A statement game.
Sometimes those words and phrases are used so frequently the meaning and definition becomes blurred. At some point you ask yourself, “What exactly is a statement game?” Well, everyone has their own criteria to label a game as such, but the underlying theme of almost every definition is a team defeated an opponent which can really turn the tides of momentum in their favor.
When looking at it that way, the Pittsburgh Steelers absolutely had a statement win on Sunday against the New York Giants at Heinz Field. The general vibe from the fan base, and rightfully so, following the team’s wins over the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts, sans Andrew Luck, was there should be an asterisk next to those wins.
In other words, those are games the Steelers should win.
However, the Giants posed a much different threat to the Pittsburgh defense. Coming into the game with an 8-3 record, winners of 6 in a row, Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. would provide a true test for a Steelers defense who had surrendered single-digit point totals the previous two weeks. But again, this no-huddle Giants attack is different than the Cody Kessler lead rag-tag team the team beat down two weeks prior.
What fans were treated to in Week 13 was a defense that didn’t just step up to the plate, but hit the ball out of the park. They were stingy as ever in the red-zone, created turnovers and put pressure on Manning to the point where you knew something was going to have to give...and it did.
Watching players like Artie Burns and Sean Davis, both ridiculed for their tackling woes early in their rookie seasons, lead the team in tackles with 7 total was a true pleasure. Seeing Lawrence Timmons come up with a huge red-zone interception, and his inside linebacker partner Ryan Shazier have a big pass defense on 4th down proved to show a maturation in the overall unit’s game.
Throw in Mike Mitchell breaking up two passes of his own, and sending a clear message to the opposition that if a quarterback is going to throw the ball over the middle, you better have your head on a swivel and you have as complete a defensive game than fans have seen all season. Mitchell’s physicality, although brutal, has been as clean as can be from a rules standpoint, and it sets the tone for the entire defense.
If you missed the game, the written word can’t truly justify what the defense did on Sunday. They were fast, physical and aggressive, but against a much better opponent than the previous two weeks. Dare I say, could this be the turning point for the defense? Or, a statement game?
Absolutely, but tough challenges lie ahead. The Buffalo Bills with Sammy Watkins, Tyrod Taylor and LeSean McCoy look to test Pittsburgh’s defense in Week 14. I have a hunch they will be up to the test.