After a few helpings of turkey and stuffing, these are my reactions to the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 12 win against the Indianapolis Colts.
I loved the offense’s game plan entering the game. It was clear that the Steelers were going to live and die by their offensive stars on Thanksgiving. Ben Roethlisberger was effective and efficient throwing the deep ball. When he and Antonio Brown are in sync like they were Thursday night, they are close to unstoppable. This was the first game since Roethlisberger came back from his surgery that he displayed his touch on the deep ball consistently. When his accuracy on down-field throws is as precise as it was tonight, it’s easy for other receivers to get involved.
The Steelers’ wide receivers were the dark horse offensive group of the night. The unit seemed depleted on the surface but Brown, Eli Rogers and tight end Ladarius Green all had receptions of over 30 yards. Both of Green’s receptions were for over 30 yards and Browns stat line at the end of the game read like something out of a videogame: 5 receptions for 91 yards and 3 touchdowns on 6 targets.
Sammie Coates, in contrast, continues to be a ghost within the offense. He was targeted 3 times and had 0 receptions. The offense is learning how to be effective and strike down field without using Coates. Personally, I’m starting to wonder if sitting Coates down and letting him heal for the playoffs is the best option at this point. Coates is not a week-to-week contributor at this point in the season and his touches could be better served going to Cobi Hamilton, Jesse James, Rogers or Green. All of those receiving options could benefit from having more reps with Roethlisberger.
Le’Veon Bell had another great game, 23 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown. Bell and the offensive line helped the Steelers convert on 3rd down, and his rushing made sure that most of the distances were short to moderate. The Steelers went 7/11 on 3rd down and were a constant threat to go down field at any point. The Colts defense could not stop Bell and the Steelers’ rushing attack without bringing extra help into the “box” and when the Colts did so, Roethlisberger made them pay by finding the open receiver down field and hitting them in stride.
After his first score, Brown stopped getting penalized for celebrations in the end zone when it caused some troubling some consequences for his teammates. The celebration of his first touchdown reception pushed the kickoff back 15 yards and it resulted in kicker Chris Boswell booting a returnable ball. Ex-Steeler, Jordan Todman, took the kickoff 43 yards and gave Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien a short field, which he turned into a touchdown when he connected with Donte Moncrief five plays later. Between that kick return and Colts’ punter Pat McAfee’s 35-yard completion on a fake punt it would be easy to say that the special teams were the weak link Thursday night. But the Steelers had covered the fake punt mildly well, they just failed to break up the pass, and I really can’t blame the kickoff return unit for a penalty on Brown.
The final score of 28-7 doesn’t dictate just how close this game was. The Colts had drives of 19 and 10 plays stall out at the Steelers’ 1-yard line. James Harrison had a sack early in the game and Colts’ kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal on the very next play. The defense helped win the turnover battle for the 2nd straight week. We must face the reality that the Colts’ offense left a lot of points out on the field. Interceptions by Mike Mitchell and William Gay helped the Steelers win the turnover battle for the second week in a row, and it helped the team walk off the field looking like they had just dominated a depleted opponent.
Two straight weeks, two straight wins. Two straight games where Roethlisberger went unsacked and threw no interceptions. Roethlisberger threw three touchdowns to Brown and finished the game 14 of 20. It’s looking like the Steelers’ playoff hopes are riding on the shoulders of the offensive line. They dominated in both the running and passing game and gave Roethlisberger plenty of time to make reads on play-action throws where he was attacking downfield. I like the addition of Chris Hubbard, formally a backup lineman, as a tight end in some personnel groupings, and the more playing time given to fullback Roosevelt Nix the more he can contribute to the offense. The Steelers brass kept him on the roster during his injury for a reason: Nix has the makings of an elite fullback.
I can’t write this article without giving a Thanksgiving nod to Stephon Tuitt. In the absence of Cameron Heyward, he has stepped-up in a major way. Tuitt had 2 sacks last week and Thursday night he had 2 tackles and three quarterback hits. But this section is designated for the defensive rookies. I would think that they would be hitting the rookie wall at this point in the season, but ironically, they are turning in their best performances of the year collectively. Sean Davis had five solo tackles and almost broke up a touchdown in the end zone. Hopefully he takes the next step in his game and learns how to break up those passes consistently when in coverage. Then he will go from opposing offenses’ target in the red zone to a threat.
Artie Burns got beat a few times throughout the game in coverage, but all-in-all played pretty well. Very few corners have been able to stay with T.Y. Hilton this year. Burns seemed ready to tackle like a Steeler tonight. He finished with 5 tackles, 4 of which were solo and none of them were more impressive than his one on one against Colts’ tight end Dwayne Allen, who easily outweighs Burns by 40 Lbs. Burns broke down into a fundamentally sound tackling stance and attacked Allen low and made sure he got the tight end to the ground unassisted. It was a far stretch in tackling technique for the “ole” tactics Burns used in Miami when he tried to tackle running back Jay Ajayi.
Then there was Javon Hargrave’s contributions. Like Burns he had 5 tackles, 4 of which were solo, but he also contributed a sack and an additional tackle for a loss. Throw in Anthony Chickillo’s 4 solo tackles, 1 for a loss, and the Steelers’ rookies accounted for 19 of the defenses 56 total tackles. This is a welcome contribution for a Steelers defensive unit that has been searching for answers all year. If the rookies can continue this output on a game by game basis the defense will shore up some of its issues quickly.
Hopefully your gut is full after a wonderful Thanksgiving so I must ask, what are your gut reactions?