How would the Pittsburgh Steelers do without four starters? Who would call the defensive signals? Would the team see a drop-off from the offensive line, which has struggled the last several weeks? The backups answered a lot of questions Sunday night.
The offense got Le’Veon Bell back, and he showed what the Pittsburgh Steelers were missing the first three weeks --a dynamic playmaker who can take pressure off the quarterback and star receiver Antonio Brown. However, the real heroes of tonight? B.J. Finney, Ryan Harris, Sammie Coates, Vince Williams, and Jordan Dangerfield.
B.J. Finney, whose story (and YouTube video) is well-known throughout Steeler Nation, filled in admirably for Ramon Foster. Finney had a great game and was one of the biggest reasons why Ben Roethlisberger consistently had plenty of time to throw the ball downfield. Finney had a stronger game than the newly extended All-Pro David DeCastro, who did struggle at times on Sunday night.
Ryan Harris, who was signed as insurance and swing tackle from the Denver Broncos, filled in for the injured Marcus Gilbert. Harris did not miss a beat, holding his own and showing why he was a smart signing by the front office. If Gilbert misses any extended time (and I am betting he will), the offensive line will be fine with Harris in the lineup.
Sammie Coates, while he showed he can get deep on anyone, just ask Marcus Peters, also proved he is developing as a receiver, running solid routes and making good catches, leading the team in yards Sunday night. Coates’ progression has been amazing and if he can prove to be a legitimate threat that the suspended Martavis Bryant was, the sky is the limit for this offense. Nights like tonight will be the norm, not an anomaly.
The defense also had two starters out, both of whom caused a lot of concern for Steeler Nation. These fears were alleviated by three things: the game plan by the oft-criticized defensive coordinator Keith Butler to let loose the front seven, Vince Williams calling the plays, and Jordan Dangerfield making the most of his first career start.
Sure, Cameron Heyward put up a stat line which a healthy J.J. Watt would be proud of: 3 sacks, 1 pass defensed that led to an interception, and a lot of tackles in between. Stephon Tuitt caused a fumble on Spencer Ware that really got the defense and Heinz Field fired up. However, Vince Williams filled in more than admirably for the oft-injured Ryan Shazier, finishing with well over 14 tackles, a sack, and showed he can run down running backs like Spencer Ware 40-yards downfield. He was the defensive MVP of tonight’s game. Now, missing Shazier for several weeks, which could be possible with an MCL sprain, does not look so daunting. Same goes for Dangerfield filling in for Robert Golden.
Injuries are a part of life in the NFL. The Steelers suffered a lot of them before this game, and also during this game. However, the strong showing by the backups against a team who was in the divisional round of the playoffs last season, and against a team which had won 11 of 12 regular season games dating back to 2015, should make Steeler Nation excited. This team has legitimate depth at nearly every position. The Steelers showed they can answer the bell after getting knocked out.
The backups Sunday night made a Mike Tomlin mantra very true: the standard is the standard.