Rams vs Steelers: 5 Things We Learned from Pittsburgh's 27-0 Win
It only took 16 weeks.
The Pittsburgh Steelers finally dominated and put away a bad team, sending the St. Louis Rams home on Christmas Eve with a 27-0 shellacking which included dominant offense, defense and special teams work.
Here are some Christmas Eve lessons from the team's win, which keeps them alive in the quest for one of the AFC's top two playoff seeds.
A Charlie Batch Christmas
Charlie Batch performed quite well, managing the game in the fashion we've come to expect from the seasoned veteran.
The team's quarterback emeritus, Charlie Batch had a nice game in place of the injured Ben Roethlisberger.
Forget the interception—that wasn't Batch's fault. Antonio Brown fell down right before the ball arrived. Had he been standing, the play might have been a big catch.
Batch certainly didn't have the flash of Ben Roethlisberger, but he did flash some of Ben's trademark moves, escaping some seemingly-sure tackles to roll away and complete passes downfield.
I was a bit worried going into the game about Batch's ability to run the offense. I now feel like the team can win with Batch provided they can continue to establish the ground game early. While that may not work for the playoffs, it should get them there.
I think the Steelers would be safe sitting Ben Roethlisberger one more week and getting him a shot at being truly ready for the post-season.
Not hard to see that Rashard Mendenhall had his best game of the season. He showed us some of what his game is all about.
Let's take apart this performance.
First, a grain of salt: Mendenhall's day came at the expense of one of the worst run-stopping defenses in the league.
Okay. That's out of the way. This was still a dominant game by a runner who's been much maligned in many circles (including this writer's space) all season.
Mendenhall has added one feature to his game this year that we've not seen much of before: he's become a very secure runner and doesn't fumble much. Doubtless, part of that is due to the fact he has been receiving less carries.
Still, he holds the ball very well and protects when he sees a big hit coming.
He also showed his immense cutback ability versus the Rams. If the team wishes to fully utilize Mendenhall, they have to keep allowing him to engage this cutback ability in games. He is too often asked to play out of his comfort zone, which doesn't work.
The Steelers defense was pretty staunch on Sunday afternoon, but they did bend a little too much at times, which worries me heading forward.
Troy Polamalu had a monster game. After that, it was hit or miss on defense.
There were some big runs on similar plays (runs to the outside right) by Steven Jackson that the Steelers couldn't seem to diagnose and cut out, and there was some questionable coverage at times, particularly given the opponent.
I think the Steelers are trying to mask what they want to do for the playoffs by playing a particularly bland game scheme-wise, but they have to be careful not to get too complacent.
I thought the second half was much better on defense. The Steelers dialed up the pressure with James Harrison and played some very tight coverage. That's what I expect every down.
I still am not a fan of the team's third-down schemes, but they showed improvement. Again, you have to wonder how much the offense had to do with that.
Today was another lesson in how good this year's rookie class has been for Pittsburgh.
If I'm Mike Tomlin, I find a way to get John Clay more work down by the goal line. His touchdown run was exactly what the Steelers were missing a few weeks ago when they failed on four straight runs inside the 5-yard line.
Clay is a bigger, tougher back who can bulldoze defenders.
The Steelers have gotten some phenomenal and certainly unexpected contributions from their rookies. Cameron Heyward has become a regular in the D-line rotation, effectively plugging holes wherever he's inserted.
Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen have been excellent special teams contributors (until Brown's injury, ending the cornerback's season) and as they continue to improve and grow, they look to be big contributors on defense next season.
Marcus Gilbert has been a fixture on the offensive line and has steadily improved since some early-season struggles. He looks like a long-term fix at one of the tackle spots.
This might be one of the team's best draft hauls in recent memory.
Establishing the Run
With Ben Roethlisberger ailing and likely to not be at full power by the playoffs, it was important for the Steelers to establish the run game.
Nicely played, Bruce Arians.
While I won't say I loved the game plans this year, this one was very well-conceived and possibly has the future in mind.
The Steelers might still end up with a home playoff game, but regardless of where they play, all the games look to be cold-weather contests—that necessitates a good ground game. Add in a nicked up starting QB and you have an even bigger need on the ground.
If they can keep working their run game like the did against St. Louis, they have a chance to be truly dominant, even if Ben Roethlisberger isn't at full speed.