By Christina Rivers
The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t play an ‘A’ game on Monday night against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field. In fact, there were several areas where the Steelers simply could not get free from the mire of mediocrity. After coming out early, it took the fourth quarter and the old-school play of running back Le’Veon Bell to propel the Steelers to a three-point win over the Titans.
Ben Roethlisberger looked frustrated, and rightly so, as he was sacked repetitively throughout the first three quarters of play against the Titans. Roethlisberger appeared ready to leave the game, heading for the sideline after being nailed, only to jump right back in and right the ship. Roethlisberger can thank second-year back Bell and receiver Antonio Brown for showing up in Nashville. Monday night’s game certainly wasn’t one of Roethlisberger’s best during his NFL career, completing just 21-of-32 passes for a single touchdown. The interception thrown by ‘Big Ben’ inside the end zone looked to be an indicator of where the game was headed until the fourth quarter wake-up call. Roethlisberger moved from a pistol formation and started feeding the ball to his top performers – Bell and Brown. In the end, Roethlisberger comes out a hero for remaining in the game in the final quarter, adjusting and being smart with the play-calling.
If the Steelers offensive line didn’t get it together in run blocking, the Steelers would have lost yet another game this season to a team that has had nearly zero success. The offensive line was chewed up and spit out by a smallish Titans defensive front that only had to throw three rushers at them during the majority of the game to come away with four sacks; two by Avery Williamson. Ahead of the week 11 game, talk about the lack of cohesion by the offensive line and questions about where Mike Munchak was focusing abounded. It is clear, after this performance, that the Steelers have some major issues on their offensive front to address.
Despite a few good attempts by Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, it was (Antonio) Brown and Heath Miller who came out as the Steelers’ top offensive performers behind Bell. Brown became the go-to guy on nearly any pass that traveled further than five yards, hauling in nine reception for 91 yards and a touchdown. Miller had five receptions for 71 yards; his longest was a 23-yarder. Bell was truly the redeemer on offense for the Steelers. On 33 attempts, Bell pounded the turf for 204 yards and a touchdown in a gritty, gutsy performance that should earn him NFL honors this week. The performance made Bell the first Steelers running back to put up 150-plus rushing yards since Rashard Mendenhall did it on November 28, 2010 and set a new career-high.
It’s a tough call, but in the end the offensive line pulled it together to get Bell the blocking he needed. It still isn’t enough to give them high praise. If the only players being graded on offense were Bell, Brown and Miller, the Steelers would be getting a much better overall grade. Unfortunately, their a unit and they play together and are graded together.
The Steelers opened up the first half with a great play by William Gay who jumped a Zach Mettenberger passing route and returned the interception for six points. Gay, who took from the Titans, later took from his own teammates with missed tackles and blown coverage. In fact, the entire Pittsburgh defensive backfield had a deer-in-headlights look to them through nearly the entire second and third quarters. Surprisingly, Will Allen led the team in tackles with three overall.
A lot of the responsibility for the poor backfield performance can be blamed on a non-existent pass rush for most of the game. To have Brett Keisel and James Harrison as your rushers then drop Jason Worilds into pass-coverage is a statement that you have lost control of your defense and game plan. Dick LeBeau no longer frightens opponents, let alone rookie quarterbacks. The need for Troy Polamalu, Ryan Shazier, Ike Taylor and Shamarko Thomas to return to the team is evident in the lack of depth at this point for the Pittsburgh defense who was unable to earn a single sack against Mettenberger.
The Steelers brought out Markus Wheaton on the opening kickoff for the first time this season. Wheaton was able to handle five kicks for a 24-yard average. It was a small improvement in a return game that has held the special teams unit back week-to-week. (Antonio) Brown handled one punt, but it was the only opportunity he got due to the Steelers defense being unable to get necessary third-and-outs. Brad Wing had an ‘ok’ outing with two punts for 40 yards. Shaun Suisham was perfect on the night, making two field goals and three extra point attempts for nine points. This unit continues to be lackluster this season.
The story of Week 11 for the Steelers wasn’t that they won, but that they were able to come back and hang on by a thread. Pittsburgh continues to struggle on the road, along the offensive line, in the entire defense and special teams. From week to week, the Steelers are a different animal. They are either dominating opponents they aren’t expected to do well against or flailing against ones they should handily manage. There couldn’t be a better time for this team to have a ‘bye’ week and get their heads clear and the game back in their control.
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Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on