After their trip to Philadelphia, many questions about the Pittsburgh Steelers arose following a 34-3 pounding at the hands of the Eagles. The defense had yet to officially put a quarterback on the ground with a ball still in his possession, and had failed to do so with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. The offensive line looked badly outmatched against the Eagles defensive front, leaving Ben Roethlisberger looking moreso like a rookie than the 12 year veteran and future Hall of Famer that he is. While a large portion of Steelernation went into full blown panic mode, setting the season threat level at Defcon 4, the Steelers players and staff maintained their course and set out to right the ship. Fast forward two short weeks, and the Steelers once again loom as legitimate favorites to win the AFC Championship after dominat wins. It’s no coincidence either, because in that same period of time, the defense has recorded 7 sacks, while LeVeon Bell made his return to the lineup.
Pittsburgh won the opening coin toss and deferred to the Jets, who jumped out to an early 3-0 lead on a Nick Folk field goal from 35 yards out. The Steelers quickly answered three plays later, with a 72 yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Sammie Coates, to take a 7-3 lead. The Jets made it a one point game with a second Nick Folk field goal, this time from 48 yards out with :47 remaining in the first quarter. The Steelers ensuing drive took them 47 yards on 10 plays, down to the Jet 28 yard line where they turned the ball back over to New York on a failed fake field goal attempt. Kicker Jordan Berry was stopped well short of the first down as he tried to get to the marker around the end. The Jets turned the Steelers failure into a 13-7 lead, as Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Brandon Marshall in the back left corner of the end zone with a pass that was contested and deflected by Ross Cockrell. Those would be the last points scored by the Jets, while the Steelers were just getting started.
Ben Roethlisberger threw his second touchdown pass when he hit a wide open Jesse James, with a one yard scoring strike, to put the Steelers up 14-13 with :41 remaining in the first half. The only third quarter scoring came on a 47 yard field goal by Chris Boswell. The Steelers headed into the fourth quarter leading 17-13, and were looking for more. After a somewhat offensively lifeless third quarter, Roethlisberger picked things back up in the fourth by first hitting Antonio Brown in the end zone to increase the Steelers lead to 24-13. On the Steelers final scoring drive, Ben went back to Sammie Coates, as a show of faith after a series of dropped balls. Coates came through with two key drive sustaining catches before hauling in his second touchdown reception of the day, Ben’s fourth touchdown pass of the day, to finish off a 31-13 Steelers win.
Reaons For Steelers “Resurgence”:
1. LeVeon Bell’s return to the lineup has given the Steelers the ultimate weapon in versatility. Bell has been just as dangerous lining up out wide as he has been coming out of the backfield, which his 332 total yards and 5.5 YPC average attest to. In his two games back, LeVeon has rushed for 210 yards, and has another 122 on 14 receptions. It won’t be long until he starts finding the endzone.
2. Through the first three games of the season, the Steelers defense recorded just one sack (Andy Dalton running out of bounds just short of the line of scrimmage), while giving up 66 points (22 ppg). Over the last two games, the defense has recorded seven sacks and 27 points (13.5 ppg). It’s reasonable to project that the young, fast, and athletic defense is only going to get better and deeper, as key members get healthy and return to the lineup. As the pressure continues, the coverage will only get better.
3. After two “sub-par” performances, Ben Roethlisberger has been on a two week tear. In wins over the Chiefs and the Jets, Ben has a quarterback rating of 138.5, is a combined 56/74 for 680 yards, 9 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. As Ben goes, so goes the Steelers, and it appears as if they are ready to burn through the rest of the schedule. Considering the fact that he is playing behind an offensive line that refuses to see him get dirty, despite the fact that they have gone three deep at right tackle, Ben is on pace for the best season of his career.
4. Sammie Coates may have issues catching passes, but he has sure made an impact while filling in for Martavis Bryant. He currently leads the NFL with 5 receptions of 40+ yards, and finally found the endzone (twice) against the Jets. The better Coates gets, the less teams will be inclined to double up on Antonio Brown. The less Brown sees double coverage, the more dangerous they’ll both become.
5. (Future Health): Things are looking awfully good for Ben and the Steelers right now. With the return of LeVeon Bell, and a bye week just two games away, the Steelers should head to Baltimore, to start the last half of the season, about as healthy as they have been since they reported to camp. How good would it be for them to hit the bye week 6-1, and fresh off a victory over the Patriots? Yes, they still have to play that game, but on paper, the Steelers are currently a stronger team than New England, but first they must focus on Miami.