Eleven people died Saturday morning at a church in Squirrel Hill, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood just to the east of Pittsburgh. A gunman, radicalized by hate and anti-semitism and armed with a semi-automatic rifle along with three handguns, entered the Tree of Life synagogue and shot over a dozen attendees, killing Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil and David Rosenthal, Rose Mallinger, Bernice and Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Melvin Wax, and Irving Younger in cold blood. One of the victims was a Holocaust survivor, man. This is awful.
More than a million people viewed this website last month. We’re one of the most popular team blogs on the SB Nation network, and that’s a testament not to the quality of the writing and analysis here (though the writing and analysis done by my colleagues here is exceptional), but to the tangible online community that you, the readers, have created. Now, I know that my irreverent musings are not generating millions of page views each month, but the Stock Report seems to be a fairly well-read blog, so I want to ask you, this online community, to assist Pittsburgh, my community, in its time of need. Please consider donating to the Tree of Life victims fund, the official GoFundMe for which can be found here. Thank you.
Stock up: Offensive efficiency and balance
Sunday’s proceedings did not get off to a great start. The Steelers failed to convert a single first down on their first three drives, and on the second drive Ben Roethlisberger tossed a hilariously ill-advised pass in the general vicinity of JuJu Smith-Schuster, only to see said pass carom off some person’s extremity into Derrick Kindred’s awaiting arms. It definitely felt like it was going to be one of those games.
Fortunately, the aforementioned interception represented the nadir for the offense (not including whatever happened with Roosevelt Nix and Ryan Switzer on that punt, but we’ll get there). Roethlisberger was sharp, completing 24 passes and throwing a pair of touchdowns to Antonio Brown, thereby further demonstrating that their near telepathic connection is stronger than ever, and James Conner’s multifaceted skillset was on full display, as he trucked, dodged, eluded, and stiff-armed his way to more than 200 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. I went to the game Sunday, and I don’t know if this is a regular thing, but midway through the third quarter a pocket of fans near the south end-zone starting chanting Conner’s name. Shortly thereafter, a deafening chorus of “Conner” chants echoed throughout the entire stadium. It was really neat.
All told, the offense converted six of its 13 third-down attempts (six of 10 if you’re inclined to look the other way on those three stalled drives to start the game), generated more than 400 yards (they ran 68 plays and amassed 421 yards; we were sooooo close to the magic numbers, you guys), and controlled the time of possession. More impressively, their run/pass splits were about as good as you can hope for from a professional football team. If they can maintain that level of balance moving forward, they’ll be a difficult unit to slow down, let alone stop.
Stock up: The secondary
Who’d’ve thunk that parking Artie Burns on the bench would’ve alleviated the secondary’s woes? Oh, that’s right, everyone.
Listen. It isn’t like Coty Sensabaugh, Burns’s “replacement”, played like vintage Darrelle Revis and it isn’t like Cleveland’s passing attack is as potent as, say, Kansas City’s. Baker Mayfield’s the best quarterback the Browns have had on their roster since, like, Otto Graham, or something, but he’s still a rookie and he’s still surrounded by what is still a supremely underwhelming supporting cast. Still, holding a professional quarterback to 180 passing yards and two touchdowns—one of which was the trashiest and most pungent garbage-time touchdown you can ever hope to see—on 36 attempts is a commendable feat regardless of circumstances and it’s something upon which the Steelers can build.
Also, Joe Haden, already the best cornerback in NFL history, made one of the best interceptions you will ever see a defensive back make. On the eighth play of Cleveland’s ensuing series after Roethlisberger connected with Brown on an unscripted play for a 43-yard touchdown strike, Mayfield said “screw it” and hucked a bomb to Damion Ratley. Haden tracked it the whole way, high-pointing the pass near the opposing sideline and tapping both feet inbounds. I was in line for food and had to watch it on TV. That—getting stuck in line because I couldn’t wait until halftime to shovel food into my stupid mouth and failing to witness an electric play in person—is the worst. I’m very thankful for closed circuit game-feeds. God bless those of you who attended games before concession stand TVs were a thing.
So, yeah, it was a good interception. He dropped a pair of should-be picks against the Bengals in Pittsburgh’s last game, so it was nice to see him make arguably the play of the game; against his old team, no less.
Of course, one of primary factors in guiding the secondary’s success was...
Stock up: The pass rush
The Steelers only picked up a pair of sacks, but their pass rushers were regularly in and around Mayfield’s headspace, causing many a hurried throw. In fact, the pass rush was responsible for putting some points on the board, as the Steelers were awarded a safety after Browns tackle Desmond Harrison attempted to remove Bud Dupree’s head from his spinal cord.
Stock down: Communication
Following the safety, there seemed to be some confusion Roosevelt Nix and Ryan Switzer during the requisite punt. Specifically, Nix called for a fair catch, which led Switzer to back away from the ball’s charted course and allow it to hit the ground. With no Steelers in sight to pounce on the now-loose ball, a caravan of Browns recovered it, after which they were awarded possession. Switzer apparently was not aware that safety punts not treated like regular punts, but like kickoffs, wherein that a ball is live until it’s recovered and downed by the kicking team. I was also not aware of this. Unlike Switzer, though, I am not paid to know this rule, so it would’ve been nice for him to, ya know, maybe clarify that point with the coaching staff before heading on field. Special teams coordinator Danny Smith and head coach Mike Tomlin are not absolved of blamed in this matter, as the onus to inform personnel of complexities such as that is kinda on them.