I’ll admit it, I was fully prepared to make this short and sweet. Talking about how pitiful of a performance the Steelers once again put up for 2.5 quarters. Lots of fans and media alike questioned if the Steelers had given up and waved the white flag on the season with the recent struggles. Wondering where this team would show any sign of passion or care to save the season. Today, the Pittsburgh Steelers stepped up and showed some heart when nobody thought they had any left. With the win, the Steelers clinched 1st place in the AFC North division, something they went three years without doing. This game was a true Steeler classic as the performance was absolutely night and day much like the season.
Truth be told there isn’t much to be said for the team’s offensive performance in the first half. They looked abysmal but what else was new, everything from the play design to the execution seemed discombobulated. Big Ben kept missing throws, four yards of rushing for a half, and stalled drives from poor play calling. If you’ve been watching the team, this is nothing new especially in the last month. What sparked the comeback was the Steelers superman who wears 7 on the back of his cape.
At the end of the day, the offense will live or die by Ben Roethlisberger’s play. His stats checked in at a 69% completion percentage, 342 passing yards, 3 touchdowns and no picks thrown. In the second half he lit the spark for the comeback, starting with a big time deep ball touchdown to Diontae Johnson. He continued to throw rifles down the field shredding the Colts defense up the middle on three straight scoring drives. The last one was a dime to JuJu Smith-Schuster for the go ahead score.
Speaking of JuJu, he finally stopped his Tik Tok nonsense and the Steelers won, coincidence I think not. In all seriousness, Juju was trusted in a close game and proved why he’s still Ben’s most reliable target in crunch time. He won’t make as many splash plays as Johnson or Claypool but consistent hands gets the job done every time.
The rest of the receiving group keeps showing why they can be the only saving grace of the offense at times. Johnson was on the other end of the game changing play and we finally got to see the good Diontae for an entire ball game. Another formula that seems to work most of the time is to target Chase Claypool. It doesn’t seem like rocket science, get him the ball in any way possible and the offense moves the successfully down field.
In the running department and up front it was a mixed bag but still more bad than good. Villanueva and Okorafor are simply not getting the job done in run blocking or pass blocking. Both gave up big plays against the pass and on outside zone calls in the run game. Pittsburgh ran the ball 14 times for a grand total of 20 yards, which still really bad and there is no way it can get better. There was only one good run all game which was a draw to Conner after they had beat the Colts defense down in the passing game. Pass protection stepped up and protected Ben on their scoring drives, while it regressed over time it’s still good enough to keep Ben on his feet.
For the offense to have success moving forward, Ben must play well and the receivers need to be on their best game. No run game is bad but given the Steelers record, they’ve proven you can live with it but the other facets of the offense must be playing at their best.
Normally the Steelers defense proves to be steady rather than shaky but they were as night and day as the offense. In the first half, the Colts gashed them in the run and checkdown passing game. The defensive line was shaken out of position and just were not physical enough. Both inside linebackers Avery Williamson and Vince Williams got burned in pass coverage by running backs and tight ends. A common trend this year that still wasn’t bucked in this game. The run defense stepped up in the second half and the front seven shut down Taylor forcing the Colts to become very one dimensional. Combine that with the pass rush that got home five times, and the Steelers defense held the Colts to a field goal in the second half.
Stephon Tuitt made an underrated game changing play when he sacked Rivers on third down inside the red zone. This made Indianapolis kick a field goal instead of scoring seven more points. It may not seem like a big deal but being down 17 feels different than being down by three full touchdowns. Tuitt also had a pass deflection in the second half to go along with his sack.
In the back end of the defense, Haden got beat on a go route by Zach Pascal but besides that the coverage was good enough down the stretch. While Williamson left a lot to be desired in pass coverage, he was excellent against the run totaling nine tackles and two for losses. He also showed his versatility with a sack on a perfectly timed blitz. Cameron Heyward notched a big time sack on third down in the fourth quarter that got the defense off the field right before the go ahead drive.
In my opinion, the two players of the game had to be TJ Watt and Mike Hilton. Watt absolutely wrecked the Colts offense to start the game. He sacked Rivers on the second play of the game and got his first strip sack of the season later in the game. This forced fumble gave the Steelers offense excellent field position and helped keep the game within reach.
The man who was behind both Steelers turnover was none other than Mike Hilton himself. He not only recovered the fumble and took it inside the 10 yard line but he also picked off Rivers midway through the fourth quarter. Both Watt and Hilton made the impact plays that changed the outlook of the game entirely throughout all parts of this game. Lastly, Alex Highsmith should be praised for his two QB hits that caused errant throws from Rivers. The second hit from Highsmith forced Rivers into a bad throw and resulted in the Hilton interception.
When it comes to the bigger picture, what does this win really mean for the Steelers? Well it gives them assurance not only in winning the division but that the offense may not be irredeemable after all. More importantly it provides them with an opportunity to rest and recover from the battering season next week. There is no point in trying to go into the playoffs with style so there’s no reason not to sit some starters against the Browns. Rest the players who have been dealing with nagging injuries and build off of what worked on offense against a very good Colts defense. If this team is planning on making a turnaround, this is a solid start.