Thursday Night Observations

It took until Week 11, but we finally saw the Steelers offense we’d be waiting for since the summer. It wasn’t actually that efficient, but there were deep shots to the receivers, and Ben Roethlisberger played a virtually mistake-free game.

• Roethlisberger had four TDs, no picks and just under 300 yards. He took three sacks, though, and had only 6.6 YPA, but it’s hard to fault him for playing it safe late with a big lead. He looked spry for an old man playing a Thursday game, was able to improvise under pressure and willing to look down the field. Granted, it was a home game against the Titans, but encouraging for the Steelers and intriguing fantasy-wise.

• Antonio Brown went 13-10-144-3, including a one-handed catch against his helmet for the third score. The last couple weeks notwithstanding, he’s still at the top of his game.

• Juju Smith-Schuster reminds me of Hines Ward. He isn’t fast, is more stout than big, but keeps his focus in traffic and holds onto the ball while taking a hit. He’s a nice complement to the elusive Brown and freakishly athletic Martavis Bryant.

• Bryant caught two of four targets for 30 yards, but was on the field quite a bit. He also recovered Brown’s fumble. I’d expect his role to grow down the stretch.

• Le’Veon Bell had an uncharacteristically quiet game against a decent run defense. He wound up with 12 carries, 11 targets and nine catches though and had a TD wrongly overturned as far as I could tell.

• Marcus Mariota crushed the YPA (9.3) against a stingy defense, but his four interceptions and five sacks more than offset his per-play efficiency.  He should have had another TD but for a Delanie Walker drop too. It’s funny because Jeff Erickson pointed out on our SXM show Walker hadn’t yet scored this year and opined he didn’t think it would happen this week against a Steelers defense that’s been tough on the TE. That prompted me to call a Walker TD, and I should have been right! Even with the drop, Walker had 92 yards.

• Rishard Matthews made another big play, a 75-yard TD catch around and through falling Pittsburgh defenders. He’s like Smith-Schuster, stout, not very fast, but somehow reliable.

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• Eric Decker was featured on one series in the first half for some odd reason before disappearing the rest of the game. He even rolled out to throw a pass, but wisely tossed it out of bounds to avoid a tackle for a loss. I’ve never understood why backs who try to get around the corner five yards in the backfield  and see there’s no room aren’t trained to do the same – just toss the ball forward and out of bounds to avoid the loss.

• Corey Davis had another seven targets, but caught only three of them for 27 yards, and neither Titans back got going. DeMarco Murray caught five passes for 37 yards, though.

• Great play call by the Steelers near the goal line when they faked like they were going to run into the teeth of the defense and had an easy pitch and catch from Ben Roethlisberger to “The Outlaw” (Jesse James.) Teams should be doing that far more often not only because it works, but also because it should make running the ball easier if the defense knows it can’t sell out.