The Pittsburgh Steelers advanced to 7-2 and are one of the six teams in the AFC with a winning record after Ben Roethlisberger mounted a classic “big ben” come back against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are at the bottom of the NFL in both offensive and defensive rankings but were able to contain both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown for much of the game while jumping out to a 17-3 lead. Opening up the passing game and letting Roethlisberger shuffle and slide in the pocket to buy time for receivers allowed the Steelers to secure the win. They have a short week before playing the AFC South division leading Tennessee Titans.
On The Brink Of Disaster
When a 61-yard pitch and catch from Jacoby Brissett and Chester Rogers spread the lead to 17-3, the Steelers answered immediately. The offense drove 78 yards on eight plays and Roethlisberger connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster on a seven-yard touchdown pass. Unfortunately, the point after attempt was blocked and was about two yards from becoming a two-point conversion for the Colts. Hustle and persistency prevented that debacle and kept the Steelers within striking distance.
The Not So Killer B’s
With Bell and Brown leaving their big play ability in Pittsburgh for this road trip, the Steelers had to rely on Roethlisberger and other weapons to get the job done. That’s exactly what they did. Brown had received 10 or more targets in every game since week four against the Baltimore Ravens when he had nine.
In Indianapolis, he was limited to only seven targets and for the second straight week had the same number of targets as Smith-Schuster. Bell got over 30 touches and contributed over 100 yards to the Steelers 316 yards of offense but couldn’t find the end zone. So what was the difference in Indianapolis in the fourth quarter when the Steelers trailed the whole game?
The Other Guys
The other stars on this offense! Vance McDonald, when healthy, has supplanted Jesse James as the number one tight end. He may have been an afterthought on his touchdown reception, but he was alone in the end zone and made the catch. Martavis Bryant adding a two-point conversion on a perfectly thrown pass that he caught in stride is comforting. It shows that Bryant is poised to contribute in the second half the season. When Bryant, James and a McDonald are implemented into the passing game, it makes Brown, Bell and Smith-Schuster harder to keep tags on. Most defenses can’t cover everyone. With Roethlisberger’s ability to extend plays, he should be able to find someone open almost every play.
There’s no doubt that Haley has embraced the “feed the hot hand strategy” when it comes to the offense and his incorporation of Smith-Schuster. His 290 yards receiving on 12 receptions and two touchdowns in the Steelers last two games are stunning. He’s on par for nine touchdowns and 926 yards receiving as a rookie.
What’s baffling is that James Conner hasn’t been brought along in a similar fashion. Bell has 261 touches on the season. He has the most carries and is top five in receptions among running backs. The head scratcher is Conner’s minimal use. He has two carries in two games, for 13 yards, Even though most of that came on a 12 yard run, Conner should see more carries to keep Bell fresh.
Bulls On Parade
The bye week did do some players, some good. Stephon Tuitt got relatively healthy and it showed. Cameron Heyward was well rested and had his way with Colts linemen throughout the game. In fact, they combined for six of the Steelers nine hits on Brissett. Tuitt himself notched three tackles, a sack, three tackles for losses and four quarterback hits. He was a one man wrecking crew. They helped keep the Colts rushing attack in check as well. Frank Gore and Marlon Mack combined for 24 carries for a total of 61 yards. The Steelers defensive front dominated the line of scrimmage throughout the game.
The Last Word
The Steelers offense may return to form soon. The fourth quarter was vintage Roethlisberger. With Chris Hubbard able to slide out as a blocking tight end, Vance McDonald manning the position and Marcus Gilbert healthy the running game should find its traction. Also, equally distributing the ball in the passing game will make this team more dangerous than ever. This was a game that took a lot out of the Steelers physically and mentally. They lost Mike Mitchell to an ankle injury and a broken fibula ended Joe Haden’s season. The Steelers have work to do. They have questions to answer. But they get to do so after getting a win. Not to mention with their AFC best 7-2 record.
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