocked equally as bad. Jacoby Jones found zero running room, averaging just over 20 yards per try with a long of only 24. Punt returns weren’t any prettier. Hopefully that shows the issue goes far deeper than just Dri Archer, who some fans were wishing to see back today. Strange times.
Will Allen: Allen got the start over Robert Golden today and it wasn’t all bad. He laid out some big hits, the biggest one blasting Clive Walford on a near-INT. But I can’t shake the thought of a backup fullback juking him out of his shoes and letting up another easy score. Gotta go through the tape again but my gut is saying Golden should be starting next week against the Cleveland Browns.