For the second consecutive week, the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to get a conference win in convincing fashion, this time by beating the New York Jets 31-13 on a picturesque afternoon at Heinz Field.
The win moves the Steelers’ record to 4-1, good enough for sole possession of first place in the AFC North. They also have an unblemished conference mark as the team moves past the quarter-pole of the season.
Despite injuries to key starters on both sides of the ball, Pittsburgh once again looked the part of one of the top teams in the AFC. Let’s take a closer look at yesterday’s impressive win in this week’s edition of “Three up, three down.”
Roethlisberger shines (again), and offense breaks 30-point plateau: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasted little time getting the offense rolling with a 72-yard touchdown strike to Sammie Coates on the third play of the game. Coates blew by reserve cornerback Marcus Williams on the play, once again showing his ability to be a potent deep threat in the Steelers’ passing game.
Despite some tough drops and playing through a laceration on his hand that required three stitches, Coates finished the day with six catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns.
Roethlisberger was able to, once again, spread the wealth while passing for 380 yards and four touchdowns. Joining Coates with six or more catches were tight end Jesse James (6-43, 1 TD), wide receiver Antonio Brown (9-78, 1 TD) and running back Le’Veon Bell (9-88)
Once again, Roethlisberger made smart decisions throughout and, while he did have a fumble in the game, continues to stay away from costly turnovers by taking unnecessary risks — something that has dogged Roethlisberger in losses to “lesser” teams at home.
Game plan, offensive line outstanding against Jets: Heading into the game yesterday, one of the biggest concerns was how well Pittsburgh’s banged-up offensive line would fare against one of the better defensive lines in the NFL. With starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert out and Chris Hubbard stepping in to make his first professional start, there was reason for concern.
Hubbard responded with an outstanding performance that helped give Roethlisberger ample time to make plays — and Hubbard did it almost exclusively without blocking help from the tight ends or backs. Kudos to Hubbard; he’ll be needed the rest of the way with Gilbert on the mend and swing tackle Ryan Harris now on the injured reserve.
Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley also deserves credit for a game plan that attacked a Jets secondary playing without Darrelle Revis and that only had four cornerbacks dressed for the game. Haley also helped with pass protection by keeping the tempo fast for four quarters.
Defense turns it up, posts second-half shutout: The Steelers went into halftime clinging to 14-13 lead, despite getting the better of the play for much of the first half. But any concerns about the Jets stealing a win were put to bed thanks to a dominating second-half performance by the Pittsburgh defense.
The defense came through in the second half, allowing five total first downs and 100 total yards while forcing the Jets to punt five consecutive times. Linebacker Vince Williams once again proved to be the Steelers’ most productive defensive player, notching nine tackles and adding a sack.
Ross Cockrell is developing into very solid cornerback, and credit must be given to defensive backs coach Carnell Lake for the job he has done developing Cockrell and the rest of the secondary that has been very solid thus far.
Credit both Javon Hargrave and Ricardo Mathews for doing yeoman’s work filling in for the injured Cameron Heyward. Hargrave, a rookie, looks like he’s going to be a big-time contributor on the defensive line, and the signing of veteran free agent Mathews is proving to be an excellent move by general manager Kevin Colbert and Pittsburgh’s front office.
Will the mounting injury list sidetrack the season? Although the Steelers only officially “lost” one starter to injury yesterday, it was arguably the team’s best defensive player: Heyward. Heyward got an MRI on his injured hamstring after leaving in the first half, and there’s been no word on the severity of the injury.
What we do know is that Heyward is critical to the Steelers’ defense — both for his play and his leadership — and that hamstring injuries can be nagging and slow to heal.
Add the loss of key special teams contributor Shamarko Thomas to an apparent groin injury, and Pittsburgh’s depth will continue to be tested as the team prepares to play the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Four drops by Coates on a career day: I don’t really want to pile on Coates too badly considering all of the good that came from the best statistical game of his young career, but the drops are disconcerting. The rookie had four drops for the day, including a gift-wrapped Roethlisberger pass that would have been an easy five-yard touchdown.
Coates came out of Auburn with a reputation for some drops, so there’s reason to believe this is going to be an issue as he continues to develop as an NFL receiver.
Coates’ mental gaffes and drops have led to some making tongue-in-cheek comparisons to Limas Sweed. However, unlike Sweed, with Coates the early production is there, and the tremendous talent is hard to ignore.
About that fake-field-goal attempt: It’s pretty great when you have to get nit-picky to come up with material for the “three down” end of things, but head coach Mike Tomlin’s decision to go for a fake field goal at that point in the game was shaky at best.
Keep that one in your back pocket, Coach.
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