Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Lessons from Giants Win
Three weeks, three wins. Citizens of the Black and Gold Nation will take that and be very happy.
To be sure, it did not look good during certain stretches of yesterday's game against the New York Giants, but there were also times when it looked really, really good.
Going into New York and beating the Giants is no small feat, and I have to wonder if the division-leading Ravens would be capable of doing that right now.
With both the Steelers and the Ravens winning yesterday, the Steelers remain a game in back of the Ravens. They will play each other twice in the next month. Those two games will go a long way to deciding which of these teams will be atop the AFC North when it is all said and done.
I like the way the Steelers are playing ball right now, but there is always something to fix.
Let's have a look at what we saw yesterday against the defending champs.
Lesson 1: What Is Going on with the Penalties?
I know that headline is not a lesson, but I'm not kidding. I really want to know what is going on with the Steelers' obscene amount of penalties this year.
I can't remember seeing so many flags against the Steelers. I'm not even talking about questionable calls like the pass interference against CB Keenan Lewis, or the blatantly bad call against safety Ryan Clark for the hard-but-clean hit he put on WR Victor Cruz.
There were two more personal fouls called on the Steelers on Sunday, and their average number of penalties per game is up to 6.9. That's 10th in the NFL.
Coach Tomlin has to address this, because at some point the Steelers are going to lose another game due to these ridiculous penalties. And the game they lose might cost them a first-round bye, or a home playoff game, or the playoffs altogether.
For a team that is not known for making a lot of mental errors, this undisciplined brand of football is unsettling.
Lesson 2: Running the Football Travels Well
If you are traveling into an opponent's building, especially during a week that is as emotional as this past one, and when you arrive on the very morning of the game because the hotel you were going to stay in had no power, you have to do something consistently to win.
The Steelers seemingly have found the answer, and that is by running the ball, then running the ball, and then running the ball some more.
The Giants are a middle-of-road defense against the run this year, and the Steelers exposed that. RB Isaac Redman, filling in for the injured Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Dwyer, racked up 147 yards on 26 carries with a score. That's an impressive 5.7 yards per carry.
Given that Steelers' running backs are suddenly running like they're all Jim Brown, a lot of credit has to be given to the O-line. Clearly, they are starting to gel.
It is not a stretch to think they could emerge from those four games with a 9-3 record and the lead in the AFC North.
Lesson 3: Win the 3rd-Down Battle, Win the Game
The Steelers are leading the NFL in third-down conversions on offense with 51.3 percent. There is no other team above 49 percent.
The Giants, who are currently ranked 11th in opponent third-down conversion percentage, actually did a very good job of stopping the Steelers on third down on Sunday, holding the Steelers to only 46.2 percent.
When it mattered most, however, in the fourth quarter, the Giants only stopped the Steelers on third down once out of four attempts.
How about on the flip side?
The Steelers aren't exactly elite on third-down defense, allowing teams to convert on third down 41.5 percent of the time, good for 22nd in the NFL, but they held the Giants to two, count 'em, two third-down conversions yesterday out of 10 attempts.
If you cannot convert your own third downs, and cannot stop the other team on third down when you absolutely have to, you will lose the game.
The Steelers demonstrated that yesterday.
Lesson 4: You Can Outthink Yourself
I like Head Coach Mike Tomlin. I really do. I think he is smart, well-spoken, and exhibits the traits I have come to expect from Steelers head coaches.
I have to question, however, the wisdom of having your kicker try to run for a first down (or a touchdown) with 10:41 left in the game and down by three points.
Even if kicker Shaun Suisham had scored on that play, I wouldn't have liked it. I know Coach Tomlin would say he trusted his defense enough to try something like that in that situation, but I think you have to tie the game there. Don't take points off the board.
Sometimes I think Coach Tomlin might be too smart for his own good. The defense was playing well (and did, in fact, hold the Giants to a 3-and-out), but the fake field goal stank of desperation at a time in the game when the situation was not desperate.
If he was going to go for a first down, why not let Redman try to gain the yard they needed? Why give your most un-athletic player the ball with the chance of something catastrophic happening? What if Suisham had fumbled and the Giants returned it for a touchdown?
It was not a great call, and I'm thankful that it didn't cost the Steelers the game.
It very well could have.
Lesson 5: The Steelers Have a Real Chance to Take the Division
...And they could have a legitimate shot at a first-round bye.
If they can sweep the remaining games in the division, and win two out of the other three, that would almost certainly put them atop the division with a 12-4 record, with a tie-breaker over the Ravens.
It wouldn't be that tough. As I said, the next four games are against teams with marginal-to-poor defenses. San Diego will be traveling to Pittsburgh, so they have a good chance of beating them. And you never know what team you will be playing against when you play Dallas.
All the Steelers have to do is stay out of their own way and play the way they have over the last three games.