This is my process: I watch the games, take notes as necessary and then outline the stock report postgame with the main points I want to address. Identifying the bones and then adding the meat the next day (usually) helps me to avoid any overreactions, which I think is good. So, I’m sitting here writing this on Monday night and finding it quite difficult to concentrate on analyzing the outcome of a football game. Much like many of you, I woke up Monday to the news that some maniac shot nearly 600 people from his hotel room in Las Vegas, killing at least 59 of them. Perhaps this isn’t the appropriate venue to call attention to this event, which is the deadliest mass shooting in the history of United States, a nation where this kind of thing has become discouragingly commonplace. Still, I felt like I needed to, and I apologize for this lengthy preamble. Please, keep these people and their families in your thoughts. Go donate. And don’t forget to remind your own friends and family that you’re happy to have them around.
Following Pittsburgh’s 23-17 overtime loss to the Bears in Week 3, I didn’t write a lengthy introduction for the Stock Report because I had a lot of things to say and I wanted to get right to saying them. I also have many things to say this week—this time in regard to the Steelers’ 26-9 road victory over the Baltimore Ravens—so I’m going to move forward with those things which are outlined conveniently as follows:
GOATS - Stock up
i don't wanna be dramatic but ryan shazier is the greatest linebacker in nfl history— Daniel Sager (@danwritesstuff) October 1, 2017
Note the timestamp: this was posted approximately four seconds after Shazier managed to jump 11 feet in the air to swat a Joe Flacco pass into the mitts of Mike Hilton, who is the greatest defensive back in NFL history. Remarkably, this was only, like, the third-most impressive play that Shazier made against Baltimore. Let’s rank them:
1. His interception.
You’d love to slam Flacco for “Flaccoing” this throw, but Shazier simply diagnosed the play and whipped his head around just in time to secure what should have been a game-sealing interception. Also, he mocked Ray Lewis’ weird Ray Lewis dance thing (i.e. squirrel dance), which was neat.
2. His forced fumble. I’d call him the best ball-stripper in the NFL, but that would be an unfortunate compliment.
3. The tipped ball.
These were not isolated incidents. Shazier was a legitimate madman, collecting 11 total tackles—including several that were violent, bone-jarring and orchestrated without compunction—along with a handful of disrupted passes and the aforementioned takeaways. It was almost like Shazier was trying to compensate for his numerous missed tackles in the Week-3 loss to Chicago. If so, mission accomplished.
Hilton, meanwhile, recorded the first sack of his NFL career (he had two in the preseason, so it was only a matter of time), as well as his first career interception. Hilton has quickly established himself as a formidable presence in Pittsburgh’s secondary and one whose multi-faceted skill set will make him a valuable commodity when the Steelers face the likes of New England, Green Bay and Kansas City.
Cameron Heyward - Stock up
“Cameron Heyward” is going to be the first thing many offensive linemen say when their therapists ask if they know why they’re seated comfortably on a chaise lounge in a dim office. Heyward, a bulldozer, routinely pushed 300-pound humans 5-10 yards backward with relative ease, which honestly makes you wonder how the 2016 season would’ve turned out had Heyward not suffered a season-ending injury to his pectoral.
Offensive line play - Stock up
That’s more like it, fellas! Thanks in large part to the offensive line, Le’Veon Bell exceeded 100 rushing yards for the first time in 2017, and he did so averaging a healthy 4.1 yards per carry. Notably, both Bell and backfield mate James Conner had 20-yard runs, which marks the first and second 20-yard rushing plays for the Steelers so far this season. Having athletic offensive linemen like David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey, who are able to get 10-15 yards upfield to lead the charge, is an unspeakable luxury and the general athleticism of the front-5 permits the Steelers to run an above-average number of counter runs. Impressive, too, is the fact that the line allowed only a single sack (though it’s worth mentioning that Roethlisberger was hit seven times).
Nonetheless, this unit hasn’t been at full-strength since Week 1. The eventual return of Marcus Gilbert should further solidify things up front.
Offensive line discipline - Stock down
With the notable exception of Ramon Foster, each of Pittsburgh’s offensive linemen drew a flag. Alejandro Villanueva, undoubtedly frustrated by being unwillingly transformed into a political icon, committed a retrospectively hilarious personal foul that probably cost the Steelers a touchdown opportunity in the first quarter. Chris Hubbard and DeCastro were both flagged twice for holding. All things considered, a very sloppy effort. The line played well enough to make up for these infractions, but a similarly voluminous penalty portfolio won’t fly against top-tier AFC competition (no offense, Baltimore).
Creativity - Stock up
We touched on Shazier’s Ray Lewis celebration, which was awesome. It was surpassed in awesomeness, however, by Juju Smith-Schuster, who did this after scoring a touchdown:
Without question, it was the coolest celebration of the season to this point. It was also very divisive, frankly. The under-35 crowd knew exactly what Juju was doing almost instantly. Older fans had no idea what on earth Juju was attempting to convey. Some people erroneously thought Juju was doing Liu Kang’s weird fireball thing from Mortal Kombat. Come on, guys.
Anyway, I hope Juju scores 15 touchdowns just so we get more kamehameha celebrations—or whatever else he has in store.
Originality - Stock up
The Steelers got back to their “give Le’Veon Bell the ball and get out of his way” roots and did so with great success. Bell had an absurd 39 total touches (35 rushes; four receptions) and accumulated 186 yards from scrimmage, which is right in line with what we’ve come to expect from him. Most importantly, Bell’s ground success enabled the Steelers to dominate time of possession, effectively forcing the Ravens to play catch-up and causing them to abandon their run-heavy game plan. I would expect much of the same in the week ahead.
Antonio Brown - Stock up
I’m sorry, but Antonio Brown plays receiver, so it would be newsworthy if he wasn’t upset about not getting the ball. And in his defense, Roethlisberger cheated him out of arguably the easiest touchdown he will ever score.
Still, Brown was frustrated and made sure everyone knew how frustrated he was. Therefore, he’s in line for 12-15 receptions and 200 or so yards this Sunday. Mark it down.
The game ball - Shazier
I’m not gonna downplay his contributions by making a mockery of this subsection; the dude was a monster.
The Ben Roethlisberger Retirement Index
The Steelers are kind of winning in spite of Roethlisberger, which is crazy. They are 3-1 but have yet to benefit from a truly good outing from their Hall of Fame quarterback. Ben hasn’t yet realistically threatened the 300-yard passing threshold (he’s averaging fewer than 240 passing yards per game, putting him on pace for his lowest per-game output since 2008). He’s also being uncharacteristically conservative, averaging just 6.8 yards per attempt (should this hold—and it won’t—it would be the lowest mark of his career). While this has had a positive impact on his interception total (he’s thrown two, but the one that was awarded on replay against Baltimore was nonsense), it has translated to fewer big plays. Roethlisberger has completed just two passes for more than 40 yards this season—he had more than twice as many to Sammie Coates alone at this point last season—and also fewer touchdowns (he had 11 touchdowns through four games last season). It doesn’t help that Roethlisberger is straight up misfiring on many of his long throws.
Fortunately, this is all pretty customary. Roethlisberger’s win percentage, yards per game, yards per attempt, touchdown percentage, quarterback rating and completion percentage all increase in the second month of the season, so his sluggish start is nothing we haven’t seen before.
Because his outlook looks good, and because he claimed his first victory in Baltimore since 2010, Roethlisberger tolerates football again. He definitely still wants to retire to ride motorcycles and play golf full-time, but maybe that can wait until 2019. We’ll set the BRR Index at 3 for this week.