Talk about an offensive explosion. Dilly Dilly, Steelers!
On a short week, the Steelers simply dominated the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football, scoring 30+ for the first time since Week 16 of last season, scoring 31 points against the Baltimore Ravens on Christmas Night at Heinz Field.
Against the Titans, the Steelers closed the game with six straight scoring drives with Ben Roethlisberger in the game (Landry Jones finished the game with kneel downs for the offense), dominating offensively through the air, while taking it to the Titans’ offense aside from one long pass play to start the second half, forcing four Marcus Mariota interceptions and recording an impressive five sacks defensively in the 23-point rout.
Now, the Steelers get to enjoy a weekend off before getting back to work. It feels good to head into the weekend coming off a big win like this.
QB — A+
Elite Ben Roethlisberger made a much-needed appearance on Thursday Night Football, leading the Steelers to the 23-point blowout win in primetime, hooking up with Antonio Brown three times for touchdowns, finishing with four scoring strikes on the night while throwing for 299 yards against a strong Titans secondary.
Without much of a run game on the night, Roethlisberger stepped up when the Steelers needed him the most, finishing 30-for-45 against the Titans while running the no-huddle attack to perfection.
Roethlisberger was sacked three times on the night and took some big shots in the pocket, but he directed a tremendous attack in the second half, leading the Steelers on six straight scoring drives in the game. There will be no blaming Ben or Todd Haley this week, eh?
RB — B
Le’Veon Bell had 21 touches on the night, including just four carries in the first half, but it didn’t really affect the offensive attack, fortunately.
As a runner, Bell finished with just 12 carries for 46 yards on the night (3.8 yards per carry) with a long of 7 yards and had a touchdown taken away following a review of the score, but he didn’t pout, running hard each time he got the ball.
Aside from his limited workload as a runner, Bell finished with 9 catches for 57 yards as a receiver, working the underneath area of the defense against the Titans.
James Conner came on in relief and finished with just 12 yards on 5 carries (2.4 ypc). He ran with his trademark burst on the five carries, but he struggled to make much happen.
You’d like to see more balance from the offensive attack moving forward, but there’s very little to complain about from the team standpoint against Tennessee in primetime.
WR — A-
How about Antonio Brown’s night? Wow, that was some impressive stuff, and it took me 24 words into this sentence to get to his helmet catch. That will go down on highlight reels as one of his best catches ever.
On the night, Brown hauled in 10 receptions for 144 yards and three scores, including two red zone touchdowns. He’s the best receiver in football, and it’s really not close.
Aside from Brown, who lit up every corner on the Titans’ roster, rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster hauled in 4 receptions for 47 yards on 8 targets, drawing two penalties through the air, while Martavis Bryant finished with just 2 receptions for 30 yards.
Bryant had two drops, including one in the end zone (he should have caught it, let’s be honest), but he came up with a clutch play late in the second quarter, recovering Brown’s fumble, which led to a Chris Boswell field goal for a 16-7 halftime lead.
This group dominated the Titans’ strong secondary on the night, which helped the Steelers’ offense reach a height they haven’t reached since Week 4 of 2016, points wise.
TE — B+
Jesse James continues to struggle as a run blocker, but in the passing game he hauled in five passes for 21 yards and a nice touchdown on a play-action play at the 1-yard line following Bell’s overruled touchdown.
When he’s the No. 1 tight end option in the passing game, Roethlisberger feels comfortable looking James’ way. The veteran quarterback targeted James 8 times through the air.
OL — B-
For the second straight week, the Steelers’ offensive line struggled to get much of anything going on the ground, forcing the Steelers to turn to the passing game to pick up the win.
The offensive line allowed three sacks and five quarterback hits on Roethlisberger, as Alejandro Villanueva had a rough first half against Brian Orakpo, while Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey erred on passing off a stunt, leading to another sack.
David DeCastro also struggled in the first half against Jurrell Casey in both the run and pass, and he also had a false start penalty.
In the second half though, this unit stood tall in pass protection, allowing the Steelers’ offense to roll to the big win.
A win is a win, but it would be nice to see the Steelers’ OL get back on track next week against the Green Bay Packers, both in pass protection and in the ground game.
DL — A
Talk about domination.
Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt destroyed the Titans’ offensive line all game long, holding the Titans to just 52 yards on the ground (2.5 yards per carry) while also having a hand in three sacks and five quarterback hits on Mariota in the win.
Heyward continues to make a case for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year award thanks to his impressive play against the run and as a pass rusher, while Tuitt looks as healthy as he has since training camp, putting together two great games since returning from a back injury.
Quietly, Javon Hargrave had a strong game as well against the run, finishing with three tackles and one tackle for loss. As I said on twitter (no homer here), this Steelers’ DL might be the best one in the NFL, or at least in the conversation.
Just to add insult to injury, L.T. Walton added a sack on the Titans’ second-to-last drive of the game.
LB — B+
Ryan Shazier was outstanding Thursday night, rolling up 10 tackles in the win, while Vince Williams added 7 tackles and his sixth sack of the season, good for second on the team in that category.
Williams has become a force as a blitzing inside linebacker, while also living in his element against the Titans, flying downhill against the exotic smash-mouth attack of Tennessee.
Outside linebacker Bud Dupree put together a quietly strong game against the run, finishing with just two stops, but both were huge 1-on-1 stops in the hole. He wasn’t much of a threat as a pass rusher, but he was strong setting the edge against the run, while TJ Watt had a big night, blocking a field goal, “swatting” away two passes and setting the edge well opposite Dupree.
Unfortunately, the outside backers didn’t do much as pass rushers, failing to record a quarterback hit, let alone a sack in the win.
DB — B-
Despite picking off Mariota four times in the win, the Steelers’ secondary desperately missed Mike Mitchell in the middle of the field as Mariota, Delanie Walker and Rishard Matthews carved up the Steelers’ secondary in the middle of the field.
Despite that issue, the Steelers’ secondary made plays on the ball all night long as Coty Sensabaugh had a great game in place of Joe Haden, shutting down one side of the field all night while hauling in an interception. He did get beat deep on Matthews’ touchdown to start the second half, but it looked like he was expecting help deep in the middle of the field. We’ll see what the All-22 shows.
Artie Burns had a decent game, finishing with 8 tackles in the win, but he was bailed out by Walker’s dropped touchdown.
Mike Hilton just makes plays, folks. What a find he’s been. Whether it’s against the run, blitzing, or in coverage, the man is all over the place, and he hauled in his second INT of the season.
Robert Golden played okay in place of Mitchell and added one INT in the win, but at first watch struggled at times in pass coverage.
And all of that leads me to Sean Davis. This guy is special, yinzers. Aside from his interception to effectively end the game, Davis was all over the field, finishing with three tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass deflection, proving how versatile he is for this defense.
Special Teams — B
This was a much, much better week for Danny Smith’s unit.
Despite allowing Adoree’ Jackson to bust off a 36-yard kick return, the Steelers’ special teams unit was strong all night long as Watt blocked a Ryan Succop kick to preserve the Steelers’ 10-7 lead early in the game, while Boswell was money on field goals, hitting all four field goal attempts and all four extra points.
Punter Jordan Berry was very good again for the Steelers, averaging 50.7 yards per punt, including a long of 59 yards and a punt downed inside the 20-yard line for the Steelers.