On Second Thought: Steelers @ Colts
Last Sunday virtue was its own reward, something that seems to happen rather infrequently. [It generally seems that no good deed goes unpunished…] I’m visiting my aged mother, and we went to church. She always goes to the 11 o’clock service, and so we went to the 11 o’clock service, even though that’s when the Steelers game began, out here in the beautiful southwest. (Not that the Steelers’ game was broadcast anyhow, here in Cowboys/Broncos territory.)
And after church my mother always goes out to lunch with some old friends. When I say “old friends,” I mean people she has been friends with since 1959. We had a nice lunch, and drove back home. I finally then allowed myself to check the score, because I knew I would have to wait the rest of the day before the game would be available on GamePass. The game was over, and the Steelers had won. Little did I know how much drama (and trauma) had occurred during those three hours.
After I finished watching the game I checked my email, and Homer J., bless his socks, had sent me his patented game commentary. Since it was the firstt thing out, and since there were a lot of editorial comments in it, this will be rather shorter, and mainly concerned with what, if anything, Sunday’s game meant.
The first thing I will note is that if the game means anything at all, it means that this year’s version of the Steelers have found a way to overcome their own incompetence, complacency, indifference, however you want to characterize what was going on during the bulk of the first half and much of the second, and win a game against an opponent who they should have beaten by 40 points or so. A game they were in serious danger of losing.
That may sound like modified rapture, as Nanki-Poo would say. But it isn’t. How many of such games have we seen the Steelers lose? One could argue that the two losses they have this season are both games in that category, although both teams have turned out to be rather better than supposed at that time, particularly Jacksonville. And as Mike Tomlin says, rather more frequently than many would like, “they don’t award style points in the NFL.” And should the Steelers go on to flatten their opponents the rest of the way, few will remember this game.
Of course there are some who will. They are the ones who seem to disappear from the comment sections on the Post Gazette, the Trib, or wherever when the Steelers are winning in more or less the manner the Yinzer Brigade thinks they should. Their sole pleasure in life appears to be whining about the players, the coaches, and whatever else has caught their attention.
Which isn’t to say Sunday’s win wasn’t somewhat concerning. I’m inclined to put it down to a combination of sluggishness induced by the bye week and a certain disdain for the opponent. But should the seeming lack of focus continue, that will be another matter, naturally.
On to the game:
The second play of the game, the interception of a deep pass to Martavis Bryant, set the tone for a tense afternoon. [I will say for Bryant, he alertly wrapped up Desir and took him down immediately, which made it slightly less painful.]
It was interesting that one of the commentators had just quoted Ben as saying “I need Bryant to be where I expect him to be.” The thing which has been difficult to determine this season is how much of the offensive struggles are a matter of the receivers not managing to get where they are expected to be and how much is a matter of Ben not throwing the ball quite where he intended to.
Although it is obvious that a few of the longer throws have sailed on him, something Dale Lolley attributes to problems with his legs, Roethlisberger generally seems to be rather up-front about his own failings. In fact, one of the long-time beat writers attributed much of the drama which has surrounded him from time to time to his propensity for saying what he is thinking. Said reporter noted that he personally appreciated this, but it does tend to create overblown situations.
Apparently Ben has either never heard or completely ignored Chuck Noll’s advice to his players in how to deal with the media: “Treat them like mushrooms. Keep them in the dark and feed them crap.” Given all this, it’s probably a very good idea Ben stays off social media.
At any rate, the inablility to consistently connect with all (or sometimes even most) of his receivers, given that we are nine games into the season at this point, is a bit disconcerting. And what is so frustrating is that we saw “vintage Ben,” as Homer would have it, when it counted. Why has he been missing in action for such large stretches of the season, and can anything be done about it? Because although the defense is perhaps better than most thought it would be before the season began, it’s also clear they aren’t likely to completely shut down opponents for four quarters, like a modern-day incarnation of the Steel Curtain.
And of course losing Joe Haden, at least for the majority (and perhaps all) of the remainder of the regular season is not likely to help with that. If the coaching staff had thought Coty Sensabaugh was capable of being a shut-down corner, they would presumably have been less likely to bid for Haden’s services. Perhaps Cam Sutton can come in and blow everyone away. But given that he’s a rookie who has missed the entire season thus far, this seems awfully unlikely.
And speaking of the defensive backfield, not having Mike Mitchell, although he is a player many in Steeler Nation dislike, is a loss. There’s no getting around it, unless Robert Golden steps up his game to hitherto unknown heights. And considering he lost the starting job to Sean Davis last year, a rookie who still made plenty of rookie mistakes, this seems unlikely, although we can always hope. I haven’t heard any word on Mitchell’s availability going forward, but it’s never a good sign when a player apparently re-injures something they had been rehabbing. Especially when they leave on a cart. Look at Marcus Gilbert and how much time he missed.
On to other issues. The next thing to particularly catch my attention was Bell’s 8-yard run on the third Steelers series which could have been a lot more had he not tripped. It looked like he was tripping on a ruck in a carpet (and one of the interesting narratives to come out of this game is the feeling of many that Bell looked slower than usual on the artificial turf.) However, one of the booth guys said Barkevious Mingo tripped him, and should have been called for tripping. If so, this was the first of several calls—or non-calls—which appeared to favor, overall, the home team.
And speaking of penalties, the refs may have missed that one, but it was certainly a penalty-filled game. The Steelers had nine penalties for 70 yards, the Colts nine for 82 yards. It seemed like a lot more than that, somehow. I thought the Steelers had cleaned this up. Well, I suppose if you’re going to have a bad day you might just as well go all out and get it out of your system.
Before I move on, I must remark on Barkevious Mingo, who had a great game against us. Am I the only person who is tired of seeing Cleveland pick defensive players at the top of the draft who they fail to properly utilize, and who then go on to other teams to torture the Steelers? Jabaal Sheard was also seriously annoying, and was also a Cleveland pick (although 2nd round.) I suppose I should be grateful they are unable to reach their full potential up in C-town.
But to return to Bell for a moment, there was one play which was awesome. It was the first play of the first series in the second quarter, after Artie Burns got burned, if you will, for the longest pass play the Steelers’ D has given up this season—the 60-yard touchdown which made it 7-0. Ben handed the ball to Bell, everything closed up, and Bell was stuck on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage. But all of a sudden Bell was running on the other side of the line for a 15-yard gain, having been seemingly squirted out through the throng. Unfortunately we saw rather too few of those special moments for him. And it was immediately followed by something we almost never see, which was special in a different way—AB letting a pass go right through his hands. It would have put them deep into Indiana territory. Instead the Steelers had to punt two plays later.
This was followed by a festival of missed tackles by the Steeler defense. It almost felt as if they were trying to make a video for youth football players on all the ways to screw up a tackle. Runners who should have been downed five yards in the backfield instead gained positive yardage. Dump-off passes that should have been stopped near the LOS instead converted third downs. It was certainly an education, and I expect it was lovingly examined by the coaching staff at Monday’s film session.
After that Colts drive ended in a field goal, making the score 10-0, the next drive began with something I’m getting a bit tired of seeing—Martavis Bryant taking an end-around or sweep or whatever you want to call it for a very minimal gain. The gain in this instance was so minimal that the next play was a 2nd and 20. For whatever reason that play isn’t working, and I think they should stop calling it for a while, or use someone else to run it. Just a thought. Todd, if you would like to get some more hints, give me a call.
Did I say this was going to be short? My bad. It turns out there is an awful lot of food for thought in this game…
The next Indy drive ended on something I wholeheartedly approve, a sack for a loss of 10 by Bud Dupree. And although it wouldn’t have been evident to those watching the game in real time, this was the beginning of some tiny signs of hope, as the next Steelers drive actually resulted in points, albeit only three, thus allowing the Steelers to not suffer the indignity of slinking off to the locker room with no points at all.
And of course it didn’t seem as if things were looking up at all, come the start of the second half. Because it only took the Colts four plays to put the ball into the end zone. But on the kickoff after that, Vinatieri kicked it short, something he did a couple of times. I’m guessing this was because the book on the Steelers was that if they tried to return a kick you could stop them well short of the 25-yard line. The kick went to Terrell Watson, who managed to get it all the way to the 22.
This actually represents progress, something I’m happy to see, given that short kicks are going to become more common as the weather (and the football) becomes colder. And although I let it pass earlier without comment—shocking, I know—JuJu had an even better return in the second quarter—from the five to the 30, which was further extended by a penalty against the Colts. I suppose I was too depressed by the fact the Steelers’ offense could start from their 43 and yet not convert it into points of any kind.
At any rate, the first three plays of this series were quite heartening—Bell for 9, Bell for 4, and a deep bomb to JuJu which was, naturally, caught. I wrote at the time “JJSS well covered but he is too much for mere mortals.” The legend continues to grow. And wouldn’t you know—the drive ended on a touchdown pass to JuJu. You can’t stop him—you can only hope to contain him. If only he had been undrafted—he could be the next Isaac Redman.
And naturally this was followed by the blocked extra point attempt, just because. I must say, though, that while Jordan Berry may have his flaws as a punter (although yesterday he had the best day of this season,) he is becoming an expert at deflecting would-be returners enough so that a tight end can run them down and prevent a score. This could prove to be extremely valuable. And in fact the two points he and James prevented could have completely deflated the fledgling hopes of the Steelers, although I would like to think they aren’t quite that frail.
And things continued to look up, albeit not fast enough for most of the watchers, I’m sure. For one thing, from this point on the Steelers defense gave up only two more first downs and zero points. The next Indy series should have ended as a fumble/recovery by the Steelers, but the ways of the refs are inscrutable. The first Indy series in the fourth quarter ended abruptly in a heads-up interception by Ryan Shazier which gave the Steelers the ball at the IND 11.
And although it was scarcely a given this would end in points, considering the serial incompetance the offense had been demonstrating most of the afternoon, it did result in both a touchdown and a successful two-point conversion, The latter was naturally not without a substantial amount of drama, including the offensive coordinator shouting something at the quarterback that one person interpreted to be “Share the frying pan, Ben!” Said person may or may not be correct about that. If he is, that must be the secret code name for the play they were supposed to be running.
However, as Homer noted, Ben showed tremendous awareness and calm in not allowing the play to be run with the wrong personnel or confusion in the ranks. Which is not how many are interpreting this sequence. They are clearly wrong, though. Ben made sure they were in a position to actually convert, thus tying the game, and that changed the whole tenor of the remainder.
And I say this despite the following series, which should have ended in the go-ahead points but instead ended in a missed 37-yard field goal attempt. However, Chris Boswell didn’t flinch when given another opportunity, banging the next one right through the middle and thus winning the game with four seconds left. He broke the hearts of many Indianapolis fans by doing so. Sorry about that, guys. It was either you or us, and we vastly prefer it to be you.
One other nugget I will divulge is this—when the game was officially over, the first thing Ben did was go give Martavis a big hug. And he deserved it. From all accounts he behaved like a champ during his week playing on the scout team, and he made several critical plays in this game. We need him to be good, and it was a good start. Just quit with the end-arounds, Todd, and Ben, don’t expect him to have the same telepathic awareness of what you’re doing that AB does.
And for that matter, AB, all is forgiven for the dropped pass. His stats were entirely unimpressive, but he also had a couple of critical plays.
A few more things to take away as positives from this game:
JuJu is slowly unveiling his superpowers. He needs to be careful not to move too quickly on that, lest people begin to suspect.
The defense’s identity may be crystallizing as a group who can’t prevent the ship taking on some water but can batten down the hatches when necessary, to continue Homer’s nautical allusion.
But the main one is, they won. A pretty win might be preferable, but at this point I’ll take any sort of win they want to give us. And it’s obvious we can’t predict what sort of team we are going to see from week to week, so I think the best strategy is not to worry about it. Or as Scarlet might say, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”