We'll dive into full coverage of this most impressive win throughout the week, but let's take a quick look at how we did in what I thought were some of the more important keys to getting this victory.
1) Stop Maurice Jones Drew
Um., how does 5 carries for 7 yards, and 6 catches for 23 yards sound? As well as we played against him and the Jags offense, he still had an impact on the game, making a couple of nice plays on 3rd down, and of course, scoring a TD from the goal line. He's that good, and we basically shut him down before sending him to the sidelines for the game with an injury in the second half. Btw, Bryant Westbrook. Maurice Jones-Drew. What do they have in common playing against us? Getting banged up. We're of course not pleased that these fine players got hurt, just noting that when you play against this defense, you're going to get hit. And it's going to hurt.
2) Improved Punting From Mitch Berger
I noted this as a key this week because I thought there might be several instances when we would need Jacksonville to really earn their keep on offense. It was a minor point, really, given how consistent Berger's been for the most part to start 2008. But I thought it might serve us well if he had an above average game. How'd he do tonight? Yeah, he delivered, big time. 4 punts for a 49.5 yards per punt. Anybody else notice that the Jaguars return guys were fielding punts off one or two bounces, then just getting laid out immediately by one of our gunners? That's good stuff, Mitch. Good stuff indeed.
3) Convert in the Red Zone
As many of you pointed out in the comments section, this one's a biggie each week NFL teams take the field. Our TD drive to level the score at 7-7 in the 1st quarter was huge. We finished off a 12 play, 71 yard drive (7:31 second drive) with a 1 yard TD pass to Heath Miller. Read that one again. We had a 12 play, 71 yard drive! And we capitalized in the red zone. The difference between 7-3 and 7-7 is VERY different there, for a number of reasons. Kudos to Bruce Arians, Big Ben, and the rest of the offense on that cruical series.
We were less successful on our next several trips inside the Jags' 20. We had to settle for FGs twice, including one from the 4 yard line when we really had a chance to put some distance between ourselves and the Jags on the scoreboard. Alas, we fell short several times. But, when it mattered most, late in the game with everything at stake, we punched it in, thanks to several amazing plays by Ben Roethlisberger. We'll get into that later, but as it relates to this point, a TD rather than a FG here was so huge. When an NFL offense knows it just needs 35-50 yards to set up a FG, they almost always get the job done. Heck, the Jags won the last two weeks on last second Josh Scobee FGs. But when teams have to go the distance to get 6 to win or tie, it's a different ball game. Good job offense!
4) Continue Protecting The Ball
Well, we started the game with a pick 6 that certainly gave us pause in our hopes of a victory tonight. But that was that. Santonio Holmes, Mewelde Moore, Nate Washington, Hines Ward, Gary Russell, Heath Miller, Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger, and Ben Roethlisberger, all deserve credit for not once putting the ball on the carpet tonight. This is a gritty, spirited team that's not going to beat itself with turnovers it doesn't look like. That bodes well for our chances, considering how incredible our defense is when not being cheated flagged by the refs.
5) Get Heath Miller Involved
5-5! Heath Miller breaks out for the first time in 2008, catching 5 passes for 45 yards and a TD. His impact goes beyond that, though. Four of his 5 catches were for 1st downs, one of those being the TD snag. And don't forget, he also had a 20 yard reception negated by a Willie Colon holding penalty. Bottom line is this offense is better when he gets the ball. I know he matches up better against some teams than against others, but kudos to Bruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger for featuring him a bit more this week.
There ya have it. Lots went into this victory, but of the five keys we discussed, the Steelers certainly delivered in a major way. We'll get into what else they did well, as well, as some of the other nuances of the game, soon enough. Here's a start though.