Although instrumental to a 25-13 win against the powerhouse, super-bowl favorite, Arizona Cardinals, it wasn’t Martavis Bryant, Antonio Brown, or even Landry Jones who was the hero of that victory Sunday afternoon. In fact, it wasn’t even one specific man dressed in black in gold; yes, if you haven’t guessed by now, it is the often-criticized Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
I’ll be the first to admit that I doubted them; in my first column I flat-out said their offense was going to be the best defense this team has. Few, if any, predicted they would play as well as they are playing, especially in dire times like this. At the beginning of the season, if you were to ask the typical Steelers fan to identify the saviors of this team, few would say Will Gay, Antwon Blake, Robert Golden, Ross Cockrell, etc. But running with a 2-1 record (that should be 3-0) is no joke without your starting quarterback, especially against solid teams like the Cardinals and Chargers.
Before this past Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals were the highest scoring team in the NFL (203 points in 5 weeks). Carson Palmer’s second-coming has led his team to scoring 24 touchdowns in just 5 games including 4, 7, 6, and 6 touchdowns to the Saints, Bears, 49ers, and Lions respectively. But how many against this “doomed” defense without Dick LaBeau? One. One touchdown set-up after a lousy 31-yard punt from a struggling Jordan Berry.
On paper it may not seem like much – 26th in passing yds/game and 23rd total defense – but the most staggering stat is this Steelers team, who flat out did NOT cover Rob Gronkowski in week 1, is 5th in points allowed per game this season. With an offense consisting of playmakers to the likes of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and now Martavis Bryant, if this defense can consistently hold a team to under 20 points in a game they should be victorious. (In fact, in both of Pittsburgh losses this season, the opposing offense has scored 21+ points: 28 to New England, 23 to Baltimore). Sure, Carson Palmer threw for 421 yards, but if you only put the ball in the end zone one time against this defense it virtually means nothing.
The only thing holding them back from being a truly feared team in the league is injuries. Like I said in a previous article: anyone who belongs in the NFL as a quarterback can succeed in this offense with the weapons of mass destruction that are provided; but the difference between them (Mike Vick/Landry Jones Etc.) is Ben Roethlisberger excels more than most could.
At this point in the week, it looks like Ben will be out for yet another game. That means week 6 sleeper-of-the-week Landry Jones will more than likely be under center for their game against the Chiefs. Kansas City (1-5) is averaging 21 pts/game this season; right at the threshold of where I believe this team needs to succeed. I will be going into this game skeptical of the Landry Jones sequel, and I believe all of Steeler Nation should be too; if you watch any of the Steeler’s preseason games this year, you’ll understand why. Barring 2 or 3 throws, most of Jones’ passes were over/under thrown, but did allow for great plays to be made underneath them, and Martavis Bryant took advantage of that. Skepticism is good while watching any Steelers football not being orchestrated by Ben Roethlisberger, that way if Mr. Jones proves that this past week was, in-fact, a fluke then you won’t be as upset…And if he produces to the same level as he did against Arizona maybe he’ll replace Ben as the franchise quarterback, right? That’s how Pittsburgh sports fans work, right? “Out with the old and in with the new.”?
In essence, without Dick LaBeau, there is no “Steel Curtain”; in his absence this defense has to now try and modernize their game and create a NEW name for themselves. The NFL has evolved into a pass-heavy leagues since the ’70’s, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are finally starting to figure that out.
Look-out, NFL, for when the sun of a Ben Roethlisberger-led offense and the moon of this defense collides.