Outlined against a blue-gray October sky Sunday at Heinz Field, the Four Horsemen of Ben, Bell, Brown and Coates wore the bumblebees for the last time, (apologies to Grantland Rice.) Yes, no more bumblebees, but they did go out in style.
It was a beautiful autumnal afternoon as the Pittsburgh Steelers used a workmanlike performance to defeat the New York Jets 31-13 at Heinz Field. Ben Roethlisberger was the offensive star throwing for a season-high 380 yards and 4 TDs, making it 9 in the past two games. Roethlisberger’s single-season high in TDs pass is 32, which he has done twice and currently he leads the NFL with 15 through five games. In his second week back Le’Veon Bell again displayed his wide-ranging talents with 154 yards from scrimmage and Sammie Coates, with one of the more unusual performances you will ever see from a wide receiver, caught the first two touchdown passes of his career, had a career high in yards, but also dropped five balls.
Defensively, the first half looked much like the one we saw against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Steelers week three loss. In each they gave up 13 points. In this one the Jets put up 216 total yards in 31 offensive plays vs. 215 yards in 33 for the Eagles. The difference was the second half. While the Eagles went on to rout the Steelers with three third quarter touchdowns, the Steelers defense totally shutdown the Jets, shutting them out in the second half while limiting them to just 100 yards total offense. Home games against teams like the Jets have occasionally tripped up the Steelers in the past. Not on Sunday as they won their seventh straight at Heinz Field. Add in losses by the Bengals, Ravens and Broncos and it was a good Sunday for the black & gold.
*Again the Steelers added to their injury list. Both Cameron Heyward (hamstring) and Shamarko Thomas (groin) left the game in the first half and did not return. I would not expect them to play against Miami next week. Sammie Coates suffered a finger/hand injury during the game and Jarvis Jones suffered a wrist injury. He has had similar injuries in the past, though I don’t know if this one is related.
The Steelers ruled nine players out on Friday and that forced them to make some roster moves to ensure a full complement of players for the game. Tackle Ryan Harris and cornerback Senquez Golson, last year’s second round pick, were placed on the injured reserve list. (Linebacker Bud Dupree, last year’s first round pick, was placed on injured reserve before the season. Only one of the three is able to be designated to return, the other two will be done for the year.) The Steelers promoted offensive lineman Matt Feiler and cornerback Al-hajj Shabazz to the active roster and both dressed for the first time in their careers, with Shabazz playing both in sub-packages on defense and special teams.
The inactive list consisted of offensive starters Eli Rogers and Marcus Gilbert and defensive starters Ryan Shazier and Robert Golden as well as Rosie Nix, Cody Wallace and Justin Gilbert.
Playing with a third-string right tackle against a Jets defense with a very stout front-four but questionable back-seven, the game plan was straightforward. Try to establish the run, but rely on a quick-passing game while also taking the occasional shot down-the-field.
*Ben Roethlisberger raised his October record to 20-1 at Heinz Field and threw 3+ touchdowns for his sixth consecutive game at home. On their third play of the game Ben hit Coates on a 72-yard touchdown. The play was the same one they ran on their opening play against Kansas City last Sunday. On that one Coates ran past KC corner Marcus Peters, but Ben slightly underthrew him and Coates came back and made a good catch for a 47-yard gain. On this one, Ben aired it out. Coates was behind Jets corner Marcus Williams and caught it in-stride, 50-yards in the air, for the TD. A great throw by Ben. If not for a bunch of drops by Coates, he easily puts up a 400-yard day. Ben currently leads the NFL in TD passes, is third in yards, third in QBR, and fifth in passer rating—squarely in the MVP race after five weeks.
*Le’Veon Bell is the best non-QB offensive player in football. 20 carries for 66 yards and 9 catches for 88 yards. He can do whatever the offense needs. It will be interesting to see if he can challenge 1,000 yards rushing and receiving playing only 13 games. Superstar.
*Sammie Coates can appear on both sides of the good and bad in this one. It was maybe the strangest game I’ve ever seen from a wide out. He finished with 6 catches, 139 yards and 2 touchdowns—all career highs. He was targeted 11 times. He caught the first one for a 72-yard TD and the last four for 48 yards and another TD. He was awful in between, dropping five of six. To Coates’ credit he finished strong and did suffer a finger/hand injury during the game. He’s a work in progress and still doesn’t have a fully-developed route tree, but he’s leading the NFL at 22.2 yds/rec. and he sure is entertaining to watch.
*An excellent performance by the offensive line against a very good defensive front. Last week I wrote, “The offensive line was good and B.J. Finney was very solid in his first career start at right guard filling in for Ramon Foster.” Foster was back this week, but Chris Hubbard made his first career start filling in for the injured Marcus Gilbert. Same result. Ben was only hit & sacked one time. From a Jets beat writer:
Did Mo Wilkerson make the trip to Pittsburgh today? Didn’t notice him. No sacks, no QB hits, no tackles for loss. No impact whatsoever.
— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) October 10, 2016
*Jesse James continues to show great hands with 6 more catches for 43 yards and a TD. He did have a drop early, but has been very good overall.
*The Steelers continue to be efficient in the red zone, converting three of their four opportunities into touchdowns, and are tied for third in the NFL converting at 78.6%.
*Sammie Coates dropped four out of five passes targeted to him in the second and third quarters. The first was on a Ben scramble down the right side where Coates did a nice job fighting through his defender, but then let the ball go right through his arms. The second was a possible TD on 3rd-and-2 from the Jets 22 where he inexplicably stuttered his run just before the goal line and couldn’t make the catch. He strides normally and it’s a likely TD. On the very next play he had an excellent catch and run for 19-yards, using an excellent stiff arm to ward off a defender. But two plays later he dropped what would have been the easiest TD he would ever possibly catch from the 1. (Jesse James scored on the next play.) In the third quarter he dropped two more passes, before catching his last four targets. What a day.
After a mediocre first half, the defense found its stride in the second allowing no points and only 100 total yards. The Steelers blitzed more as the game went on and were able to get to Ryan Fitzpatrick multiple times, particularly late. They had three sacks, but probably could have had five or six if they had wrapped up a little better.
*Another very good game for Vince Williams filling in for Ryan Shazier. 9 tackles, a sack, 3 tackles for loss and 2 QB hits. In the third quarter, after forcing the Steelers to go 3-and-out, the Jets were driving having started on their own 13 and had the ball at the Steelers 49 down 17-13. Matt Forte started over left tackle and looked to have a ton of running room down the left side. Williams shot the gap and made the tackle for a 1-yard loss. After two incompletions the Jets punted. It was a huge play that likely won’t get much recognition. Gold star.
*Early in the second quarter Anthony Chickillo got his first career sack and forced a fumble with the Jets 1st-and-10 on the Steelers 38. It put the Jets behind the chains and set-up Burns play below.
*Artie Burns didn’t play as much as in past weeks, but on a Jets 3rd-and-8 from the Steelers 36 he made a really good tackle short of the sticks forcing the Jets to settle for a FG to make it 7-6. Big play.
*The Steelers secondary as a whole tackled well and didn’t allow the big play. It was a solid effort, particularly in the second half.
*Ross Cockrell was in perfect position to make an interception on the Jets lone TD, but the ball bounced off his hands/Brandon Marshall knocked it away from him and pulled it in for a touchdown. Good positioning, a bit unlucky, but those plays can win or lose games. Cockrell is probably going to take some criticism after this one, but I don’t think he played poorly. Marshall is an excellent receiver (who also had a bunch of drops) and Cockrell did a decent job following him around the field as he was asked to do against A.J. Green earlier this year. He got credit for 3 passes defensed, but also had two penalties called against him, both declined.
*Jordan Berry continues to be outstanding. He punted three times for a 46.3 gross and net average (no return yards) and all three landed inside the Jets 20. 10 of his 21 punts on the season have been inside the 20 and he only has one touchback. Excellent.
*Antonio Brown with the ball in his hands in space. He had two punt returns for 51 yards, including a 33-yard return that I thought for sure was going to be a TD, but Calvin Pryor did an exceptional job disengaging from a Jordan Dangerfield tackle and was able to bring him down.
*Anytime you fail on a gadget play it’s going to end up here.
Again, a solid gameplan on both sides of the ball. The Steeler are playing with high energy and enthusiasm and generally seem to be assignment sound. The tackling has improved. The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for two impressive wins following a terrible loss.
*One penalty, although they were flagged a few other times that were declined.
*I like gadget/trick plays. The Steelers worked on this in practice and it was successful. It didn’t work this time. When you have the offense the Steelers do, unsuccessful gadget plays are going to be rightly criticized. In this case it’s 100% results-based.
*On the Steelers second drive they faced a 3rd-and-15 on their own 45. They handed to Bell on a draw for no-gain. I realize there was some concern about the pass rush, and I generally don’t like to question specific play calls, but at that spot on the field, that felt like an ultra-conservative call.
*The Steelers clock management has been sound so far this season. Again, this is nitpicking, but Ben didn’t need to call the second timeout when he did on the drive at the end of the first half. The Jets ended up getting the ball back with 41 seconds left, but only one timeout because of a forced injury timeout. With the Steelers pass defense, that is enough to get into FG range. The Jets chose to run out the clock. Again, it’s nitpicking.
*Also, inside the 2:00 warning at the end of the game, the Steeler were up 11 at the Jets five with a first down and the Jets having two timeouts left. On the first play Ben threw incomplete. On the second Bell ran out of bounds. It was very unlikely that this was going to matter, but that was one way to at least keep the smallest degree of doubt in the outcome—leaving the Jets with more time and their timeouts. A TD on third down sealed the deal.
*Jets head coach Todd Bowles did not distinguish himself in this one. He made at least one critical mistake by being overly conservative when he inexplicably punted on fourth-and-2 from the Jets’ own 46-yard line while down two scores with 7:36 left in the game. How many times did Bowles think the Jets were going to get the ball back?
Big Officiating Calls:
*The Jets inexplicably ruled an incompletion to Brandon Marshall a catch, but the call didn’t matter because Cockrell was called for interference on the play. Not many penalties in this one and the refs were a non-issue.
Up Next: The Steelers will take on the Miami Dolphins (1-4) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 pm EST.
Reminder: You can hear me on the postgame show with Charlie Batch across the Steelers Football Network (WDVE, ESPN, steelers.com or the Steelers Gameday app) after every Steelers game and on weekdays on ESPN Pittsburgh 970 and 106.3 FM from 4-7 pm. You can follow me on twitter @DavidMTodd.