Likes and Dislikes: Steelers vs. Panthers

The sky is no longer falling and all is well in Steeler-land. The Steelers traveled into Charlotte, North Carolina on Sunday night with a 1-1 record and a dark cloud looming over their head after an ugly all-around performance in their last game, a loss to division rival Baltimore.

A team that hadn’t scored a touchdown in 6 quarters of football and had trouble generating turnovers on defense, found a way to do both against the Panthers. It took 2 quarters to get things going, but when they did, the game had the appearance of classic Steelers football.

Here are our likes and dislikes from the week 3 Sunday Night clash against the Panthers.

Injuries

Since there was a lot to like in this game, I thought I’d address the bad news first. The Steelers escaped 2 games this season without visiting the dreaded injury bug that has plagued the team for years. However, the third quarter of Sunday night’s game felt like dominoes, with one defender after another leaving the game.

Early reports are still trickling in, but it appears the Steelers could lose 3 of their defensive starters for a significant period of time:

  • CB Ike Taylor broke his forearm in a friendly-fire collision with LB Lawrence Timmons. Taylor has been ruled out indefinitely with some reports stating he will miss 10 games and could return later in the season.
  • LB Ryan Shazier left the game with what was called an MCL sprain. His status is unknown, pending an MRI.
  • What appeared to be the most harmless of the 3 injuries could be the worst diagnosis: LB Jarvis Jones is said to have a broken wrist and could miss the remainder of the season.

While the injury news is devastating, each of the mentioned players’ backups played admirably in their absence. In one surprising move, Antwon Blake subbed in for Taylor rather than having slide nickel corner William Gay over. Gay, who has been playing fantastic as of late, was left in his usual position while Blake found himself covering Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin for the latter part of the game.

Blake had two near perfect defenses on Benjamin, but found himself at a 6-inch disadvantage on the wrong end of an equally perfect Panthers touchdown play. I’ll give Blake a pass on that play, as this is the NFL and you’re not going to get everything the way you want it every play.

OLB Arthur Moats relieved Jarvis Jones and continued where Jones left off, recording a sack of his own (in addition to one earlier recorded by Jones.)

ILB Sean Spence saw a healthy amount of playing time, more so when Shazier hobbled off the field. Spence recorded 4 tackles and looked prepared and ready when his number was called.

Penalties

The first 2 quarters were nail biters, not only for the lack of scoring, but the shoot-yourself-in-the-foot penalties we’ve grown accustomed to seeing with this team. This game was not without defensive penalties which kept the Panthers offense on the field, and offensive penalties which negated big plays.

The Steelers were penalized 11 times for 91 yards Sunday night (with several other penalties not accepted.) Luckily, in the “like” column, the Panthers committed some untimely penalties of their own, including a bonehead moment on a 4th and 4 field goal attempt, where the Steelers successfully pulled another special teams trick out of their hat, forcing the Panthers offside. This play brought the offense back on the field for touchdown and ultimately sealed the game.

The Steelers will have to play mistake-free football going forward, as to not let opponents capitalize on their mistakes.

Offense

What’s not to like about two 100-yard rushers in a single game? Le’Veon Bell looks like a complete runner if there ever was one, gaining 147 yards on the ground and adding another 10 on 2 catches. His 81 yard scamper is the longest of any Steelers back in over 40 years, and also the longest run so far in the young NFL season.

It took 8 quarters of football, but the touchdown drought ended with Antonio Brown scoring 1 of his 2 TD’s in the 3rd quarter. Brown would end the night catching all 10 of the passes thrown in his direction for 90 yards total.

The scoring drought could’ve ended earlier in the game, when the Steelers had an opportunity to score 6 points late in the 2nd quarter. Ben Roethlisberger found Markus Wheaton in the near corner of the endzone for what appeared to be a touchdown. Wheaton, however, was ruled to have stepped out of bounds prior to coming back in-bounds to to make the play.

This play was mind-boggling for a number of reasons, one of which is the inconsistency of calls the Steelers face on each side of the ball. Regardless of the legality of Wheaton being on or off of the field, it’s the way in which Wheaton was forced across the boundary that raised some eyebrows.

On a 3rd and 6 from the Panthers 6 yard line, Wheaton’s route took him several steps into the end zone, where a great deal of contact was made with a Carolina DB, the result of which caused Wheaton to go out of bounds. With the play squarely between 2 referees, no flag was thrown despite the physicality beyond 5 yards.

Antonio Brown and Matt Spaeth would be penalized later for 2 offensive holding calls beyond the line of scrimmage, as well as the defense being penalized with 2 illegal contact calls. At the very least, if these calls are made against the Steelers offense, they should also be made against the opposition. At the time of the Wheaton “out of bounds” call, the game was tied at 3. (Following the play in question, Shaun Suisham kicked a 24 yarder field goal to put Pittsburgh ahead 6-3.)

Shaun Suisham

Speaking of Suisham, the Steelers kicker added 3 more field goals on the year, and is a perfect 5-of-5 on the season. Suisham’s field goal streak extends back to October 27th of last season, against the Raiders (where he incidentally missed 2 fields goals, his only miscues of the 2013 season.) Suisham is also perfect on extra point tries in his Steelers career, dating back to 2010.

The Rest

Most of the defensive and special teams accomplishments were already touched upon, however, the Steelers defensive line deserves a nod for the amount of pressure they displayed last night. Brett Keisel has not lost a step, and his presence helped the other linemen step up their game. Among them, the team received a jolt from Steve McLendon, who blew by Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil to sack Cam Newton.

Conclusion

Register one in the win column. This game proved the Steelers are capable of making the necessary adjustments to succeed. In what was a night-and-day comparison to the Ravens game, the Steelers showed they could hang with a team that is considered one of the best in the NFL. There will still be a few question marks, as the Panthers abandoned their running game, and the team continues to be penalized.

However, this win is a step in the right direction, as Pittsburgh heads into a stretch against lower profile opponents such as Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. The momentum could shift them into second gear and back into the upper echelon of the AFC.

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