What a difference a week can make.
After one of the worst regular season losses of the Mike Tomlin era last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Pittsburgh Steelers bounced back by putting together a dominating performance in front of a national TV audience on Sunday Night Football, trouncing the Kansas City Chiefs 43-14.
The victory pushed the Steelers (3-1) into a first-place tie with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North and, with it it, gave Pittsburgh some much-needed confidence as the team now sets its sights on the New York Jets, who come to Heinz Field next Sunday.
Let’s look at a laundry list of positives (and dig up a few negatives) from last night’s feel-good performance.
Roethlisberger nearly flawless after last week’s debacle: Have yourself a night, Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger was the maestro for a Steelers offense that was firing on all cylinders from the opening drive. He would end up throwing five touchdown passes, four in the first half.
At one point late in the first half, Roethlisberger had more touchdowns than incompletions (18 of 21, four TDs) and would finish 22 of 27 for 300 yards. Roethlisberger threw TD passes to Antonio Brown (2), Darius Heyward-Bey, Markus Wheaton and Jesse James.
Finally, Sammie Coates led the Steelers with six catches for 79 yards and joined Brown, Heyward-Bey and Wheaton with catches of 30-plus yards.
Welcome back, Le’Veon Bell: So much for easing Le’Veon Bell back into things. The best running back in the business took advantage of tremendous work by Pittsburgh’s offensive line and put together a dazzling stat line that included 144 rushing yards and five catches for an additional 34 yards.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley was able to utilize Bell in a variety of ways, including lining him up at wide receiver. Bell didn’t miss a beat after sitting out the first three games of the season due to a suspension. If Bell can stay on the field, the Steelers’ offense has the ability to be video-game-good, something we saw last night.
Back to the offensive line for a moment. This group deserves a ton of credit for bouncing back from an absolutely dreadful performance against the Eagles last week. David DeCastro was back to his All-Pro form at guard, opening up massive holes for Bell, and first-time starter B.J. Finney was absolutely outstanding filling in for injured guard Ramon Foster.
Cameron Heyward and Vince Williams revive the Steelers defense: If last night’s performance is any indication, defensive end Cam Heyward might be starting to feel like himself again — a great sign for the Steelers’ defense.
After struggling in the first three weeks of the season due to a high ankle sprain suffered in the preseason, Heyward put on a clinic against the Chiefs, registering three sacks and six solo tackles along with tipping a pass that would be intercepted by linebacker Jarvis Jones. Both Heyward and fellow defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who forced a pivotal Spencer Ware fumble in the first quarter that led to a Steelers touchdown, were forces to be reckoned with.
Starting in place of the injured Ryan Shazier, linebacker Vince Williams had a career game with 15 tackles (13 solo) and a sack. Williams may not have the range or speed of Shazier, but it’s pretty clear why the Steelers signed him to a contract extension in August: He just makes plays.
Gold star to another injury replacement in safety Jordan Dangerfield. I remember covering the Steelers at training camp a couple of seasons ago when Dangerfield was a hard-hitting free agent buried on the depth chart with no chance of making the roster. Now, he’s an NFL starter who played exceptionally well last night.
Honorable mention: Lastly, many are quick to criticize Mike Tomlin after a loss, so he certainly deserves some credit for having his team ready to go after such a demoralizing defeat last week. Despite of a bevy of injuries to starters and key reserves, Tomlin made no excuses, and he and his staff put together a spectacular game plan. Tomlin is one of the best NFL coaches for a reason, and, last night, he once again showed why.
Injuries continue to stack up: Several more names popped up on the injury report after last night’s win. Outside linebackers Jones (ankle) and Anthony Chickillo (knee) left in the second half, while Heyward-Bey joined them on the sidelines with a shoulder issue.
Of most concern was the loss of starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert to an ankle injury late in the first half. Although it’s difficult to speculate, the injury had the look of the high ankle sprain variety, which could potentially mean he’d miss multiple weeks.
The Steelers do have the luxury of having experienced swing tackle Ryan Harris to fill in for Gilbert. Harris was a starting tackle for the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos last season.
Limiting penalties important moving forward: In a game with so many positives, the nine penalties are a rare negative from last night. Although it’s not a biggie on my end, some will look at the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Brown as a problem. Come on, people! No MC Hammer fans here?
No respect for Greene? It was a little disappointing to see the stadium empty despite the fact that Kevin Greene received his Hall of Fame ring in a ceremony at halftime. The fact that Greene embraced the Steelers organization the way he has deserved more respect and recognition from a fanbase considered the gold standard in the NFL.
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