When your AFC North leaders hit the field in Jacksonville, Florida today, it was hard to not think about 2017. Of course, that was the version of the Steelers that saw their season come to a premature conclusion after losing their divisional-round matchup to the Jaguars. In case that wasn’t enough, their week 5 matchup of last season saw the worst performance of Ben Roethlisberger’s career and an emasculating 21-point home loss. Add in some off season bulletin board material from Jalen Ramsey, and you have a Pittsburgh team with a lot to play for.
As is standard-operating procedure for 1PM road games, the black and gold crawled out of the gate. Sloppy play from Big Ben and failure to establish the ground game led to a zero-point half. But, the ever-improving defense kept Blake Bortles and co. out of the endzone, in the form of three field goals. In one of the best second half performances of the year, the black and gold stormed back from an eventual 16-0 deficit, culminating with #FirstBallotBen breaking the plane:
Overcoming the usual 1PM road game struggles. Resiliency from #7. An excellent defensive performance. Tony-Toe-Tap doing best-in-the-world things. A two-game division lead. Iron Cities all around, please.
- The offensive line play of this Steelers team continues to be fantastic. The unit is one of the best in the league, and continued to show that today. Keeping injury-prone Big Ben on his feet is a necessity – no measly task against the staunch front seven of Jacksonville. Giving him time and giving James room to work continues to be the engine that drives this offense.
- The best development of the season is the improved defensive line play. Cam Heyward (still underrated, somehow) is one of the more consistent players on the roster, and Javon Hargrave spent a lot of time in the backfield himself. People don’t spend enough time discussing this aspect of the team, and they never have. One of the best defenses in franchise (and NFL) history was the 2008-09 Pittsburgh unit. The front three of Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith tormented offenses all year, allowing a mind-numbingly impressive 13.9 points per game. The point here being that a 3-4 defense goes as the front three goes, and the defensive turnaround for this team coincided with the improved play of the defensive line. Leonard Fournette ran for 95 yards on 28 carries, a far cry from his 181-yard field day a year ago on the Heinz Field turf. I can finally say I like watching us play defense again.
- Vance McDonald > Jesse James (I still love you, Jesse. Plus, it was a catch.)
- Coach T deserves a lot of credit for this season, so far. Handling the circus-like drama surrounding Le’**** and righting the wrongs that led to a 1-2-1 start was a tall task, but Iron-Mike Tomlin was up for the challenge. I’m the first one to call Coach T out most of the time. Let’s give some credit where it’s due and put a little #respeck on mycoach’s name.
- Big Ben is just that dude. You can hate him, call him awkward and laugh at his end-over-end bounce passes all you want. But at the end of the day, if #7 is under center, this team can win any football game they step on the field for. This, of course, is what occurred today in the form of 314 yards, three total scores and a game-winning drive to rectify his atrocious first-half. Take his last-second touchdown rush and inject it straight into my veins, please.
Your Pittsburgh Steelers are 7-2-1 and aren’t looking back on the AFC North. A hellish remaining schedule commences against a (soon-to-be) 3-7 Broncos team, before a Sunday night showdown with the L.A. Chargers to start the December slate. With the Patriots rematch looming as well, this will be a fun few weeks of football. Order extra capicola on your next Primanti’s and let’s remember to take it one week at a time. I’ll see yinz in Denver.