The formula is there. Even without Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a tough team to beat when they don't turn the ball over. And now with a defense that is better at creating turnovers, it becomes that much more difficult for opponents to get out of stadiums with victories.
The defense is impressive. Particularly the front seven and the free safety. The Steelers managed to force an Arizona Cardinals team that was averaging 5.0 yards per carry into being one-dimensional. I'm dying to see what the the defensive line and linebackers will do with a full deck. I'm as antsy in anticipation for Ryan Shazier return to the lineup as I had been Martavis Bryant.
I'm not sure the Shazier would have had a similar impact on the game as Vince Williams. Williams created the first turnover that, while it didn't creat immediate points, it was significant in pinning the Cardinals down inside their 5-yard line. The quality drive the Cardinals had from there resulted in a punt due to the bad field position. Though I don't understand the illogical rule that allowed that Cardinals to get that possession started, Brandon Boykin kept the ball from bouncing in the end zone. Apparently the opponent is allowed to play volleyball with the ball without consequence once the punt coverage touches the ball.
Mike Mitchell's near game-clinching interception is something that was just a matter of time. He's been playing at such a high level. Hopefully it's a sign of more big plays to come.
James Harrison has been playing at a Hall of Fame level since 2007. If Kurt Warner can have a late start to his career and still be be considered a shoe-in, then why not James?
L.T. Walton being the next man up instead of Cam Thomas when Stephon Tuitt left the game with a knee injury was a somewhat encouraging development. Hopefully Walton is developing into the quality rotational lineman this team really needs.
On a down note defensively, I've been cautiously optimistic about Antwon Blake and Ross Cockrell so far this season. As of now, I'm a lot more concerned than I am optimistic. Like a minor-league call-up in baseball, a player has to be exposed to all the different ways he will be attacked before you can determine whether or not he will be a good player or get exposed. It feels like Cockrell and Blake are more likely the "getting exposed" types.
For Chris Boswell, the results speak for themselves. Special Teams coach Danny Smith mentioned last week how impressed he was with Boswell's tight spin on the ball. It was something I noticed as well. When I saw it, it reminded me of retired Green Bay Packers kicker Ryan Longwell. Hopefully, this is a great find for the franchise.
The lesson I've learned over the last three games is to start your inexperienced quarterback with three years in the system over the veteran off the street who struggled with executing offenses and reading defense's his entire career. That said, nobody would guess that Landry Jones would look that impressive.
Despite providing a huge spark in leading the Steelers to a touchdown and setting up another Boswell field goal, Antonio Brown still felt it was necessary to show up Jones on the field. Kudos to Jones for not letting it rattle him. Still, I wonder if he felt the need to force the ball to Brown on an incomplete pass in the end zone when Le'veon Bell was wide open on a slant underneath. Brown has lived on easy street with Roethlisberger being his quarterback for his entire career. It's another selfish act on the field for a guy whose work ethic is off the charts but his on-field leadership leaves a lot to be desired. The coaching staff needs to handle that garbage.
I know Alejandro Villanueva was pleasantly silent other than being pleasantly visible on a pull block on Sunday, but fans should not easily dismiss the loss of Kelvin Beachum. I don't believe he will be easily replaced. I feel for the guy. I hate to see that happen to such a good, hardworking guy in his contract year. Beachum doesn't know how to be anything but be successful. I know he'll come out of it just fine. As for the team, I don't recall the Steelers winning any Super Bowls while missing 40% of their starting offensive line. This is a big loss.
I was impressed with this team's ability to win this game after a Monday Night win on the West Coast. When I looked at the schedule prior to the start of the season, assuming they'd have Roethlisberger, I felt this game would still likely be a loss if they won in San Diego. The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for getting the group to quickly flip their focus after an emotional Monday Night win.
Mike Tomlin deserves a lot of credit along with Keith Butler in shaping this defense into the unit they are becoming. Tomlin gets an A for having the respect of his players and getting them to play hard for him. If you think that's a given, ask ex-head coaches like Norv Turner and Joe Philbin how easy that is. Leadership is a rare quality.
Still, Tomlin's in-game decisions leave something to be desired.
* I don't understand how he was going to stick with the confused Vick after seeing Jones show such command of the offense. That has to somehow show up in practice.
* I don't understand why DeAngelo Williams can't get carries when the quarterback lines up under center. He did so well running the ball in such formations the first two weeks. The last two weeks, Williams can't get a carry unless he's lined up in the spread. If any back is patient and smart enough to execute the counter other than Bell, I would think it'd be Williams.
* I didn't understand throwing the ball with the shaky Vick at the end of the first half. Jordan Berry's 79-yard punt made that a non-issue.
* I didn't understand the direct hand off to Bell on third-and-long inside the 10-yard line to settle for an 18-13 fourth quarter lead.
* Most of all, I didn't understand the two-point conversion attempt with your fourth choice at quarterback in a tight, low-scoring, two-point game. I believe these random two-point conversion attempts are going to cost this team well before it ends up winning them a game. Hopefully, it's not a playoff game.
The direction to which Tomlin has committed on defense, though, is largely responsible for the Steelers league-leading +6 turnover ratio. With Roethlisberger out, the Steelers have been forced to commit to running the ball. And they haven't committed a turnover in those three games. They are quality field-goal kicking from being 3-0 without Roethlisberger in spite of the mediocre quarterback play from Vick. Balance with Roethlisberger will keep turnovers at a minimum. His return along with the return of Bryant will also provide the big plays in the passing game that will create high scoring totals. The Cardinals and Chargers passed the ball for over 900 yards yesterday. Yet they had a combined 33 points to show for it. Getting away from running the ball is never the way. It opens the door for turnovers, which most often times is the only thing that can get the Steelers beat. With a strong defense, stud running backs, stud wide receivers and a franchise quarterback, there's less than a handful of teams in the league that should be able to beat this team.