Just like last week when I didn’t care that it was the winless Cleveland Browns, this week I don’t care that it was Scott Tolzien, not Andrew Luck, under center for the Indianapolis Colts. Wins in the NFL are hard to come by. Steelers Nation knows this from just watching the past month. So they’ll gladly take this 28-7 victory, especially with the short week.
The performance by the Steelers defense, gave me hope this team can meet my preseason expectations. I’ve been saying all season, at some point this defense was going to have to step up and win a game for them. They finally did. Yes, the offense came out the gate swinging haymakers, but the defense set the tone.
The first play from scrimmage in the game, William Gay blitzed and stripped the ball out of Tolzien’s hand for a loss of 9 yards. Two plays later Javon Hargrave tackled Robert Turbin on 3rd down for a loss of 5 yards to force a punt. The defense was running down hill from there.
Then on the second drive, after giving up some momentum and 41 yards to the Colts, the D rose up and James Harrison sacked Tolzien at the 34-yard line on 3 and 1 to force a 52-yard field goal that future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri missed.
It’s great to finally see defensive coordinator Keith Butler dial up the pressure on opposing offenses instead of sitting back and playing that flimsy “bend but don’t break” scheme. The Black and Yellow followed up their NFL season high 8 sacks versus Cleveland last week, with 3 against Indy to go along with 11 QB hits and two interceptions by Mike Mitchell and William Gay.
Without the injured Cam Heyward, I’m concerned about the Steelers getting an effective pass rush with just their front three against better teams. I suspect, and hope, they’ll send more linebackers and even some defensive backs to get to the QB as the season goes on.
The most impressive part of the defense to me was the two strong goal-line stands from inside the five yard line at the end of the 1st half and beginning of the 4th quarter to keep the score at 21-7. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, since Pittsburgh has the best red zone defense in the NFL at 42.4%. Still its impressive that they were able to hold each time. If one of those turns into a touchdown, or even if Indianapolis kick and made field goals for 6 points, it’s a different game.
Offensively, the Killer B’s did what we expect them to do. The first three drives ended in touchdowns, and they were quick. Each drive was 7 plays of 52, 58, 78 yards, and the longest was 4 minutes and 2 seconds.
Ben Roethlisberger was 14 of 21 for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns. Brown had 5 receptions for 91 yards and his 8th, 9th and 10th touchdowns of the season. Once again Le’Veon Bell displayed his all-around abilities. Bell had 23 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown to go along with 4 catches for 22 yards.
I said in my preview of this matchup that offensive coordinator Todd Haley should run the gameplan through Bell even though the Colts have the worse pass defense in the NFL. The first two offensive plays were to #26. One rush for 10 yards and a first down and a reception for 2 yards. Which eventually opened up a 30-yard reception from Roethlisberger to Eli Rogers that he took down to the 8-yard line. Bell finished it off 2 plays later with a 5-yard rushing TD.
That’s the formula for this team, especially as we get deeper into the winter months when the weather won’t allow for Roethlisberger to sling the ball around as much as he’d probably like. If Bell touches the ball 25 times a game, the Steelers are going to win.
The lone disappointment was the penalties. Pittsburgh is 20th in the NFL in penalties and 12th in penalty yards. Against the Colts they were penalized 7 times for 67 yards, and most were on the offense during crucial periods of drives. Those penalties stalled the offense. After their first 3 drives ended in touchdowns, the next three of the next four ended in punts, the other the end of the half after the goaline stand. Clean those up, and this game wouldn’t have been as close as it was. Those penalties have to be sured up before they get back into the tougher part of the schedule.
Next up, the New York Giants (7-3) on December 4th at Heinz Field. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25.