Walking into Heinz Field yesterday afternoon, I looked over at my cousin, and said: the Steelers need to put up 30+ and our defense needs to hold them to under 30, to win this game.
Much like the Carolina Panthers game, where the Steelers came out of several quarters of stinky football, not much was expected of the team going up against offensive and defensive units ranked in the top 5 in the league. Even Charlie Batch was picking the Colts to win. If someone had told you the Steelers would not only win, but put up 51 points, you would think they were insane.
Yet, most of this happened. The win. The 30+ points, and almost the under 30.
The NFL has become the land of "expect the unexpected." Two weeks ago, the Steelers were brutally embarrassed by the Cleveland Browns. This, after losing at home to Tampa Bay and squeaking out a road win against basement dwelling Jacksonville.
However, much like last year, I was fighting my impatience to see this team live up to their capability. Yesterday, they not only did, but overwhelmingly surpassed it. QB Ben Roethlisberger had a career day, setting multiple records in his 150th career start for the Steelers. Those records included his 100th career victory, breaking his own franchise records of 522 yards passing and 6 touchdowns, as well as becoming the 1st player in NFL history to have two games with over 500 yards passing.
That last line caught me off guard too: Ben is the only player to have 2 games with over 500 yards. Not Brees. Not Manning. Not Brady.
It goes to show what can happen when a future Hall of Famer steps up his game and the team around him responds. Multiple young bodies contributed to the win. WRs Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton exploded with catch after catch on the offense. DE Stephon Tuitt, NT Daniel McCullers and LB Ryan Shazier helped the front 7 get a crazy amount of pressure on Andrew Luck.
The Steelers likely sacked Luck more than the 2 times shown on the stat sheet (due to some called/uncalled intentional grounding penalties) but it was veteran leadership that also ate away at Indy, with LB James Harrison and SS Troy Polamalu playing like the days of old.
I would be remiss to not mention RBs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, and TE Heath Miller but we all know just how well this game went. A lot of yards and a lot of points were laid on Indianapolis, in a game where the Steelers were a 3.5 point underdog.
There was so much to like, and that's where we need to focus on how to improve, heading into a huge AFC North battle with the Baltimore Ravens.
The Steelers were still penalized 10 times during the game. The defense still gave up 34 points. I feel the only player who did not step up their game yesterday was CB Cortez Allen; who is quickly becoming the scapegoat for the team's inability to stop the pass. Allen was part of 2 Andrew Luck TD passes, both in which it appeared 'Tez was not prepared to defend the pass, despite the end zone being the most important part of the field.
Cortez was benched around the 4th quarter for Antwon Blake, and this didn't make the situation better for the former, as the shorter Blake was instantly targeted in the red zone by Luck: Blake made a jump ball play for an interception, making the argument against Allen that much stronger. It also doesn't help, when William Gay and Brice McCain, both backups heading into the season opener, are playing at a higher level.
But as the Steelers have a thin secondary due to injury and lack of depth, along with Allen signing a contract extension, we have to assume Cortez will still be on the field in certain situations where multiple DBs are necessary, if for any reason other than there's no one else that can be put into the game. Mike Tomlin made note of Allen in his post-game press conference, noting they will "fix it." Allen has the body of work for years past to show he's a capable player, and the team will need him to regain his confidence and focus in order to hold teams such as the Colts to less points.
The only other dislike I can point out for this game is the constant use of a halfback draw on 3rd down. We've seen it fail to gain a first down twice before, and again yesterday. First was Le'Veon Bell's 3rd and 5 against Tampa, which set up the team's loss a possession later. Last week, LaGarrette Blount failed to convert a 3rd and 1, while Blount also ran from the shotgun draw again this Sunday, on a 3rd and 3. The play is far too predictable, and I can never figure out the need for a back to start from such a negative position, especially from a short yardage situation.
Having these two criticisms is part of the process of evaluating our team. If that's the worst we can take away from such a big victory, then that's a good thing: it means the team has many positives to build upon and less holes to fix, in their bid to make the postseason and get out of their 8-8 rut.