Boy that first quarter on Sunday against the Jets sure made me think that Week 1 wasn’t just a fluke. The offense and defense both struggled, and it looked like the Steelers could go 0-2 for the first time in nearly a decade. There were five keys that lead to the Steelers victory. Each of them are fairly big and, if trend setting, the Steelers are well on their way to become the top of the AFC North (and beyond) once again.
Dick LeBeau adjusts
This has got to be the biggest (and most important) key to the Steelers win. The defense looked flat right out of the gate after the Steelers went up 3-0 in the first quarter. A pass interference call on Ike Taylor covering Santonio Holmes, a 45 yard bomb against Keenan Lewis, a 10 yard bruising run by Shonn Greene, and another 10 yard quick strike to Holmes had the Jets on top 7-3 in just about 4 minutes of game time. The Jets next possession gained them another three points after a long and effective drive to start the 2nd quarter. Coverage looked terrible, there was hardly pressure, and when the defense sacked Sanchez, Timmons was flagged for a (soon to be fined) helmet to helmet hit. Eeeeesh. How did this happen? Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, for whatever reason, chose to play his corners off the receivers and play a loose zone. The linebackers were getting through the line, but not in time to put enough pressure on Sanchez.
Things turned around the next time the Jets had the ball. The Steelers changed their strategy by playing more physical at the line. The corners played up a bit more, and this allowed Woodley, Carter, and Timmons to apply pressure in the backfield. The Jets went three and out after a nice cover play by Taylor on Holmes. Holmes was covered by Taylor and Lewis all day, and tried to cry for a flag every time he didn’t catch the ball. He got his way sometimes, but eventually the refs tucked the yellow away for Sanwhineyo Holmes. There was that ridiculous interference call on Taylor later in the game… but I’ll get into that later in the week.
LeBeau’s ability to adjust and maintain tight coverage on the receivers helped the D-line and linebackers put pressure on Sanchez. Sanchez isn’t exactly stellar either, so he found it difficult to thread any sort of needle to get the football through any of the tight coverage. The second half was complete dominance by the defense. Sanchez only went 6 of 17 in the second half – most of that was stat padding on the last drive of the game when things were well out of reach. What a breath of fresh air this was to see what should be a dominant defense make adjustments when the initial defensive schemes weren’t working. A+ to Dicky for shaking off that stubborn alter ego of his.
Offense uses 10 different receivers
This is another big key to the game that comes from the offensive side of the ball. The Steelers got everybody involved in the offense except for little Joey sitting in Section 125. Ten different guys caught a pass from Ben Roethlisberger against this Jets defense. Look, I don’t care how good your defense is – Revis Island present or not. If a team can get the football to more than just a handful of people, then that’s going to cause a lot to go in your favor. There aren’t enough good linebackers and corners on a defense to effectively cover every single potential receiver that lines up. Even if you are the 49’ers.
If the Steelers line up in the ‘I’ formation, there are five potential receivers on the field – Brown, Wallace, Miller, Johnson and Redman/Dwyer. Even though this is typically a ‘running’ formation, the Steelers can do whatever they want. All of the above players have good enough hands that Big Ben can pick and choose whomever is open at the time. How does the defense know what to do next with a formation like this? Run blitz? Cover? Even if the defense makes the right call, someone is bound to be open… that is as long as the offensive line can block effectively. Great job by Haley and Roethlisberger spreading the love out there and getting all these guys involved in the offense. Who does a defense focus on? They can’t – that’s all there is to it.
Never gave up on running game
Both Redman and Dwyer averaged a shade over 2 yards per carry on Sunday. It’s easy enough to just abandon the running game altogether – especially when your offense is only resulting in FG, FG, PUNT, PUNT, PUNT. The offense found itself in third and long all game, mainly because second down was a horrid down. Run plays for no gain or negative yards had the Steelers looking at 3rd and 7+ way too many times. These drive killers needed to go away, and the team needed to find a groove in order to keep their own ailing defense off the field for a while.
Haley kept the running game going the whole game, even if it only led to a couple yards each time. Dwyer and Redman combined for 24 carries. The most important carries came near the end of the game on the drive where Redman bowled his way into the endzone to seal up the game 27-10. Even though Redman got the score, it was Dwyer’s running that got them there. His ability to break the first and second tackle will go a long way for games to come. The Jets defense couldn’t stop him because they were greatly fatigued by that point in the game – and THAT’S why the offense needs to continue running the ball even if it’s not averaging more than 3 yards per carry.
Big Ben Scrambles
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked for only (only?) three times on Sunday. It could have been worse. The amount of times the line broke down in less than three seconds is astounding. There were at least a half a dozen other times that Big Ben was within the grasp of a defender. His strength and surprising (yes it’s still surprising even after all these years of watching him) agility to avoid getting tackled is the tops in the NFL. It keeps the offense on the field for that much longer when he’s able to scramble and either find an open receiver or run for the first down. In fact, it’s why ten different receivers caught the ball from him.
If Ben’s feet and legs can stay healthy all season, then he will be able to get the Steelers to scramble into the playoffs. We can see how much it affects his game when an ankle or foot keeps him from scrambling out of the pocket. Whoever said you had to use just your arm to be an elite QB in this league?
Winning Turnover Battle
The final big key to the win over the Jets is committing zero turnovers. The Steelers picked up a fumble on a botched punt return, which kept the Jets offense off the field for another possession. However, the most significant part of the turnover battle on Sunday was the Steelers committing none. Ben had zero interceptions despite the hurries and scrambles he was subjected to. The running backs and receivers took care of the ball all game. That’s huge when you consider that the game was close enough that one turnover and subsequent drive would have put the Jets right back into the game. The Steelers struggled last season in the turnover ratio, but they are off to a good start this season, especially when they couldn’t afford to give up the ball
Of course, there are other good things that took place for the Steelers to win: Success without Troy Polamalu or James Harrison, Suisham hitting FG’s beyond the 40, Mike Wallace’s big grab in the end zone, keeping composure even when the Jets got dirty after whistle. But I think the above five are not only keys to this particular win, but also are big keys for any Steeler victory for the rest of the season.