Yesterday afternoon the Steelers beat the Lions, which could be a turning point for this team. I said last week when talking about the Steelers-Bills game that, while it was great that the Steelers won, it was hard to get too excited about beating a bad team led by a rookie quarterback. The Steelers were “supposed” to beat the Bills, simply because the Steelers have more talent.
However, yesterday’s win has given Steelers fans something to be excited about for the maybe first time all season. The fact that they beat a good team with a good offense (including the NFL’s best wide receiver) is exciting enough; the WAY they beat the Lions is what has me pretty pumped.
I was as down on this team at halftime as I imagine most Steelers fans were. They had given up a franchise-worst 379 yards in the first half, including 179 of those yards and two touchdowns to Calvin Johnson. The thrill of a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter was completely gone after the Lions scored 27 points in the second quarter. Matt Stafford and Johnson both had an entire game’s worth of stats in the second quarter alone. Things were looking bleak. When the Steelers had to punt the ball on the first possession of the third quarter, it looked like the Lions might end up running away with the game.
But the Steelers had a different plan.
The Steelers were firing on all cylinders in the second half and the offense and defense both came up big when they needed to. The key sequence of this game began early in the fourth quarter, when the Lions attempted a fake field goal. Steve McLendon forced a fumble on the play and Ryan Clark recovered it at the 3-yard line. At that point of the game, the Steelers were down by 4 points, so a field goal wasn’t going to help them. Driving 97 yards for a touchdown seemed like a daunting task, given the Steelers offensive difficulties this season, including earlier in the game. They had three drives stall in the red zone and were forced to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. I had my doubts that the Steelers could drive down the field and score a touchdown.
Boy, did the Steelers offense prove me wrong. There were a few big plays on this long drive. The first one was on 3rd and 9 from the Steelers 4-yard line. Antonio Brown caught the ball for 16 yards, which kept the drive alive. Another big play was 4th and 2 at the Detroit 36. Ben threw a short pass to LeVeon Bell for a 3-yard gain. Three plays later, Ben would complete a pass to Jerricho “I catch everything” Cotchery for 19 yards to the Detroit 1-yard line. Two plays and one Detroit penalty later, Will Johnson scored his second ever NFL touchdown.
This was the best offensive drive by the Steelers all season. Ben looked absolutely dominant on this drive. The offense seemed confident, made big plays when necessary, took the lead for the first time since the second quarter, and took 8 minutes off of the clock. Game changing stuff.
The defense then came up big on the ensuing Lions drive. The Steelers were up by 3 and with 4:28 remaining in the game, Will Allen intercepted a pass intended for Johnson. He ran it 27 yards to the Detroit 34 and five plays later, Roethlisberger faked a screen and hit a wide open Cotchery in the endzone for the game-clinching touchdown.
The Lions got the ball back, which resulted in three straight incompletions followed by Ziggy Hood sacking Stafford on 4th down. Ballgame.
The sequence of events that began with the failed fake field goal is hands down the best football I’ve seen the Steelers play all season.
Things I loved from this game:
- Winning the turnover battle. It can really never be emphasized enough how important this is. The Lions turned the ball over three times, which led to 17 points for the Steelers. The Steelers did not turn the ball over at all, which is always a win.
- Big Ben. 29 of 45 for 367 yards and 4 touchdowns. That’s a beautiful stat line right there.
- The defense playing strong when it looked like they were destined to wilt in the presence of a good offense. They forced two fumbles and interception, plus they sacked Stafford twice. Coming into the game, he had been sacked 10 times in the previous nine games, and five of those sacks came in a loss to Green Bay earlier this season. I should also mention that they were without two starters on defense—LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel were both out with injuries.
- The offensive line. As I wrote before the game, it was extremely important to protect Ben when facing Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Ben was sacked just once this game, by Fairley. Guy Whimper filled in for injured Ramon Foster at left guard and held his own most of the day. David DeCastro played a really fantastic game opposite of Suh. Watching some game clips, it’s really striking how easy DeCastro made it look. Suh had zero tackles and zero sacks. Colin Dunlap wrote a great column about this that goes into far more into detail.
- AB! Antonio Brown may not look like a prototypical #1 wide receiver, but he is sure playing like one. He had over 100 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first quarter alone, and he had the big reception on 3rd and 9 on the big fourth quarter drive. Yesterday’s game bring his totals through 10 games to 952 yards receiving, 5 touchdowns, and an 12.9 YPC (yards per catch) average.
- J. Co being J. Co. I’ve written about Cotchery’s play this season before (I actually dedicated an entire post to talking about it) and he continues to impress, making the most of the opportunities he’s been given. Yesterday he caught 3 passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. He now has 7 touchdowns on the year, which ties him for 9th best in the NFL and is a personal best for him. Not bad for guy who came into 2013 as the #3 receiver on this team.
- Holding Megatron to ZERO catches in the second half. This cannot be emphasized enough. Some of this can be attributed to Stafford having an abysmal second half, but give credit were credit is due. Ike Taylor–a perpetual whipping boy for Steelers fans—did a good job with Johnson in the second half. I didn’t hear a lot fans talking about this, because most truly believe he is a terrible cornerback who shouldn’t be playing in the NFL. But he looked every bit a graduate of Swaggin’ University in the second half.
- Also have to give credit to another whipping boy, Ryan Clark, for a great play in the end zone in the fourth quarter. On 3rd and 5, Stafford threw towards Johnson in the end zone, where Clark and Taylor were covering him. Clark had absolutely beautiful coverage on Johnson, which led to an incompletion. This set up 4th down for the Lions, who then tried the fake field goal on the next play and we know what happens after that.
Things I’d like to see more of going forward:
- Jonathan Dwyer. He’s big and can bulldoze over guys to get necessary yards in short-yardage situations. Would like to see him utilized more in those situations.
- The Steelers defense looking like a Steelers defense should. It’s been a rough season for the defense, but it’d be nice to see them build on this win moving forward.
- Keep the Cotchery coming. He should be targeted even more.
- More no-huddle. They ran the no-huddle quite a bit yesterday and it worked well. Ben is very effective at calling plays at the line and it keeps defenses on their toes.
- More Will Allen. Didn’t think I’d be saying this. Allen had himself a day yesterday, with a forced fumble and an interception. Nice to see from a veteran guy who was playing on another team for the first four weeks of this season.
The 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers, left for dead, are all of sudden in the midst of the AFC Wild Card race. It may seem like a long shot, but the AFC is a hot mess this year, so the possibility is still there. With how bad this season started for the Steelers, it’s nice to finally be in the fight in Week 11.