Yes a win is a win, and in building a 27-3 halftime lead, the Steelers looked about as good as one could hope for. Then, the 2nd half happened. It was one of the most bizarre halftime turnarounds I've seen happen against the Steelers in recent memory, and I don't think many saw it coming. For the moment, there is probably as much cause for concern from this 1st victory and there is optimism. Here are my observations after watching the 2nd half again on Game Rewind:
1. The play-calling on O wasn't as bad as some have suggested. For the most part, they were calling a lot of the same plays as in the 1st half. The main difference was going no-huddle in the 1st vs. slowing it down and huddling some in the 2nd. Of course, the most talked about "bad" play call was the 3rd down draw to Blount. Shame Ben couldn't have checked into a pass there and they probably didn't want to burn their 2nd timeout (but maybe they should've).
2. Execution on O was part of the problem. Some miscommunication on routes (as Ben eluded to in his comments). JBrown dropped a big 3rd catch that would've kept the drive going. It was in traffic, but still needed to be made. The O-line struggled a bit in pass protection with Gilbert, Beachum, and Foster giving up sacks. One of the big advantages of the no-huddle is that it helps this OL in pass protection by keeping the rushers on the field when they are tired. We saw it work for them last year. I still think it will be key for them again this year.
3. Let's talk about those obvious problems stopping the run. Basically, every DE (Thomas, Tuitt, Heyward, Keisel) took a turn at LDE, and each one got pushed aside at some point during each series in the 2nd. Thomas started out at LDE (to begin the game and in the 3rd QTR). He was blown up on a couple of double teams, and by the 4th QTR looked tired. They moved him inside in the 4th and he was getting up too high out of his stance and thus got pushed around. Nothing new here as this was always the knock on him. He can be stout on occasion but for the most part has to be in a rotation and gets tired quickly. Tuitt, was turned around and shoved back into the middle on the one TD run. He has to learn to play with leverage and hold the point of attack (even in a double-team he has to get low and hold that spot so the LBs can clean up). Keisel looked better rushing the passer on some of the stunts but he struggled holding point too, and was pushed back on the 2nd TD run (from RDE). Heyward moved over to LDE in the 4th at one point, but his good play stuffing the run was due to a miscommunication between Hoyer and the RB on the handoff. Teams are going to continue to run off-tackle to their right until the Steelers prove they can stop it with some consistency. They should dress McCullers on game day and make it a 6-man DL rotation for now.
4. Keeping with the running right (to the Steelers left) theme. Worilds looked like he was doing a Woodley impersonation out there. He struggled mightily keeping outside contain, which has be an all too common theme for these OLB. Worilds was able to do it last year vs. these Browns, so was he getting a bit complacent in the 3rd QTR? Maybe so, because he seemed to do better stringing it out later in the 4th. The lack of OLB depth is a concern (with only Moats as a true backup).
5. The ILBs had an up and down game. Shazier made some nice plays penetrating the backfield (something he is known to be good at), but struggled getting off blocks at times (which is his known Achilles heel). I would expect much of the same from him for most of the season, but he does bring back memories of Kendrell Bell. Timmons was beat straight up by Cameron on the pass in the 1st QTR and is probably fortunate he left the game due to injury. Timmons made some plays in the 2nd half, but he was caught in the wash more often than he should. On the 1st TD run, Shazier was blitzing from the backside and Timmons was to fill the gap on the playside, but he got caught up too close to where Shazier was then couldn't scrape down the line fast enough to fill the gap. Other times he was caught over-pursing (as was Shazier). This has been a trend for the Steelers D of the LeBeau era...sometimes teams take advantage of their tendency to over-pursue. Taking proper angles and keeping the backside cutback lanes covered is key (although a lot of that falls on the secondary and the backside OLB).
6. Troy did not have a good game. He ran around a lot, but missed some tackles and got caught on blocks too often. Without seeing the All-22, I couldn't tell where he was lined up sometimes (along with Mitchell), but he was basically a non-factor in the 2nd half. In the past (and even current), I think they've relied on Troy too much to be the playmaker on D. He would make things happen and Clark would clean up in run support. Clark got old and is gone. Troy is old, but still capable, just not with the frequency many are used to. He needs a good partner back there at FS to cover for him because he always was a guesser. Mitchell looked late to the party most of the time, so hopefully that improves as the season progresses and he gets more comfortable working with Troy.
7. The secondary played about the way I expected them to, below standard. It's not like we should've expected Ike to have made that INT anyway, and getting beat for the TD in the endzone is something we'll probably see more of again this year. Cortez actually had a chance to make a play but the ball hit the ground on his diving pick attempt. For Allen, the standard has been raised now that he's signed to the extension. For this season, at least, he has to function like a #1 CB and be a playmaker in the secondary (along with being a strong run supporter). Gay had a pretty good game for the most part as many have mentioned, however, he did get beat on a 3rd and 12 play in the 3rd QTR that lead to an eventual score. They needed to got off the field on a 3rd and 12. I'm not sure if Troy was supposed to come up and help (appears that Troy was deeper than need be on that play), but from what I can tell, Gay had the WR in man coverage.
8. From a coaching perspective, there's no other way to put it other than that they were outcoached in the 2nd half. Aside from Tomlin's gutsy fake punt call, Pettine and staff beat them to every punch. The Steelers were in their base D for much of that 2nd half and couldn't get the job done. Unfortunately, the Eagles game showed they can't get it done in the nickel/dime against the no-huddle either. It will likely be a blueprint for other teams to follow throughout the season until the Steelers can prove they can stop it. One change I would suggest is moving Heyward to LDE and using Keisel as the starting RDE for the time being. While Heyward does get beat sometimes, he is their best chance to hold the point on running plays at the moment. Also, I'd activate McCullers (as mentioned above) so they can rotate 6 guys and also have his big body in there on occasion to wear out the OL a bit. I'd also consider rotating Moats in a bit at OLB to keep Worilds/JJ fresh. I don't recall them taking Worilds out for a series in the 2nd half. At CB, I think they're stuck with what they got for now. I can't say Blake or Webb would be better than Ike but we'll see how it goes as the season progresses. Schematically, though, LeBeau might want to try more 4man fronts (with 4 DL and not OLB posing as DEs) on occasion. It's risky with this secondary if they can't get pressure, but might help vs. the run getting another big body in there (they even had McCullers play in the 40 front in preseason). Wouldn't mind seeing a Heyward, McCullers, McClendon, Keisel front every once in a while. Then, take the 2 Mc's out and go with the 2DL dime, along with the 34 base. With Tuitt and Thomas to go along with those 4, they can mix and match fronts. On O, I think they will be fine as long as Haley stays in the no-huddle when they're in a rhythm. No need to slow things down regardless of the score unless they're in Victory formation or darn near close to it.