Pass offense finally explodes for Pittsburgh Steelers

By The Sports Xchange  |  Nov. 17, 2017 at 6:40 PM
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PITTSBURGH -- It took 10 games, but it finally happened for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They scored 30 points in a game for the first time this season. In fact, they hung 40 on the Tennessee Titans.

That might not seem like a big deal, but for the Steelers it ended a string of frustrating offensive performances. They entered the game 20th in the NFL in scoring, and the hope is the Thursday night outburst will be a harbinger of things to come.

"Hopefully, this is kind of the start," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.

The 40-17 victory vaulted the Steelers to 8-2, the best record in the AFC. The Patriots will try to keep pace Sunday when they play Oakland in Mexico City.

The Titans had a hard time keeping pace with a fast-paced Steelers offense that utilized the no-huddle early and maintained an attacking mentality against their secondary throughout the contest. Roethlisberger was 30-for-45 for 299 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

"Hopefully," head coach Mike Tomlin said, "it's a catalyst for us moving forward."

As for the pass-heavy game plan, the Steelers were well-versed in how it looked. In fact, they watched for many years when opposing teams with elite quarterbacks used pass-heavy schemes against their old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

LeBeau now coordinates the Titans defense, and the Steelers took notes all those years.

"We are just trying to do what it takes to be successful," Tomlin said. "We talk all the time about big picture. We need to be a team that is well-balanced, a team that is capable of running it on anyone, a team that is capable of passing on anyone. At different points here in recent weeks, I've seen us run it and run it extremely successful. (Thursday night), you saw us throw it. We were very thoughtful about our approach in terms of being able to attack people in different ways because we realized the challenges that lie ahead we have to be able to do a lot of things. So the potential for that balance is big for us."

The question now is whether the Steelers can keep it up over the final six games of the regular season and the playoffs. Many of them are of the opinion that Thursday night was the beginning of something.

"It shows how good our team can actually be," running back Le'Veon Bell said. "We made a statement tonight."

Added wide receiver Antonio Brown, "It did feel great to show what we're capable of and put up 40 points."

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The Steelers were without two starters in their secondary Thursday night. Cornerback Joe Haden and free safety Mike Mitchell missed the game with injuries. Veteran backups Coty Sensabaugh and Robert Golden took their place and each had an interception.

"Every day you have to prepare as if you're going to get in the game," Golden said. "When guys go down we have to pop up and get in the game. When Joe went down, Coty had to step in. When Mike went down I had to step in. You never know when your name is going to be called, but when it's called you have to be prepared."

The Steelers had four interceptions in the game, all from defensive backs. Slot corner Mike Hilton and strong safety Sean Davis had the others.

"We have great coaches that prepare us very well," Sensabaugh said. "They get us right. We depend on each other. We fight hard and we just go out there and have fun together no matter who is out there. We have a lot of capable guys in that room.

"This is by far the deepest secondary that I've been a part of. We have a lot of guys who started elsewhere who aren't starting here just because of the numbers. We have a guy like Deshaun Phillips, who started for Washington last year as their nickel, and he's on the practice squad."

The Steelers need Sensabaugh to fill in for Haden for at least a few more weeks. Haden has a fractured fibula. Mitchell could return to the lineup when the Steelers play host to the Packers Nov. 26 at Heinz Field.

"For them to come out here in a prime-time game, it was crucial," Davis said. "We need that. We need them to deliver for us. We can ride that wave and elevate our game along with them. When we're on like that, I feel like we're unstoppable."

REPORT CARD VS. TITANS

--PASSING OFFENSE: A - For the first time this season, the Steelers were treated to a classic Ben Roethlisberger performance. He was 30 of 45 for 299 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Three of those touchdown passes were to Antonio Brown, who finished with 10 receptions for 144 yards. But it was far from a one-man show. Running back Le'Veon Bell had nine catches and rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had four.

--RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus - The Steelers didn't really try to run the ball. Bell had just 12 carries for 46 yards. There wasn't a lot of running room, but that was to be expected against a Dick LeBeau-coached defense. He takes away the run and tries to force the quarterback to beat him. The good news for the Steelers on Thursday night was Roethlisberger and the passing game made him pay.

--PASS DEFENSE: B - Without starters Joe Haden and Mike Mitchell, the reserves stepped in to provide some quality play. The Steelers intercepted Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota four times, including one each from Coty Sensabaugh and Robert Golden, who were making their first starts of the season for Haden and Mitchell. Strong safety Sean Davis and slot corner Mike Hilton had the other interceptions. The only negatives were a couple of long pass plays. Rishard Matthews caught a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the second half, and Delanie Walker had a 42-yard reception later in the third quarter. Mariota finished with 306 yards passing, but recorded a 66.8 passer rating because of the four interceptions.

--RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus - The Steelers stopped Tennessee's running game cold. The Titans ran for just 52 yards on 21 carries. Their leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, finished with 10 yards on eight carries. The longest run of the day came from Derrick Henry, who gained 16 of his 32 yards on one run in which Sean Davis could have had Henry in the backfield for a loss. Missed tackles continue to be a problem for the Steelers, which is the reason they don't get the A-plus performance.

--SPECIAL TEAMS: A - Linebacker T.J. Watt blocked a field goal in the first quarter, giving the Steelers a blocked field goal and a blocked punt this season. Chris Boswell kicked four field goals and continues to be reliable for the Steelers. His longest boot Thursday night was 50 yards. Punter Jordan Berry had three punts for 152 yards, including a 59-yarder that pinned the Titans at their 4-yard line. All in all, for a unit that is oft-criticized, the special teams might have played their best game of the season.

--COACHING: A - Give head coach Mike Tomlin credit for getting his players ready to play on a short work week. The players were ready and executed the game plan extremely well. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley gave the reins to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his veteran quarterback came through with a clutch performance. It proved to be a smart move as the Steelers reached 30 points for the first time this season. Keith Butler's defense had another strong performance, too. It was the eighth time in the first 10 games the Steelers gave up 18 points or fewer.

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