By David Todd
The Steelers couldn\’t have asked for a better opponent this past week than the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders strengths fit right in to what the Steelers do well and the Steelers had the added incentive of the Raiders win last year at Heinz Field. The Steelers were coming off an embarrassing defeat at home on national television to the New England Patriots and had something to prove, to themselves and their fans. And they did. An excellent game across the board.
Overall the Steelers came out of this game in reasonably good shape. The offense line again got dinged up with Maurkice Pouncey suffering a knee bruise/thigh contusion, Chris Kemoeatu suffering cramps (?) and Jonathan Scott having a leg injury. None of the injuries are expected to be serious, a good thing as the Steelers are already a bit shorthanded on the offensive line.
*Ben Roethlisberger played a great game throwing for three TDs and running for another while getting 55 yards on the ground. Roethlisberger talked about providing more leadership during the week and he delivered in a big way leading the team to 431 yards of total offense and converting all three drives in the red zone. His best performance of the year.
*Mike Wallace continues to impress with three more catches for 116 yards. He\’s second in the NFL in catches of 20+ and 40+ yards and leads in yards/catch at 23.0. He also has eight TD catches, one in each of the last three games. His 52-yard catch and run was jaw-dropping and he added 19 yards on a reverse hand-off. He is playing at a Pro Bowl level at the moment.
*The offensive line dealt well with various injuries. Guys came off the bench and others were moved around and the unit still did an adequate job of blocking and protecting Roethlisberger.
*The Steelers continue to come out slow since Roethlisberger has taken over at QB. They have only 10 first quarter points in six games and went three and out on their first two possessions on Sunday.
*Rashard Mendenhall fumbled for the first time this year, the Steelers only turnover.
*The Raiders run-first scheme was just what the doctor ordered as the defense was excellent to a man. They held the Raiders to three points, 182 yards of total offense, rang up six sacks and forced three turnovers. They held yds/gm leader Darren McFadden to 14 yards on ten carries. They will be hard-pressed to play a better game all year.
*Singling out players is probably inappropriate with such a good team effort, but James Farrior continues his recent run of excellent play, leading the team with seven tackles and a sack.
*After questioning Troy Polamalu last week, he was back to his old self this week creating havoc in the box from the edge, recording six tackles and making a nice interception and return to seal the game. The Steelers defense needs to scheme against the opposing offense, but they seem to be markedly more effective when Troy is up in the box frequently.
*James Harrison continues to dominate with five tackles, two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble.
*The secondary seemed to turn the corner after four consecutive tough weeks. Ike Taylor was outstanding and William Gay much-improved.
*Nothing. The penalties, but we\’ll get to that below.
*Antonio Brown got a helmet for one of the few times this year and looked very dangerous returning punts averaging nine yards on seven returns. He took one punt back but the Steelers committed two penalties on the play. He and Sanders are providing a potent punch in the return game.
*Shaun Suisham didn\’t exactly get a baptism by fire, but he converted all five extra points in his first game in a Steelers uniform.
*The coverage units were again able to totally shut down the opposition\’s return game.
*Mike Tomlin and his staff get an A+ this week. After the loss to New England Tomlin took the unusual step of putting the team in pads on Wednesday to raise the intensity level. He also made the decision to cut Jeff Reed, bench Trai Essex and dress Antonio Brown. The message was clearly sent and received.
*In such a blowout few in-game decisions have much impact, but both coordinators dialed up excellent game plans.
*Tomlin did an excellent jog keeping the team focused and under control in the face of so many questionable penalty calls. This carried through after the game as well and shows a very disciplined team.
*I\’m reaching here, but while I like gadget/trick plays I thought Bruce Arians decision to call one on the fourth play of the game was a little early. Nonetheless Hines Ward was open on the play and Roethlisberger underthrew him.
Big Officiating Calls:
*Simply put, it was the worst officiated game in terms of the impact on the Steelers that I have ever seen. The Steelers were flagged 18 times, with 14 accepted, for a total of 163 yards. The personal foul calls on Ryan Clark, LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison were questionable at best (Woodley/Harrison) or just flat out wrong (Clark). The Steelers have a reason to feel targeted when such things happen repeatedly. The League office has already apologized for the two blown calls in the Cincinnati game that almost cost the Steelers the win. It will be interesting to see if its more apologies this week or fines instead. Stay tuned.
Up Next: The 2-8 Buffalo Bills in Buffalo at 1:00 on Sunday. The Bills are coming in off their first two wins of the season, including a big comeback last week in Cincinnati. They will throw the ball aggressively and it will be more of a test than the casual fan might think.