Only Pittsburgh Steelers fans can respond so negatively to a victory. The Jaguars (pronounced JAG-WIRES in Pittsburgh) are awful. Terrible. Maurice Jones-Drew is pretty spectacular, and he ran for 96 yards on 22 carries. Other than that the Jags did absolutely nothing. Blaine Gabbert was 12/26 for 109 yards. One touchdown. As a team, the Jaguars averaged 3.4 yards per play. I can’t stress how terrible that is.
Yet people in this city are TERRIFIED.
For some reason Steeler fans got this idea in their heads that in order for the Steelers to be considered a legitimately good team they had to not only win yesterday, but absolutely CRUSH Jacksonville. Coming off a 21-point victory against a significantly more competent Tennessee Titan team probably fueled this desire. Alas the Steelers only won by four and scared a lot of fans in the process. And while I also wish the Steelers had been able to win by three or four touchdowns, I take solace in the fact that they played a much better game than the scoreboard indicated.
Jacksonville managed one decent possession. It was a 17-play, 80 yard drive in the third quarter that should have never been and would have never been had Ryan Mundy not been flagged for roughing the punter on 4th and 21. Jacksonville then went three-and-out twice, kicked a field goal (for which they had to drive only 25 yards thanks to Daniel Sepulveda’s shanked punt), got the ball back with a minute left and no timeouts and gained a couple first downs before a failed hail-mary attempt. That’s it. That’s the second half. This is what we are worried about.
In the first half, Jacksonville gained 68 yards of total offense and had three drives in which they gained negative yardage. By this I mean they went backwards. That is three drives of three plays each in which they averaged going in the wrong direction. Meanwhile the Steelers put up 17 points and gained 315 yards of total offense. Is this what we are worried about?
I hear that the Steelers “let Jacksonville sneak back into the game,” but the truth is the outcome was never in doubt. Jacksonville was never going to be able to move the ball well enough to score another touchdown. Jacksonville’s coach Jack Del Rio knew it as well as anyone when – down by seven with a little over four minutes left in the 4th quarter – he wasted a timeout, THEN opted to kick a field goal to cut the lead to four. He had to have known that barring a Steeler turnover on their next possession that was the best chance the Jaguars had to tie that game. He still kicked the field goal.
I agree, it would have been nice for the Steelers offense to move the ball a little better in the second half. I would have liked to see them possess the ball for longer stretches. They were running the ball well enough for most of the game to do this, but it was fairly clear that the decision was made to try to stretch the field as much as possible. I won’t fault Bruce Arians for this because I have wanted to see him open up this offense more for years and I was thrilled they finally gave it a shot. It worked once and nearly worked a couple more times – Ben just overshot his receivers by a couple of yards.
So they didn’t score a bunch of points. So they “only” won by four. They dominated this game. They dominated last week’s game too. The offensive line has looked much better. There’s a running game now. Roethlisberger has time in the pocket. Defensively they allow the fewest total yards per game in the league (270.5) and the fourth-fewest points (17). The rush defense hasn’t been spectacular (15th in the NFL), but we have to remember the running backs they’ve faced so far – Rice, Lynch, Addai, Foster, Johnson, Jones-Drew. I’d argue that four of those six – Rice, Foster, Johnson, and Jones-Drew – are top five running backs in the league. Forgive me if I am not worried about this.
The Steelers have a very difficult stretch of games ahead. This week they go to Arizona (a cross-country road trip I’m sure nobody on the team is looking forward to). After that they face the Patriots, Ravens, and Bengals. This is going to be brutal. When I stop and think about how things are shaking out in the AFC North – looking at the Ravens and the Bengals and their schedule – I truly feel that the Steelers need to win all four of these games if they want to have a shot at winning this division. I think fans wanted a blowout victory yesterday as confirmation that they can have confidence in their team heading into this dreaded stretch of games.
While it may not have shown on the scoreboard yesterday’s win was a blowout. A real beatdown. The Steelers played a fantastic game and are playing their best football of the season at just the right time. We’ll see exactly what kind of team we’ve got over the next month. For now, I’m not worried. And you shouldn’t be either.