The Pittsburgh Steelers earned their first signature win of a still young season yesterday against the defending Super Bowl champions. Despite multiple abhorrent calls against the Steelers, they still pounded their way to victory on offense, defense, and special teams.
What is becoming clear about the 2012 Steelers is that they are well balanced. While the offense was pass-centric early in the season and the running game was anemic, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman have charged-up the rushing attack behind a much-improved offensive line. This newly found symmetry is making for a much more threatening offense that is able to keep opponents on unsteady footing as they have to decide which component of the offense they will scheme to take away. The conundrum that opponents now face is whether to emphasize the run and open themselves up to being exploited by the passing game, or to focus on the passing game and give up the run. Simply put, there is no easy solution in defending the Steelers offense.
Defensively, while no one player has emerged as a dominant force, sacking the quarterback at will or racking up numerous interceptions, each player on the defensive side of the ball is quietly executing their responsibilities with precision, resulting in a different kind of dominating defensive performance that starkly contrasts defensive units the Steelers have fielded in the past. While Ike Taylor uncharacteristically made an interception Sunday, and Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley both collected sacks, there was never the feel of absolute physical domination defensively as was seen in 2008 or in 2010. And that is not necessarily a bad thing or a pre-requisite to winning a championship.
Against the Giants, the Steelers brought a workman-like approach to their defensive game, thwarting any attempts at a sustained drive by the Giants by holding them to a 20% success rate in converting third downs. The Steelers did not need the splash plays that were a trademark of defenses of previous years as they simply rendered the Giants offense ineffective. And while sacks are undoubtedly important, they are not necessarily required to have a dominating defense. Consider the following:
Let us not forget that the Giants recorded four sacks Sunday and still lost the game, despite being given points from the referees.
The same cannot be argued for interceptions as the Chicago Bears, Giants, and the Atlanta Falcons all have ten or more interceptions and are enjoying winning seasons. If Taylor’s pick was a sign of things to come, the Steelers defense that has played so well over the last three games could be even more stifling.
Lastly, let’s not forget to mention the special teams of the Steelers. Despite Shaun Suishams\’ failed attempt on the fake, the special teams were solid, marked by the effective and electric returns of Chris Rainey, who several times was close to breaking one for a touchdown. What also cannot be overlooked is Suishams\’ success on field goals this season. While I have always been a critic of Suisham, his near-automatic field goals this season provide a feeling of reliability when three points are needed.
Overall, these Steelers are proving themselves to be balanced and to be improving week to week. If Sunday’s balanced and powerful win against the Giants is a sign of things to come, the last eight games could be something special. And if the Steelers have more yet to show, which I believe they do, their success this season could be something special.