Enemy Intelligence: Pittsburgh Steelers

 

Coming off their bye last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers evened their record on the year to 2-2 by beating the Philadelphia Eagles at home, 16-14. They took a 10-0 halftime lead, then went down in the fourth quarter and won the game on a last second field goal by Shaun Suisham. Earlier in the season, the Steelers sandwiched a win at home against the Jets with road losses to the Broncos and Raiders.
 
What I saw from the Steelers last week, and the other games of theirs I've seen, after the jump.
 
1. The Steelers had really struggled to run the ball. Until last week, when running back Rashard Mendenhall made his season debut coming off an ACL injury. He had 14 carries for 81 yards and looked great doing it, running with power, decisiveness, and vision. Isaac Redman had been the primary ballcarrier, and his efficiency stats are down there with Chris Johnson's. If he can do what he did last week going forward, Mendenhall gives the Steelers a running game.
2. Ben Roethlisberger is Ben Roethlisberger. He holds the ball too long. Sometimes he doesn't feel like executing the offensive gameplan. Sometimes great things happen for the Steelers when that happens. He's prone to having a clunker game or two a year. He can sit back there all day and find the same sort of small windows he found last year, to say nothing of the much larger voids in the Titans' secondary this year.
3. The offensive line stinks at pass pro. Still. Ben holds the ball forever, but even if he doesn't he'll get hit. Then again, this is the Titans and I have no confidence in their ability to bring effective pressure against the local high school.
4. Mike Wallace may be the best deep threat in the NFL, and Ben has the arm to get him the ball. This is not the game Jerry Gray will start having all 11 defensive players within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage at the snap.
5. Antonio Brown isn't Wallace's equal as a deep threat, but he's still a very, very good receiver, with enough speed and the ability to run routes. He had seven grabs against the Eagles.
6. Heath Miller is still the tight end. He'll have between 40 and 75 yards receiving, make some good blocks in the run game, and probably score a touchdown because every tight end the Titans have played except Brandon Pettigrew has.
7. Notwithstanding the offensive line's faults, Ben dropped back 37 times against the Eagles, who have a much better defensive line than the Titans, and was not sacked.
8. They're still the Steelers, but this is not the same Steelers defense. In particular, it's not the same defensive line. Then again, I'm not sure how much that matters given the interior of the Titans' offensive line.
9. Sunday was Troy Polamalu's first game, and it was also the Steelers' first above-average performance of the year by Football Outsiders' DVOA metric. That's probably not a coincidence. The improvement came both in run defense, where the Steelers were great after being average earlier in the season, and in pass defense, where the Steelers were merely bad after being terrible the first three games. Polamalu is of course out for this week's game.
10. The Steelers were also buoyed by the return of James Harrison. While he's not the player he was a couple years ago, they're still better with him than without him. No matter which players are in there, I'm confident they can screw up the Titans' protection schemes and get a free rusher on a zone blitz or simple stunt or twist.
11. The non-Polamalu defensive backs are non-terrible, notwithstanding what Steelers fans may try to tell you. That makes them good enough to shut down the Titans' alleged passing game.
12. The Steelers are playing on the road on a short week. Yes, the Titans haven't been very good, but they've lost this kind of game before, most notably to the Browns back in 2009. Ben Roethsliberger has random lousy games for no apparent reason. It could happen again.
 
Maybe I'm seeing too much of the Steelers of a couple years ago, the Steelers I'm used to seeing, but they still look to me like a better team then the Titans on both sides of the ball. A much better team. Given how uncompetitive the Titans have been this year, a line that has the Steelers favored by 5 seems too low. Then again, given how the Steelers really played on defense the first three weeks, my line wouldn't be more than a point or so higher. I'm fully expecting the Titans to lose, just because they've been so lousy this year, but this game isn't truly hopeless.
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