What a difference a week makes. After a dismal Week 12 performance against the Seattle Seahawks, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Week 13 at Heinz Field. Both the offense and defense played well, and there were many strong performances throughout the game.
Ben Roethlisberger had a stupendous game, completing 24 of 39 passes for 364 yards, four touchdowns, and not a single interception. He threw to a variety of targets including Antonio Brown, DeAngelo Williams, Will Johnson (for a 2-point conversion), Markus Wheaton, Jesse James, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. He also scrambled for a first down in a terrifying display of big-quarterback-with-injured-body.With few exceptions, Ben was smart and accurate.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: A
Jesse James looked Heath-esque on several plays, targeted by Ben for several impressive gains early in the game. Antonio Brown was in top form, while Martavis Bryant appeared to be in top form, catching the ball, holding on to it, and running preternaturally fast after the catch. Markus Wheaton had several magnificent plays, including a touchdown.
The productivity of the receivers was astounding. Brown had 118 yards and two touchdowns (plus one on a punt return); Martavis Bryant had 114 yards on only four passes.
Offensive Line: A-
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter, a play that was invalidated by a holding call on the Colts defense. The offensive line occasionally missed blocks, but overall protected the quarterback well and helped DeAngelo Williams run for 134 yards. Cody Wallace made a few mistakes. On the other hand, Alejandro Villanueva has improved tremendously during this season.
Running Backs: A-
DeAngelo Williams had several excellent runs and was a stellar blocker on many plays. Williams doesn't have the build of a ninja, but his running style was both powerful and darty on Sunday evening. At one point in the third quarter, Williams had three consecutive first downs, aided by the effective blocking of the offensive line. Newcomer Fitzgerald Toussaint saw a little bit of action with four carries for 12 yards.
Early in the game, Williams had two fumbles, one for a turnover. The Steelers still won by a large margin, but fumbles are avoidable mistakes that could have dire consequences in a game against a more formidable opponent. To Williams credit, he recovered well from those mistakes, regrouped, and went on to have a productive game.
Defensive Line: A-
The defensive line played well on Sunday, squelching the Colts run game and putting adequate pressure on Matt Hasselbeck, and then Charlie Whitehurst, throughout the game. After a few frustrating blunders early on, the unit shut down the Colts run game, limiting Frank Gore & Co. to 54 yards.
In the first few minutes of the game after Jacoby Jones fumbled and the Colts had possession, Jones was able to intercept the ball near the goal line, getting the ball back into the Steelers hands. (Slippery hands since soon after DeAngelo Williams was stripped of the ball for yet another turnover). Vince Williams had several effective, impactful tackles. James Harrison had three sacks, one of which resulted in a forced fumble that was recovered by Vince Williams.
The linebackers still had flashes of inept tackling, but those mistakes did not overshadow the strong performance of the unit.
Will Allen had an impressive blindside sack in the first quarter. Brandon Boykin stepped up early with a masterful interception in the first quarter as well. The secondary helped limit Matt Hasselbeck to 169 yards and Charlie Whitehurst to 51 yards.
On other plays, players were either out of position or whiffing on tackles, neither of which is unusual for the inconsistent unit. The secondary struggled to cover Andre Johnson on a few plays, but managed to cover Colts tight end Fleener fairly well (especially considering their struggles against that position in previous weeks.)
Special Teams: C
Jacoby Jones started the game in tremendous fashion. Tremendously bad fashion, that is. He fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Indianapolis. Not a strong start for special teams. And the not-strong start continued into the second quarter as Jones fumbled again.
Boswell continues to be the anchor of the Steelers special teams, saving the unit from failing grades week after week. His 51-yard field goal in the first quarter would have been good from even farther away. Later in the game, he missed a slightly shorter attempt, but overall he was a strong contributor to the game. One of his contributions was an illegal tackle on a special teams play that saved a touchdown, but incurred a 15-yard penalty.
Antonio Brown's punt return for a touchdown towards the end of the fourth quarter also earned points for the special teams unit. Using the goal post as a prop during his celebration incurred a 15-yard penalty, but it did not overshadow the excellence of his play.