By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers knew that their offense would have a breakout game, they just didn’t think it would be in Week 11.
“It’s about time, I guess you could say,” guard David DeCastro said.
Pittsburgh (8-2) put up a season-high 40 points in a 40-17 victory over the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field on Thursday night. The Steelers outscored the Titans 24-10 in the second half, including 17 unanswered points over the final 15 minutes of the game. The 24 second-half points are more than the team has totaled in six of their games this season. They came into last night’s game ranked 19th in scoring at a tad under 21 points a game and had not topped the 30-point mark prior to the game.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appeared very comfortable using the no-huddle and did an excellent job calling audibles and using the hard count — getting Tennessee to jump offsides twice. Last night’s game was Roethlisberger’s best game of the season; he completed 30-of-45 (66.7%) for 299 yards and four touchdowns. Roethlisberger started the game off hot, leading the Steelers to a touchdown on the opening possession of the game, hitting on 4-of-5 passes including a 41-yard touchdown toss to Antonio Brown.
It wasn’t all roses for Roethlisberger and the Steelers. After the first drive, they managed just 45 total yards over their final six possessions of the half, with Roethlisberger completing only 6-of-18 passes.
In addition to Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown was the other star of the game. Brown caught 10 passes for 144 yards and three scores. He also had the catch of the game, making a one-handed catch using his helmet as an aid while falling backwards.
Tight end Jesse James finished with five receptions for 21 yards and a score. James did a great job selling the play action fake that Roethlisberger executed perfectly, which resulted in a one-yard touchdown catch.
The defense did a fantastic job rattling Marcus Mariota, hitting him nine times and recording five sacks. The Steelers’ No. 2 rated defense picked off a season-high four passes and had 10.5 tackles for losses. They limited the Titans to 316 yards of total offense and have now held their last five opponents to under 20 points.
It wasn’t all positive as the Steelers were once again susceptible to the big play. On an excellently designed play, Mariota hooked up with Rishard Matthews to beat cornerback Coty Sensabaugh for a 75-yard play. The Steelers’ other starting cornerback, Artie Burns, made a couple of mistakes in coverage and struggled tackling in the early going. Burns did finish with eight tackles.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier was all over the field as usual, while the defensive line was able to get a ton of pressure on Mariota. Shazier led the team with 10 tackles. Heyward recorded two sacks to give him four over the last four games. Stephon Tuitt, Vince Williams and L.T. Walton also had sacks.
Special Teams: A+
Three days after missing a field goal and having an extra point blocked, Boswell was a perfect 8-for-8. Boswell made four field goal attempts including a 50-yarder late in the first half. That field goal gave the third-year pro his third make from that distance at Heinz Field in his career.
Punter Jordan Berry, who did an excellent job as the holder, spinning the laces out for Boswell’s 50-yard field goal attempt, had perhaps his finest day kicking the ball this season. He recorded a season-best 47.3 net punting yards and had a punt downed at the one-yard line in the third quarter.
Linebacker T.J. Watt had a key field goal block early in the second quarter after the Steelers got major push on their rush. Antonio Brown had his best punt return of the season, setting up the Steelers’ final touchdown of the game with a 16-yard punt return, taking the ball to their 49-yard line. Three plays later, they extended their lead to 37-14.
With such a short practice week, the Steelers decided to use the no-huddle offense more often than in their previous games this season, and it certainly paid off on the opening possession of the game as the Steelers marched 75-yards in just 2 minutes and 36 seconds. While they didn’t use the uptempo pace the entire game, Roethlisberger certainly looked comfortable running it.
Coach Mike Tomlin gets high marks for his excellent time management late in the first half. After scoring a field goal to make the score 13-7 with 1:37 left, the Steelers got the ball back 26 seconds later due to great defense and Tomlin wisely using his available timeouts. As a result, the Steelers ended up with three points at the end of the half.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Tomlin also get praise for limiting Bell’s workload on the ground — he had recorded 25 carries in each of his previous four games –though Bell was still a major part of the team’s game plan, hauling in nine passes. Haley’s playcalling was also very good.
The defensive game plan was excellent, disguising blitzes and changing coverages though the game. They also used some nice stunts, one netting Cam Heyward a 15-yard sack.
The Steelers host the the Green Bay Packers next Sunday night (Nov. 26) in what will be their second primetime game in a row. They will enter the contest on a five-game winning streak, and a 3-1 home record overall. The Packers (5-4) have struggled recently as they snapped a three game losing streak on Sunday with a 23-17 win over Chicago.