The Steelers’ gameplan coming into this week seemed to be “Run it through a motherf**ker’s face,” and they executed it to perfection. Off the strength of 183 combined rushing yards from Jaylen Warren and Najee Harris, the Steelers are 6-3 and remain the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoff picture.
The Steelers started off with a statement drive similar to that of their opening drive against the Titans in Week 9. They marched 75 yards in nine plays, culminating the drive with a Najee Harris touchdown. The Packers would strike back, but Pittsburgh then went 60 yards in 11 plays before Jaylen Warren punched it in. Warren went over 100 yards for the day, finishing with 101. Harris had 82 yards and averaged just over five yards per carry- they were terrific, and they’ll certainly be highlighted tomorrow as Varsity players. The offensive line deserves a ton of love, as well. For as much as they’ve been criticized this season, and rightfully so, they have been fantastic the last two weeks, and the run game is evidence of that. Matt Canada also deserves credit for his play-calling. As always, it wasn’t a flawless game, but willing to run the ball constantly and recognizing that it was working earns him a gold star for the week.
In general, it was just nice to see the Steelers establish long drives. They came into the week ranking 31st in first downs per game and 30th in first downs per play. Today, they had 21 first downs to the Packers’ 17. Look at their drive sequences, as well. Drives of nine plays, 11 plays, eight plays- that was refreshing to see,
Defensively, there was a lot that needs straightened out, but first I want to acknowledge the good. First, Elandon Roberts and Mark Robinson played fantastic games, especially after Kwon Alexander went down early on in the game. With Cole Holcomb already gone for the year, they really needed Robinson to step up and he did just that. Keeanu Benton continues to look like a budding game-wrecker. He was constantly in on plays made near the line of scrimmage, and he also had a pass deflection and a hit on Jordan Love. Joey Porter Jr. shadowed Christian Watson all day- Watson had just two catches for 23 yards. Although the pass rush was non-existent on the Packers’ first drive, Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt did what they usually do came to life and generated pressure. Highsmith nearly sacked Love on third down with less than a minute to play, forcing an incompletion, and Watt passed his brother J.J. for the second most sacks in a player’s first 100 games, picking up the 88th sack of his career.
Now for the bad.
The ground game was the only lifeline the Steelers had offensively. What we saw from Kenny Pickett was what we’ve been used to seeing. He didn’t test the defense downfield, he didn’t throw in the middle of the field, and he made a lot of turnover worthy throws that he got away with. Keisean Nixon picked off a pass in the first half, but was out of bounds. De’Vondre Campbell had a pass thrown directly to him in the flat that he dropped in the second half. Had he caught it, he walks into the end zone. He also got away with a clear lateral that was blown dead by the officials. Rashan Gary picked up the ball and ran it into the end zone. Pickett finished the day 14-of-23 for 126 yards and a passer rating of 75.6. To quote IWGP UK Champion, Will Ospreay, “You gotta be better than that, bruv.”
The secondary was also a mess. Levi Wallace is arguably the biggest liability in football right now. He was burnt on the touchdown pass to Romeo Doubs in the red zone, and he and Keeanu Neal were both dusted by Jayden Reed for the second score. The Steelers need to look to free agency or some avenue to bring someone else in because it would be genuinely difficult to find someone as bad as Wallace right now.
Looking ahead to next week, the Browns completed a multiple-score comeback against the Ravens, and both Cleveland and Pittsburgh are 6-3 heading into their second matchup of the season in Week 11. The Steelers will have to find a better offensive balance, and find a way to put a cap on the defense if they want to complete the sweep of the Browns. Getting to 7-3 would nearly guarantee a playoff spot, and beating Cleveland to do so would be the coleslaw on the sandwich.