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Monday, 27 October 2014

Pittsburgh 51, Colts 34: 3 Things We Learned

The Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten accustomed, in the last two weeks, of scoring points in bunches. Against the Texans last week on Monday Night Football, the Steelers scored 21 points in only three minutes. Yesterday against the Colts, they continued their onslaught by scoring 14 points in 39 seconds during the second quarter

The Steelers have been inconsistent this season, but with two back-to-back victories against solid AFC South teams, the Steelers are now a team that needs to be accounted for in the AFC North at 5-3.

Ben Roethlisberger, from a yardage standpoint, had the 4th best game in NFL history. He was masterful as he completed 40 of 49 passes for 522 yards and six touchdowns. If you would have guessed Ben Roethlisberger as the who quarterback would’ve finished with that stat line as opposed to Andrew Luck, I and many others would’ve said you are crazy.

Pittsburgh played, arguably, its best game of the season against one of the league’s best quarterbacks. It was a much needed victory for a team that has struggled to find the typical Steelers identity that is predicated on blitzing the hell out of offenses. Although against the Colts, the Steelers showed some of those glimpses. Jason Worilds and Lawrence Timmons had their best games of the season. The Steelers defense did bend a little during the second half, but that should be expected with the way Luck has played against teams this season. Overall, a performance that Mike Tomlin and his men desperately needed.

Here are the three things we learned from the Colts-Steelers matchup.


1. Antonio Brown is the best receiver in football

Bar none, folks. Step aside Calvin and Dez. Antonio Brown is playing out of this world right now. He absolutely tormented Greg Toler all game, after Vontae Davis, who drew the assignment previously, but left the game due to injury. Toler and Davis, have formed what many pundits believe to be the best cornerback duo in the league, but Antonio Brown was up to the task. He had yet another stellar day with 10 catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns. His two scores were vintage Brown plays. The first one was an impossible throw and catch for 5 yards, that Brown snagged close to the boundary of the endzone, beating Greg Toler. The second was a great play by Roethlisberger to escape a rush, buy time in the pocket and find Brown, who beat Toler again, who was coming across the middle of the field as he scamped for 47 yards into the endzone.  

Brown is on pace to best last year’s totals of 117 catches ,1,499 yards and 8 touchdowns, while his current pace see’s him with 120 catches, 1,704 yards and 14 touchdowns, which would rank among the best seasons ever for a receiver.

Brown is the best receiver in football because he does it all. He’s not pigeon-holed into simply being a go-route receiver, or a just a slot receiver. Brown is a true jack of all trade as a receiver. He’s a precise route runner whose arsenal of routes has no rival in the league. Brown can beat you deep on go routes with his 4.47 speed; he can man-up and catch back-shoulder or in-traffic passes as he times his jump perfectly. He’s bested Jordy Nelson as the premier boundary receiver in the league. Brown has mastered toe drags and catching near the sidelines in supreme traffic. He’s also a good punt returner, which makes him a four-down player. Brown doesn’t have elite size, at 5’10”, but he has elite quickness very good speed and tremendous hands. I understand that certain receivers are more attractive commodities because they possess better size to speed ratios (Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant), but simply put, Brown is getting it done and has cemented himself as the best receiver in the game by doing everything that those three elite talents can do, minus having that prototypical size for a blue-chip receiving prospect.

Give me Brown over any of those guys any day of the week.

2. Andrew Luck’s supporting cast is the weakest of all the elite quarterbacks

Yes, Luck at this point is elite. Say what you will about the great quarterbacks making their teammates better and that is a requirement, but Luck is playing at an extremely high level, but he doesn’t have one player with him, that anyone would call elite. Rodgers has Nelson and Randall Cobb. Brady has Rob Gronkowski. Drew Brees has Jimmy Graham and Peyton Manning has a the Thomas’. Luck? He’s left with a broken down Reggie Wayne, who is a shell of his former self, a stumbling and bumbling Trent Richardson and a solid but somewhat one-dimensional shot-guy in T.Y. Hilton.

Luck, who has had slow starts throughout his career, low completion percentages and interceptions, was without Wayne and Richardson against the Steelers and it showed. He had a solid game with 400 yards passing and three touchdowns, but he only completed 50 percent of his passes. He dealt with a lot of pressure from the Pittsburgh defense, as he was sacked twice, hurried 12 times and knocked down seven. His offensive line has been better as a run-blocking unit than as a pass blocking unit, but he’s still able to make due. I’ve said many times that only Drew Brees and Philip Rivers are better at stepping up in the pocket and firing accurate darts down the field while facing pressure up the middle. There’s only three or four quarterbacks in the league, Luck included, who would not have been sacked at least 40 times with the current Colts offensive line. That’s how average of a unit they are compared to the rest of the league and it is a testament to Luck’s ability to avoid getting sacked.

But it still remains that Luck needs a legitimate number one receiver who can take some pressure off of him. Too often he is left chucking it downfield to Hilton or this week, Donte Moncrief, who looks like he will be a solid player, but he’s still an unproven rookie.

They took a flyer on the ex-New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks and aside from a few plays, has been horrid all season. Against Pittsburgh, Nicks was largely to blame for the pick-six to William Gay. Nicks ran a very weak curl route, failed to come back to the ball and let Gay beat him to the position for the interception and return for six.

Luck only has two games without an interception this season and already three games with two or more picks.

He needs to get continued performances from Hilton and a consistent chains mover, whether it is Wayne, Dwayne Allen or Moncrief. Luck is an elite talent and he’s currently playing at a level that would garner MVP consideration, but he still needs help. Just looking at what he is doing now is unbelievable considering the talent on that roster.

3. Big Ben should never be discounted as a top-tier quarterback

The Colts defense was absolutely shredded, as the Steelers put up a 50-burger against the NFL’s 9th best defensive DVOA and second best pass defense, according to Football Outsiders. This was a game for the entire league to take notice that the Steelers, with Big Ben, who stayed mostly upright thanks to tremendous blitz pickups by the Steelers offensive line and running backs, have an offense that could rival teams a notch below the Broncos.

Pittsburgh’s offense is so much different when they protect Ben. He’s been forced too often to avoid the rush and stave off would-be tacklers over the last three years, where the Steelers have had horrible line protection. And while it has still been an issue this season, with Big Ben having been sacked 20 times, which ranks fourth most in the league, the Steelers line has played well in their last two contests and Big Ben has looked like his trademark, borderline top five self. He still has a rocket arm, can still fend off 320 pound defensive players and he’s still holding on to the ball too long, at times to the detriment of his team, but mostly it allows receivers to find openings in the defense, as Antonio Brown took advantage of on Sunday.

If we look closely at the numbers, aside from games against the Browns and Ravens, Roethlisberger, has posted a quarterback rating over 100 in six of eight games. Roethlisberger is also protecting the ball more than he ever has in the first eight games of any season he’s played in. He’s on pace to throw only seven interceptions, which would be the lowest total ever in his 10 years as a pro. His past struggles have have been related to poor play-calling, a lack of continuity with offensive coordinator Todd Haley and the aforementioned offensive line woes. Based off the last two games, those issues are not longer prevalent and if that continues, Roethlisberger and the Steelers will be a major problem for the AFC.


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