Most fans would not be content with seeing their team three games under .500 and never has a record of 1-4 felt pretty good. However, most (if not all) Steeler fans will gladly take Sunday’s first win and hope the team can build off of it. Happily, my record of not having seen the Steelers beat the Jets in person was broken Sunday and seeing the game at the stadium gave me a good opportunity to get an overall picture of where things stand with the team.
As I’ve said, Steeler fans travel better than any others and Sunday was no exception. We parked next to a couple of Steeler fans (Mitch and Ron), who offered some refreshment and conversation, our lot had large groups of people in black and gold jerseys or shirts,and inside the stadium, the terrible towels were on their most glorious display throughout the game. After Lawrence Timmons’ interception, the stadium erupted with a sea of yellow towels waving in the air and a mass exodus of Jet fans. When the game was down to its last few seconds, if you looked around the stadium you would have thought you were at Heinz field.
Personally, I think that’s one of the reasons the Steelers won, they had the constant support from their loyal fans and that is huge in a road game. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but right now we’ll take it. Here’s why I think the Steelers won:
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is 18-2 against rookie QBs and what he threw at Jets rookie Geno Smith was vintage LeBeau. While I still think the team should move in a new direction next season, it was great to see LeBeau at his best. LeBeau constantly moved his front seven from a down position to an up position, dropped them into coverage, sent them on a blitz while mixing Troy Polamalu in as well. It was obvious Smith had no idea who was coming and from where, he never could get a bead on when they were going to blitz or not. The Steelers defense kept the Jets guessing most of the game and forced Smith into two very costly but brilliantly timed interceptions.
Smith claimed he was “simply trying to throw the ball away” when Ryan Clark came up with the team’s first turnover of the season. Folks, don’t buy it, I saw the play pretty clearly since my seats were in that end zone, Smith thought he could get that pass in there and Clark made a great play on it.
The Steelers played a good old fashioned brand of hard hitting football and when Polamalu leveled WR Stephen Hill near the end of the first half, the Steeler fans (and bench) erupted. The Steelers sent RBs Bilal Powell and Mike Goodson to the sidelines with injuries and even though they allowed the Jets to march down the field near the end of the game, Timmons came up with that signature Steeler stop. Two interceptions a season does not make, but combined with the sacks and the physical play all day it was clear that their is still a lot of pride on that side of the ball
My favorite 2013 rookie, LB Vince Williams was all over the field, shutting down a reverse in the second half, stopping a play in the backfield in the first half. Williams brings an explosiveness and athleticism and wasn’t as big of a liability in pass coverage as most would have thought. Yes, the team is going to have to replace some key parts next season (Keisel, Clark and maybe Polamalu), but barring injury, their starting LB corps is going to be very good.
I wrote last week that if the Steelers were to win, Ben had to be Ben and make plays when all else failed and he did so. Yes, the pass protection was shaky again, but during time outs, center Fernando Velasco was constantly pumping his line mates up, and the line gave Ben time to make plays downfield. They still need to make solving their left tackle issues a priority either in the draft or through free agency, but they held the Jets line off at the most crucial times. The Steelers’ offense had 10+ plays of 12 yards or more including the bomb to Emmanuel Sanders for the game’s only TD. I really think they need to keep Velasco and work him into the starting line, either by shifting him to guard or moving Maurkice Pouncey to guard.
It was nice to see the offense show a little imagination with end arounds and having Antonio Brown doing his best Hines Ward imitation. I liked the vertical game, throwing on first down, throwing down field with more regularity than before and this needs to be emphasized more in the coming weeks. While the ground game was pedestrian at best, it kept the Jets defense honest and while they didn’t set the world on fire, the combination of Le’Veon Bell and Felix Jones should be worked more and more into the game plan as should more deep passes to Brown, Sanders and Miller who continues to prove that he is one of the best TEs around. I would put Miller easily in the top ten at his position as long as he stays healthy. His absence is more noticeable than any other offensive player besides Ben and the Ben-Heath combo ranks up there with Romo-Witten or Brady-Gronkowski, maybe even better than those two.
Sunday was a good physical contest, but with games against Baltimore, Green Bay, New England and Cincy still to play, I still don’t see a playoff team. I also don’t see a team ready to throw in the towel either and like I said I think there is too much pride in the few vets left to let this season spiral out of control. Yes, there is still a mess at LT (from what I could tell I think Levi Brown got hurt during pass blocking warm ups), and the running game needs more consistency. Yes, there is age to be dealt with on defense and any injury to a starter will expose their lack of depth. No, starting William Gay wasn’t a major upgrade and yes Antonio Brown fair catches it too much on punt returns. But these are still OUR Steelers and 1-4 looks a whole lot brighter than 0-5. If they keep playing like they did this past Sunday, 8-8 isn’t out of the question. I know 8-8 isn’t something to shoot for, but given the state of this team and the issues at hand, it’s a more realistic goal given an 0-4 start.