The weekend was full of trick or treating, and the Steelers certainly got one big treat by serving up some tricks on the Patriots offense and defense. In fact, you might say that the Steelers took full advantage of the Halloween season and exorcised some of the demons they were carrying around from the beginning of the season. I said some… not all.
This was indeed one hell of a game. And I have to say that there were many moments when I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I can’t believe the way they are handling the Patriots. Such intensity on the field. They truly look like a Super Bowl team right now.’ Yeah that’s right, I said Super Bowl team. If the pundits are anywhere in being right – and let’s face it, the ex-players and pundits that are on these shows are a bit of Sex Panther Cologne… 60% of the time they are right every time. – the New England Patriots are the team to beat in the AFC. Well, they were just beat. And, they weren’t blown out – but simply beaten in every facet of the game. That speaks volumes more than just a blow out in my opinion.
There was control during this game, and the Steelers maintained that control all 60 minutes. Even with the Patriots knocking at the door, the Steelers offense was able to keep Brady off the field for as long as they could by stringing long drives that amounted into some sort of points on the board. Only having to punt the ball one time (and in the 4th quarter at that) meant the team was in the drivers seat the whole time. The Steelers finished off the Pats with the splash play coach Tomlin has been talking about all. season. long. It was 60 minutes where I had no doubt that the Steelers would be victorious. Might I refer you to my post earlier in the week when I said what the key was to the Steelers wining – The Steelers got the fast start that I said they needed… it just didn’t come with a 20 yard slant pass to Wallace (but I’m not complaining that it went to Heath over the middle instead). They scored on their first drive. It’s something that is becoming a common practice of theirs, and it helps immensely to them winning games. The Steelers jumped out to a 10-0 lead before a little snafu of Ben’s interception. Even after the Pats scored and came within three points, the Steelers’ confidence and intensity on the field never waivered. Might I also add that I made a #boldprediction that afternoon on Twitter.
For those keeping score at home – I was only 18 yards away from being 100% right with my prediction. Brady was sacked three times and threw for 198 yards. Guess I’ll stay home instead of heading out to Vegas.
Even with this confidence boosting and reaffirming win that the Steelers are indeed true contenders for the AFC divisional and conference titles this season, there are still some demons looming over this team that have me a little worried. First and foremost the injuries are beyond just being a minor annoyance. There has not been one game where the Steelers have come away unscathed by the injury bug. Injuries are never good, but I would rather see them happen to some special team specialists or second stringers who are subbing for someone who just needs a breather on the sideline. Key players are going down every game, and the list is becoming far too long.
The biggest question mark for this Sunday against the Ravens is who will be starting at LB. Woodley is the freshest victim to go down with an injury and is questionable for this Sunday. Some reports by the media have him ‘out’ others still have him as ‘questionable.’ LaMarr himself says to not count him out quite yet. Harrison is rumored as returning, but those reports can’t be confirmed either. Timmons is still healthy – would he be able to switch to the other side should Harrison return and Woodley stay out? Carter did not look that effective against the Pats front line and running backs. It was clear that once he entered the game that blitzes did not create any or the same pressure that was going on with Woodley in the game. As we all know, the Raven’s 0-line is very good. They could have a huge advantage in keeping pressure off Flacco should the LB situation not improve over the week.
The other demon the Steelers still need to rid themselves of is the failure to put 6 up on the board when they get into the red zone. They were 2 of 5 scoring TD’s in the Red Zone. The other three times resulted in field goals. The defense was able to keep the Patriots in check enough that it did not hurt the Steelers only putting up 23 out of a potential 35 points. I do have to give Arians credit that he stayed aggressive. That kind of playing style suits the Steelers best and always keeps teams on their heels all game. It’s been going on for years – once you rely on the running game to run out the clock, the Steelers get burned. Even when the running game is going so well, they always struggle to finish out games when relying on the run. This Sunday was different. Arians stayed aggressive and allowed a hot handed Ben Roethlisberger throw again and again. But the execution and play calling need to change once the team passes the 20 yard line. For the season, the Steelers are 50% in the Red Zone. That’s not terrible, but not great either. In order to beat most teams in the league, it needs to be higher – especially a team that wants to get to the Super Bowl.
Seems like if the Steelers can shake these last two demons from their locker room mojo, they are indeed set for a strong playoff run. I’m done complaining about the running game. It’s not good and won’t be until the FO does something about the o-line and finding the right back to run behind this line. As long as Ben stays hot, the offensive line pass protects and the defense maintains it’s ranking as the #1 passing defense and #2 in defensive yards and #3 in points allowed, then I’m riding this gravy train all the way to Indianapolis.
What do you think Nation? Are the injuries and red zone efficiency the last of the demons the Steelers need to get rid of, or do you see other problems?
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