Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Lessons from Win over Philadelphia Eagles
And they had to. It would have been remarkably difficult to make the playoffs if they had gone 1-3.
It wasn't the cleanest game you've ever watched, but as they say, "A win is a win."
In their first four games, the Steelers have not made things very easy on themselves, suffering injuries to key players and amassing a huge number of penalties (more on that in a minute).
Their offense has looked stunted, and their defense has looked porous at times, but against the Eagles, they managed to do enough to squeak out a win.
Let's look at the five things we can take from this game going into a short week.
Lesson 1: Penalties Are Going to Cost the Steelers Some Wins
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With a game left in Week 5, the Steelers have the highest number of penalties per game in the league.
Their penalties per game are up from 6.3 last year to 9.2 this year.
This is a position neither the Steelers nor their fans are used to. Out in Oakland, it's hardly a game if they don't have 10 penalties. In the 'Burgh, we expect a little more discipline from our guys.
Against the Eagles, the Steelers took nine penalties for 106 yards. Against another team, that might have been too much for the Steelers to overcome. I doubt the Steelers would beat teams like Baltimore and New England with that much penalty yardage.
At one point yesterday, the Steelers had three straight plays with penalties. Willie Colon was called for holding at least three times. Mike Wallace was called for an illegal formation which negated a 24-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall. There was a 31-yard PI on Ike Taylor that kept an Eagle drive going early in the game, and two personal fouls in the game.
What saved the game for the Steelers was that they didn't turn the ball over and the Eagles did.
If not for those turnovers, the Steelers would be looking at a long, hard season.
Head coach Mike Tomlin needs to get these guys to play more disciplined football immediately, before they start racking up division losses.
Lesson 2: This Offense Missed Rashard Mendenhall
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Talk about things Steelers fans aren't used to!
The Steelers are currently 26th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Moreover, they are 31st in yards per attempt and 15th in attempts per game.
When guys in Canton for the way they rushed the ball for your team, and one of them was involved in one of the top three most iconic plays in the history of the sport, you come to expect better than 31st in rushing yards per attempt.
Need proof the Steelers missed Mendenhall? How about this: Through four games, the rest of the Steelers have rushed for 250 yards on 91 attempts. That's 2.74 yards per attempt.
In one game, Mendenhall had 14 carries for 81 yards, or 5.79 yards per carry.
He didn't seem to be as explosive through the hole as he once was. He was caught from behind by a linebacker on one play. But he didn't seem to have much trouble finding the holes and getting through them as fast as he could.
One can only speculate how many yards he might have had if not for the multitude of penalties. At the very least, he lost 25 yards.
Let's all hope we can expect that kind of production for the remainder of the season.
Lesson 3: It Might Be Time to Look for Polamalu's Replacement
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Sometimes a player will be great because of his body. Sometimes he will be great in spite of it.
Troy Polamalu is one of the latter. In his first three years in the league (2003-05), he was indestructible. He started every game in that span.
Since then, he has started all 16 games in a season once (2008). He only started five games in 2005, and has missed two complete games this year. He left yesterday's game early and never returned. He was seen with his lower leg wrapped up.
The shame of the Troy Polamalu story is that there is no doubt he was on his way to being a Hall of Famer. Those of us who have seen him play a lot know the former Defensive Player of the Year could make plays not many could.
He seemed to have a knack for finding the ball or the ball-carrier, and it often seemed that he would deviate from the defensive play call to improvise his own play. Often, it worked out very well for the Black and Gold.
Nowadays, he spends most of his time either so deep in coverage that you hardly know he is on the field, or he is actually not on the field. If Troy Polamalu is not playing all over the field, including near the line of scrimmage, he is not being Troy Polamalu.
Unfortunately, it might be time to draft the next Polamalu, if there is such a player.
Lesson 4: Ben Roethlisberger Is Making a Case for MVP of the Steelers
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I've said it before and I will say it again: Without Ben Roethlisberger, this team would be a train wreck.
He is simply the best player on the roster right now, bar none.
The receivers are dropping passes all over the field. The running backs have been ineffective. The offensive line can barely block. The defense is getting old and is a shadow of its former self. Starters are getting hurt on both sides of the ball.
The only constant is Big Ben.
Yesterday, he didn't do anything spectacular, but he didn't hurt the team with a stupid throw late in the game to lose, either. (We've seen that from Ben from time to time.)
Ben has eight touchdown passes in four games this year. That puts him on pace to match his career best of 32 for the year. He has thrown one interception. At that rate, he will have thrown four picks all year, beating his career best by one.
On top of that, he is on pace to throw for more yards than he has in any year of his career by nearly 400 yards.
He's still getting sacked, but even that is not as bad as it has been in recent years, and he certainly doesn't seem to be taking the savage beatings he took in games over the last five years.
You can make a strong case that the Steelers are 2-2 because of Ben Roethlisberger, not in spite of him.
He is clearly the leader of the team on either side of the ball.
Lesson 5: Winning Ugly Is Still Winning
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And the Steelers had to drive for a game-winning field goal late in the game.
When it is all said and done, though, a win is a win. As long as you score more than the opponent, that's what matters.
If you offered me eight more wins right now, I would take it and run. I wouldn't care if they won by an average of one point or by 30 a game.
Do you think the Ravens are happy they couldn't score against the Chiefs? They have one of the best offenses in the NFL, scoring 26.0 points per game. Of course they aren't happy about their performance.
One of the hallmarks of a good team, however, is the ability to win even when you are not playing your best.
And that is what the Steelers are going to have to do until they get themselves on track on both sides of the ball.
Win ugly, Black and Gold. We'll take them.