By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer
After it appeared that the season was spiraling out of control, the Steelers have now put together two solid consecutive victories and seem to be gathering some momentum as they head into their Week 13 matchup against the Giants.
Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, & Le’Veon Bell: This doesn’t need much explanation. Brown tallied his 10th multi-touchdown performance in the past three seasons (most in the NFL) by coming down with all three of Roethlisberger’s touchdown passes. With those three receptions, Brown now leads the NFL with 10 touchdowns on the season. All Bell did was put together his second-consecutive 100-yard rushing game. While his 4 receptions for 22 yards were both a season low, Bell continued to be the workhorse in the Steelers backfield and has been a real difference maker this season.
Oh yeah. Roethlisberger put together another efficient game, going 14/20 for 221 yards and 3 touchdowns. Big Ben doing Big Ben things yet again.
The Offensive Line: Over the past two weeks, the Steelers’ offensive line has played with an edge and has been creating plenty of holes for Bell to run through. The line also kept Roethlisberger clean on the night, not giving up a single sack. Special shout out to both Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva for having noticeably solid games. Gilbert received the highest offensive grade from Pro Football Focus and it was well deserved. Villanueva has quietly put together an effective season as well. I have been a bit critical of him throughout the first 12 weeks of the season, but he has done well as Roethlisberger’s blindside defender. When you don’t hear your left tackle’s name being called during a game, that is often a good sign.
Ladarius Green: Welcome to the Steelers, Ladarius Green. Now that Green has been fully incorporated into the offense, his impact has been quite apparent. While he isn’t eating up a large amount of receptions, he is creating big-play opportunities for the offense, tallying 2 receptions for 67 yards against the Colts. It is this type of deep-threat ability that makes it obvious why the Steelers were so quick to sign him in the offseason.
Javon Hargrave: Week in and week out, Hargrave continuously impresses on the defensive line, demonstrating his amazing first step and get-off off of the ball. Hargrave now has two sacks so far in his rookie season (something both Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt were unable to accomplish in their rookie seasons) and has sacks in back-to-back games. Hargrave has seen his role increase due to the season-ending injury to Heyward and to say that he has stepped up to the challenge is an understatement.
Sean Davis: Davis is far from a perfect product at this point in his rookie season, but he has really improved his tackling since the preseason. Davis finished with 5 tackles on the night, with his biggest play coming on the 3rd-and-goal stop of Scott Tolzien, where he beautifully ditched his coverage to step up and make the touchdown-saving tackle. Davis put together some highlight reel tackles during the game and really has began to come into his own in the secondary.
Mike Mitchell: Finally. Mitchell wasn’t a loser after a Steelers game. Mitchell put together one of the best performances of his Steelers career against the Colts, finishing the game with 7 tackles, 2 defended passes, and an interception. Unlike previous games this season, there were little to no plays were fans were screaming at their TV’s for Mitchell to be released immediately. His 4th-and-goal pass breakup in the closing minutes of the first half was a disastrous hit, as was his 3rd-and-goal stop of Tolzien in the 4th.
Needless to say, it was a great game for the Steelers safeties.
Steelers Goal Line Defense: As I eluded to in the previous two winners, the Steelers goal line defense was fantastic. Although the Colts were playing with their backup quarterback and an injury depleted offense that is weak to begin with, two 4th-and-goal stops are amazing for any team. Had the Steelers given up one or both of those touchdowns, this would have been an entirely different game. This is the type of confidence that the Steelers desperately need on defense moving forward.
Sammie Coates: Yes, Sammie Coates is dealing with a hand injury. Yes, he is still a young (and admittedly raw) receiver. But at some point, at least one of these passes from Roethlisberger needs to be caught by Coates. Over the past three games, Coates has been in the position to make big (and timely) plays but has came up short every time. Coates now has zero receptions in the past four games, which only accentuates the absence of Martavis Bryant even more.
Jesse James: In the past two games since Green’s return, James has 5 targets with 1 reception for 5 yards. One of those targets came last night during garbage time late in the 4th quarter. James has developed nicely as a tight end this season but will likely see a reduced role in the passing game with Green being the athletic receiving tight end the Steelers desired. James did a solid job in the run game against the Colts but after being a somewhat important piece in the Steelers pass game earlier in the season, James’ reduced role makes him a loser by default.
Lawrence Timmons: Timmons was far from terrible against the Colts, but he has clearly lost a step, especially in coverage. When put into situations one-on-one in open space, Timmons was beat or made the play after the reception had already been made. This is becoming a recurrent theme this season, which will make it interesting to see how contract talks play out this offseason
Danny Smith: To prevent myself from sounding like a broken record, I’ll just leave it at this: the Steelers’ special teams units, especially their coverage teams, are not good. Period.
Steelers 3rd-Down Defense: While the Steelers showed up in critical goal line moments against the Colts, their 3rd-down defense was far from desirable. The Steelers gave up 8 of their 15 3rd-down situations, good enough for only a 46.7% success rate. As we have seen all season, the Steelers have been unable to make the big stops when they need to and although the scoreboard indicates that they were able to do it against the Colts, they were still unable to get off the field. This is best shown by the Colts 11+ minute drive in the third quarter. You can’t have that.
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