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No need for Steelers to sneer at poor level of competition following win

Jim Wexell has criticisms but finds plenty for which Steelers fans can be thankful after another road win.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who won't spend much time on the perceived incompetence of the opponent and will just be thankful for 10 days of relative peace on the interactive home site:

* Hey, your Pittsburgh Steelers are 6-5. I realize that's not what was expected at this point in the season but for a young defense that's lost its defensive leader and for an offense that keeps throwing third-down passes to a guy with broken fingers, that's not a bad spot.

* It's two consecutive road wins against weak teams, but I might be the only guy in town who expected a better performance from the Colts last night.

* Kick their field goals when they could have and they at least they make it a game.

* Colts fans, I'm finding out, aren't happy with the decisions being made by their coach, Chuck Pagano, this season. But I know if I was to look closely at the interactive board, I'm certain I would find there are just as many unhappy with some of Mike Tomlin's decisions last night, particularly his clock management.

* Of course -- and I'll say that before you do -- I was in lockstep with Tomlin's decisions at the end of the first half.

* May as well get that out of the way first.

* The Colts had third-and-goal at the 2 at the two-minute warning, and all I had on my mind, with a 21-7 lead, was that the Steelers have shown well at the goal line this season and stopping the Colts there was a possibility. Heck, after dominating the first half the way they did, a stop to preserve the healthy lead may have been a necessity, mentally.

* After the third-down stop brought up fourth down, and the clock ticked under 1:20. I thought a timeout might be the move. But I liked how Tomlin was playing it. He wasn't going to help the Colts regroup as the play clock wound down. Why do that for them, and also preserve their three timeouts for when you needed to get off the goal line with the ball?

* After the Colts came out of their timeout, and lined up, Tomlin called a timeout. That is the point at which Steelers Twitter turned apoplectic. 

* "Tomlin's living in his fears!"

* Then again, Tomlin was assuming a stop and he would not need his timeouts coming off the goal line with the ball. He wasn't living in his fears. Just the opposite.

* We'll never know if his timeout aided the Steelers in stopping the Colts there, but I appreciate that Tomlin lived in the moment. Stopping the touchdown was all that was on his mind. Those of us on the couch were doing math equations for future downs.

* Stopping the touchdown there was the key moment of the game.

* I respect those of you who disagree with me. And with that, let's move on to the Steelers decision which infuriated me.

* Their next possession, after halftime, with a 21-7 lead, the Steelers knocked almost five minutes off the clock and faced third-and-2 at the Indy 42. They were probably a first down from driving a stake into -- if not the Colts' heart -- at least another body part. But Ben Roethlisberger dropped back and heaved a bomb to Sammie Coates, he of the two broken fingers who has yet to show in practice he's any more than a 25-75 shot to catch a pass.

* Yes, a touchdown would've driven in a spike as well, but when a first down would do the job more easily, why throw to the guy with a minimal chance of catching even a good pass.

* This pass was not a good pass. It fell incomplete, the Steelers punted, the Colts drove, and it took another goal-line stand to preserve the two-touchdown lead.

* Playing with fire was unnecessary.  Patience was the preferred directive.

* Throwing to the guy with the broken hand with the very next third-down pass was just punching me in the face.

* Coates tried to catch the third-and-12 out with his palms facing up, like hauling in an over-the-shoulder bomb or a kickoff. And the pass of course never had a chance of being caught as it whizzed past the palm-catcher.

* Why do they keep throwing to Coates?

* Well, they like his speed. They need that speed opposite Antonio Brown for games when they're not playing the Scott Tolzien-led Colts or the Cleveland Browns. Playoff games.

* Cobi Hamilton, for as well as he's developing as quality depth, isn't going to win playoff games opposite Brown.

* The hope here is that 10 days off allows Coates to heal a bit, because he's a 50-50 proposition with a healthy hand anyway. But that speed preoccupies safeties.

* A return of Darrius Heyward-Bey anytime soon would stun me. My guess is he has a Lis franc injury. But since he hasn't undergone surgery, perhaps he can eventually bring his 50-50 hands back to the lineup with that 100-0 speed of his in time for the playoffs.

* The bad news with the receivers brings me to the good news at tight end: Ladarius Green finally showed speed.

* Green flashed it as he ran under a third-and-13 lob by Roethlisberger, who beat the safety blitz by getting off the lollipop throw.

* The only question was could the 6-6 tight end show his old form and run under the pass? He did, and perhaps he finally did so because he had to. The ball was the proverbial carrot on the stick, and he ran it down.

* That play could be the one to blow open Green's confidence. He later made a 35-yard catch and has to be a source of delight today for the quarterback, the coach and the general manager who brought the injured player aboard last March.

* Speaking of flashing his way off the injured list, Bud Dupree's "pitch count" went from 1 snap Sunday to 20 snaps (of 63) Thursday. And he looked good -- strong and fast -- in doing it.

* Dupree's downfield chase of a play almost resulted in a first-half fumble, but the runner held and didn't allow the Steelers to escape the hole into which Brown and Le'Veon Bell had put them with their ridiculous celebration penalty. Yes, the rule sucks, but, still: STOP DOING IT!

* You look completely selfish every single time you do this.

* And of course the Colts scored their only touchdown on the possession following the 15-yard penalty assessed to the kickoff.

* The triplets, though, were the stars of the game, and carried the win. I can't take that away from them. So since I've had my say on the choreographed celebration, let's move on to highlights of the lesser-paid men.

* DC Keith Butler called an outstanding game. His slot-corner blitz on the first snap resulted in a ball on the ground. His 3-safety nickel on the second possession resulted in James Harrison's sack and subsequent missed field goal. An array of blitzing linebackers and defensive backs followed consistently throughout the remainder of the game.

* Hope that Javon Hargrave's hand injury isn't serious because the rookie nose tackle is coming on. Yes, he went up against an injury replacement for a struggling rookie center, so his competition must be considered here. But Hargrave's sack showed great athleticism and his read and tackle of the early screen pass showed game savvy. He also nearly decapitated Ryan Shazier when the two met to tackle the scrambling Tolzien. Shazier got up. Thankfully. But Hargrave showed the downfield hustle that's always stamped John Mitchell D-line.

* Marcus Gilbert, the right tackle, appears to be back to his outstanding 2015 form. Left guard Ramon Foster might also be playing the best football of his career.

* Hargrave's sack early in the second half was the meat in the middle of a rookie tackling sandwich. Artie Burns made a difficult tackle of Donte Moncrief on a crossing pattern and Sean Davis made a critical tackle of Frank Gore as the back was gathering momentum through a big hole.

* Beating these Colts and those Browns within a 5-day span isn't going to change the Steelers' Super Bowl odds all that much, but it is going to build confidence in a young defense, not to mention a tight end who's becoming more necessary each week that the guy with the broken hand comes up empty.


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