The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Oakland Raiders, 35-3 on Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field.
After suffering their worst loss since 2006, the Steelers found a way to right the ship in a game that just one season ago sent them on a downward spiral.
The Steelers defense showed aggression in the fourth quarter, when it has been typically prone to take its foot off the throttle with a lead, and the overall gameplan showed signs of change that Steelers fans everywhere have been longing to see.
True to form, a game between the Steelers and Raiders came with the good, bad and flat-out ugly moments that make this storied rivalry what it is.
Mike Wallace finished Week 11 with three receptions, 116 yards and a touchdown.
Averaging just under 39 yards per catch in Sunday’s win over the Raiders has only added to Wallace’s lead in the yards per catch statistic league wide, and he doesn’t show any signs of being stoppable.
For all intents and purposes, it seems that the only thing stopping Wallace these days is that he may be too fast. Wallace continues to be underthrown on the majority of plays in which he is targeted.
If quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can somehow find a way to get his timing down concerning Wallace’s speed, the results could be unfathomable in the years to come.
The Steelers defense did something in Sunday’s game that has gone unseen since…well…it’s been a long time.
The Steelers were aggressive for the entire game.
The Steelers harassed the quarterback to the tune of six sacks and five quarterback hits, but they accomplished so much more with those numbers.
Seven tackles for a loss, eight pass deflections and two interceptions came by way of the relentless pressure the Steelers defensive unit provided for four complete quarters.
I have been waving and shouting questions about the defensive gameplan through a bullhorn for weeks. Just a bunch of simple questions really. Inquiring minds want to know these sorts of things.
Why do aggressive play calling and the previously successful pass rush disappear with a fourth quarter lead? Why is William Gay left in one-on-one coverage or intermediate zone coverage with run supporting responsibilities the majority of time when he clearly isn’t up to the job? Why, even for one down, has Troy Polamalu been self-admittedly removed from his roving, havoc-back role in favor of Lawrence Timmons?
Timmons has become a fine player this season, at times showing signs of greatness, but he is not what Troy Polamalu is to the Steelers defense. While Polamalu’s role still wasn’t what it has been, he was far more involved in the gameplan, and it showed.
The gameplan was formulated to aggressiveness, and it continued well into the fourth quarter. Timed linebacker blitzes and delayed blitzes of the nickel and dimebacks all found their way into the defensive huddle in Week 11, and the effects were evident in the play of both Oakland quarterbacks.
I already alluded to Troy Polamalu, but his play this week came from more than just a greater involvement in the gameplan.
The coaching staff getting back to the foundation of their success defensively had a lot to do with No. 43’s success on the field in Week 11. Polamalu is the maestro of controlled chaos. He coordinates with the ranging tempo of the game in order to capitalize on the right moments.
As a result, what normally would be a completed pass over the last few weeks with little to no pressure on the quarterback was an interception because the chaos was there for him to capitalize on.
Polamalu had six tackles (one for a loss), two pass deflections and an interception as he made a legitimate impact on the game for the first time in a month.
Despite being harassed, discriminated against and singled out by the referees on a weekly basis, James Harrison continues to play tough, hard-nosed football. On Sunday the conditions were worse than they have ever been from an official standpoint, and Harrison was better than he has been all season.
Harrison filled the stat sheet with two sacks, two more quarterback hits, five tackles (two for a loss), one pass deflection and an interception.
His relentless aggression forced Jason Campbell to move around the pocket all day long, throwing without setting his feet and forcing mistakes.
While the referees found ways to flag Harrison on every turn, his contributions to the game far outweighed the negative ramifications that came from being penalized.
The Steelers special teams unit came to play on Sunday, and it showed in ways a stat sheet could never effectively describe.
The Steelers began the week by making a special teams statement when they cut long-tenured placekicker Jeff Reed.
While his replacement Shaun Suisham did not have to attempt a field goal in the 35-3 victory Sunday, he did prove to be an instant upgrade in the kickoff department. Suisham found the end zone more in his first game with the Steelers than the departed Jeff Reed managed to do all season.
Antonio Brown found his way back onto the dress list this week, and handled most of the punt return duties. While Antwaan Randle El has been serviceable thus far, Brown added an explosive dimension to the return game that has been missing since he last dressed.
Maybe the old adage is true that close doesn’t count except when throwing horseshoes and hand grenades, but Brown came close to breaking free on almost every return he made, and the constant threat made a visible impact.
Unlike Randle El, who tends to run 50 yards in a five-yard box as he stutter steps and jukes without gaining positive yardage, Brown cannot be accused of trying to do too much. His downfield vision and ability to set up blockers has made him a constant home run threat.
It may have held up longer than it usually does, but the turf of Heinz Field has once again come to resemble the par-three tee box on a low budget golf course than it does the playing surface of an NFL stadium.
With solid divots of turf sprayed all over the center of the field, finding solid footing became a challenge secondary only to the efforts of keep those divots from caking face masks and getting in the players’ eyes.
James Harrison, among several other players, had to leave the game in order to have turf debris flushed out of their eyes by the training staff.
With four WPIAL high school championship games and “the backyard brawl” featuring the Pitt Panthers and the West Virginia Mountaineers scheduled at Heinz Field this week, the field is going to see no rest during the Steelers’ trip to Buffalo in Week 12.
It would be hard to find a game in recent memory that was more poorly officiated than the Week 11 game between the Steelers and Raiders. A total of 21 accepted penalties were called for 218 yards, and 163 of the 218 yards were negated from the Steelers by way of 14 accepted penalties, resulting in the loss of two touchdowns.
Whether it was the phantom helmet to helmet hit on Ryan Clark, a borderline at best roughing the passer call on James Harrison or a holding call on Hines Ward 35 yards down the field during a scramble by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the game was filled with questionable calls.
Don’t believe me? Just ask Ian Eagle. The CBS commentator was trying to come up with new ways to say “there’s a flag on the play” by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
The question has to be asked; has Roger Goodell broken the system?
Are NFL referees being pressured so much to crack down on hits and to protect quarterbacks that they are throwing flags at shadows?
Regardless of the answers, the officiating in Sunday’s game was uglier than a hairy, old, fat man in a Speedo.
Richard Seymour may be the most understatedly dirty player in the NFL.
Rodney Harrison, Seymour’s former teammate and the unanimous recipient of the league’s dirtiest player title more times than one player should be allowed, often said that the only difference between he and Seymour was the fact that no one knows he’s dirty.
If you watched the game or you follow me on twitter @JCyprowski, it was pretty obvious that Seymour was doing everything in his power to cause a post-play altercation, and he succeeded.
Unless you spent Sunday in a cave somewhere, and just now made your way back to the comforts of cable and the internet, you have most likely seen replays showing Ben Roethlisberger getting Debo'd by Seymour after a Steelers touchdown.
While the deed was ugly in itself, it was the culmination of a game full of cheap shots, late shoves and poor sportsmanship on Seymour’s part. The real ugly involved here is the mockery Roger Goodell is making of the NFL judicial system.
Seymour was fined just $25,000 for his actions. Players making hits at full speed in a professional football game have been fined as much as $75,000 in order to “protect the players." Meanwhile, an open handed punch to the chin that dropped an NFL quarterback to the ground long after a touchdown play was over calls for 25-large and nothing else?
As a writer and a football fan, I have long stood behind Roger Goodell. But that has changed.
It is one thing to police the NFL with an iron fist, and coming down hard on players that can’t behave off the field. It something completely different to affect the way the game is played and arbitrarily assign punishment, all the while hypocritically blaming it on having the best interest of the players' safety in mind.
Of course, adding two more games won’t add to the wear and tear, additionally put players in harms way and change the meaning of every major record set in the NFL right commissioner?
This play, and its subsequent handling, is a glaring display of what is wrong with the NFL. Unfortunately it’s going to get uglier before it gets better as the commissioner’s actions are setting the league up for a lockout.
While the Steelers showed signs of repairing the breach in Week 11, they are going to have to continue to improve and find ways to get healthy as each and every game becomes increasingly important with Baltimore, matching them step for step.
As they set their sites on a bad Buffalo team in Week 12, the Steelers need to make consistency their primary focus in every facet of their game. While it’s nice to beat up on the Raiders, Bengals and Bills, the Patriots and Saints are the teams waiting for them down the line.
Follow Jonathan on twitter @JCyprowski