It's been nearly 24 hours since the Pittsburgh Steelers won their Week 3 matchup on the road against the Indianapolis Colts, 23-20. Steeler Nation, the spoiled bunch that it is, was less than impressed by the six-time Super Bowl champions' performance against the supposedly lowly Colts. But as I noted in my post-game notes, there was more to be pleased by than one would be led to believe. That said, there definitely were some 'bad' elements, and at times the play was downright 'ugly'. So in honor of one of my all-time favorite movies, let's take a look at 'The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly' from Week 3.
- Wide Reciver Play: At the outset of the 2011 season, analysts and fans alike raved about the potential of the Steelers WRs to really cause opposing defenses headaches. The offense is very much still a work in progress, but the play of the wideouts is certainly not what's holding the unit back. On Sunday night, Mike Wallace posted his sixth consecutive 100-plus yard receiving game in the regular season with his five reception, 144 yard performance. His 81-yard TD catch on the Steelers' third offensive series was absolutely gorgeous, and proof positive that there is no more dangerous receiver in the National Football League. On any given play, No. 17 is a threat to take it to the house. Second-year WR Antonio Brown meanwhile played an equally solid game. Brown hauled in four passes for 75 yards, three of which moved the chains on third down situations. The former Central Michigan record setter was equally valuable in the return game. He averaged over 16 yards per punt return on his four opportunities, highlighted by a 37 yarder in the fourth quarter that should have led to points. Hines Ward has yet to play a huge factor in any of the first three games, but he did catch three passes for 17 yards , including an 11-yarder on a 2nd and 4 play early on in the Steelers' game-winning drive.
- Mewelde Moore: The cagey veteran was the catalyst on Pittsburgh's final drive. After not seeing much action at all in the first two weeks, or for most all of Week 3 for that matter, Moore was thrust into action in the fourth quarter after Rashard Mendenhall had been rendered ineffective all night. Moore sprung a 22-yard gain on a nicely designed pass play where Antonio Brown ran a slant and picked the Colts safety off from taking a clean angle at Moore. His two rushes of five and four yards kept the Steelers in manageable situations in that final drive. While it would be nice to see Isaac Redman and Mendenhall keep Moore on the bench with their outstanding play, the reality is that the Steelers are going to be find themselves in some tight games moving forward where a trusted veteran like Moore will come in handy. It's nice to know he's still got enough juice in his legs to make the plays that are there for the taking.
- James Harrison: Harrison still looks like he's got a bit of stamina and strength to recover, but no longer is Steeler Nation concerned about Deebo's back and whether he'll be able to play at a high level. Or at least nobody should be concerned. Harrison was downright nasty for most of the game. He shed blockers in the running game and stuffed Addai in his tracks, and though he didn't record a sack until late in the fourth quarter, he hurried Kerry Collins into lots of throws he would have liked to have had another split second to step into. As for that huge strip-sack of Curtis Painter -- well, that's what Harrison does. No player in the NFL has forced as many fumbles as Harrison has since 2007 (26). Amazing player.
- Troy Polamalu: I can't tell you how important it is to see No. 43 seemingly back at full strength making football plays all over the field. He was great in run support, he timed his blitzes perfectly, and he was solid in pass coverage, both helping out and the lone time he was matched up in one-on-one coverage. Forget about the fact that Pittsburgh has some issues across the roster -- every team in the NFL does. Steelers fans seem to forget that, but it's absolutely true. What every team can't stake a claim to is having two dynamic players like Polamalu and Harrison that you can't entirely account for with a well-crafted game plan. The fact that Polamalu is healthy and making plays is absolutely the most important development of the young 2011 season for Pittsburgh.
- Emmanuel Sanders: As good as most of the wide receivers were, I can't include Emmanuel Sanders in that group. The second-year WR out of SMU dropped a perfectly thrown pass inside the Colts' five yard line on the opening series of the game. Pittsburgh had to settle for 3. Sanders did have one really nice grab on a 3rd and 18 play that extended a drive and allowed Pittsburgh to tie the game at 13-13 with a 44 yard Shaun Suisham field goal. But earlier in the contest, Sanders failed to down a Colts player by contact after Ben Roethlisberger's pass attempt was picked off. Sanders not only failed to touch the Colts player that was on the ground, he looked to be actively avoiding any sort of contact. Not good. The mistake ended up costing the Steelers 38 unnecessary yards of field position. Had he not made that mistake, the Colts probably don't get points. They quickly went three-and-out and had to settle for a short field goal.
- Rush Defense: We're accustomed to teams not being able to run the ball at all, so this is somewhat relative. But it was a bit disconcerting to see the Colts rush for 97 yards on 21 carries. There's no reason to be too alarmed though. Joseph Addai, who had 17 of those carries for 86 yards, had a long of just 11 on the night. He got past the line of scrimmage on several occasions, but the Steelers secondary did a fine job of stopping him in his tracks before he could rip off a huge run. Calling Aaron Smith and LaMarr Woodley? Where are you? We'll take a closer look at the tape to see what happened, but it seemed like much of the Colts success rushing the ball came to the right side where Woodley and Smith were playing. Give credit to Jeff Saturday as well for playing pretty darn well against Casey Hampton. Big Snack had his moments, but Saturday did a very commendable job keeping Hampton, who he calls the hardest player to play against in the running game, from blowing up the Colts rushing attack in between the tackles.
- Based on the knee-jerk reaction of many fans here and on Facebook and Twitter, you would think that the Steelers offensive line had just turned in a performance as inept as the eight-sack game against the Philadelphia Eagles early on in the 2008 season. Uh, not quite. Big Ben had tons of time to throw for much of the night, and by game's end had only been sacked three times. I don't have the official count on me either, but he was also not 'hit' or 'knocked down' by Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis too many other times outside of those three sacks. Nevertheless, it's hard to not categorize the play of Jonathan Scott as ugly. The one play where he didn't even get a hand on Freeney which led to another strip-sack was certainly an ugly play. I'm inclined to think it was a miscommunication issue, but you can't allow that kind of mistake to happen. We'll see how serious his injury was, but if I had to guess, he's going to be out for an extended period of time.
- Daniel Sepulveda: You might not have noticed the punter's play in between all the other action, but Sepulveda failed to execute on all three of his punting opportunities. The first, which wasn't too bad, came on the Steelers second possession, up three and punting from the Indianapolis 40. Sepulveda didn't get much hangtime on the punt and the Colts fair caught the ball from the 10 yard line. Certainly not a terrible result, but unfortunately it was his best effort of the night. On his second punt, Sepulveda punted the ball into the endzone from 45 yards out. The ball toppled over with top-spin almost after it struck at around the five yard line. Got to do better than that. Finally on the third and final punt from the Pittsburgh 37, he botted the ball a mere 37 yards. Fortunately a holding penalty pushed the Colts back inside their own 20, but again, one job to do, got to do it better than that, especially on a team where the offense is going to make its fair share of mistakes and put the defense in compromising situations. The Steelers will need better play from Sepulveda and the rest of the special teams units if they want to overcome that inconsistency on offense.
- Run Game: Better save some stuff to talk about for the remainder of the week, but suffice it to say that the Steelers' rushing attack was ugly on Sunday night. Rashard Mendenhall maybe danced a bit too much on a play or two, but the bottom line is he had very little room to operate all evening. The end result was an 18-carry, 37-yard night. One of those 18 totes went for 15 yards, which for us non-math majors means his other 17 attempts went for a grand total of 22 yards. I'll save some of why I think the running game has yet to get going for later in the week, but as Tony Dungy noted in the pregame show, and based on what we saw transpire in 2009, the Steelers' are not likely to fulfill their potential as a team if they're one-dimensional and throw too much (either from an inability to run or from Bruce Arians' natural penchant to pass).
2-1 baby. Throw style points out the window. When you have four or five of the best players on the field in any given contest (Polamalu, Harrison, Big Ben, Mike Wallace and arguably Heath Miller who probably deserves a shoutout for his five catch, 70-yard game against the Colts), you're going to be right there in games each week. Believe that. I still believe at least. I did Sunday night when the Steelers were down 3. Made a friendly $20 wager with steeler in maryland that the Steelers would win. Never was in doubt in my mind based on how easily they were moving the ball. He honorably paid up shortly after the game ended. I'd be happy to make similar wagers with any of you that the Steelers are still going to win 11 games and make the playoffs. Could be for money, could be for a t-shirt, whatever you want. This team still has it, regardless of the glaring mistakes they've made in the first three weeks of the season.