Here are my gut reactions after the Pittsburgh Steelers dominate, well-rounded win at home against a competitive New York Giants team. After their four game skid the Steelers are rounding into playoff form in multiple facets of the game.
The biggest reaction I had to Sunday’s match-up was that I was forced to bear witness to another game where the Steelers severely lost the penalty battle. These were legitimate infractions that killed field position and offensive momentum. Perhaps no penalty was bigger than the illegal block by Artie Burns on Sean Davis’ first interception of the season. It pinned the Steelers offense inside their own five-yard line, wasting Davis’ 40+ yard return. When the offense couldn’t dig themselves out of the field positioning hole, ANOTHER penalty, this one committed by Antonio Brown, gave the Giants the ball at mid-field. Luckily nothing came of it.
Another game, another touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Brown. Still, no other wide receiver has stepped up and become a contributor across from Brown. This essentially makes Brown easier to double-team for defenses. I still think the Steelers need to sit Sammie Coates down, and either let him get healthy, or activate a healthy receiver. It seems like Cobi Hamilton and Eli Rogers are only role players at this point in their young careers. Neither of them are perceived by opposing defenses as threats to the point where they reduce the amount of double-teams Brown sees; something a healthy Coates could do on occasion. Where’s Jerricho Cotchery when we need him?
The defense, which has been the “whipping boy” for much of the season, held serve throughout the game. They created two turnovers, had two sacks, defended seven passes, pitched a shutout in the first half and held the Giants to 0-3 on fourth down conversions. Not to mention they kicked off the scoring with a safety. The defense’s pass rush has found new life since James Harrison has gotten more snaps. As a unit, the Steelers held the Giants to under 300 total yards and have only given up 10 points per game on their current 3-game winning streak.
The secondary played great against a strong group of Giants receivers. Ross Cockrell played a great game against Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who had 10 receptions for 100 yards but was mitigated as a deep threat (his longest reception went for 25 yards). The defense didn’t surrender any big momentum swinging touchdowns and Cockrell kept Beckham Jr. out of the end zone. Both touchdowns the Steelers defense surrendered came when the Giants offense had short fields of 17 and 52 yards. It’s not always pretty, but the Steelers defense has been getting stops, especially in the red zone. If the defense can stay away from surrendering big plays, the unit may be hitting its stride in perfect time to contribute to the late season playoff push.
I touched on this last week but Ladarius Green and Roethlisberger’s chemistry could be the key to the Steelers playoff run. Even though Green only had six receptions on 11 targets (I wouldn’t quite call that completely in sync quite yet) he did have his biggest game as a Steeler to date. Those six receptions were good for a team high 110 receiving yards and a touchdown. Simply put, Green can do things in the passing game that the other tight ends on the Steelers’ roster cannot. He’s had a reception of 35 yards or more for two straight weeks and now has his first touchdown as a Steeler and that’s a solid foundation to build on.
I loved the way the Steelers took the “air out of the ball” by running Le’Veon Bell relentlessly, especially in the fourth quarter. Bell rushed 29 times for 118 yards and became the first back to rush for 100 yards or more against the Giants this season. Even though Bell got the stats, it truly was a team effort. The offensive line was up against a tough rush defense but never relented. They stayed aggressive and continued to block hard for Bell. Also, there were a lot of penalties that caused the Steelers to have long downs and distances, where offensive coordinator Todd Haley would have chosen to pass in the past. But he stayed committed to feeding Bell Sunday, and it was effective. The Giants were forced to burn their timeouts, and the Steelers’ offense shortened the fourth quarter and their opponent was never able to crawl back into the game.
I was pleasantly surprised by Randy Bullock. Kicking at Heinz Field in December is not easy for the best kickers in the NFL, much less a free agent fresh off the street. Bullock went 3/3 even though the last attempt glanced off the left upright. I must admit, every time he was out there for a field goal, I was holding my breath, but he was an adequate replacement. He even did an admirable job on kick-offs. As good as Bullock was I hope Chris Boswell gets healthy soon and can contribute down the stretch.
What are your gut reactions?