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Pittsburgh Steelers: Six takeaways from Sunday

The Pittsburgh Steelers win over the Detroit Lions certainly lived up to the hype that came with being a prime time match up.

Big plays, questionable decisions and breakout performances were all a part of the Steelers earning their third straight win as they now head into their bye week.

Here are my six takeaways from their Sunday Night Football victory.

1. Bend but don’t break

On paper, Matt Stafford’s passing numbers indicate that Steelers fans should be less than pleased with how the defense played on Sunday.

However, regardless of how many yards they allowed through the air, the objective of defense is preventing the opponent from getting into the end zone; which they executed to perfection. Throughout the game, the Lions moved the ball far more effectively than Pittsburgh, yet, the Steelers still seemed to be in control.

Forcing two goal line stands and five field goals on the road against one of the league’s top passers is something to hang your hat on. Once again, when the game was on the line, this group that was supposed to be the team’s weakness ended up coming through as our top strength.

2. JuJu has arrived

In his first career NFL start, JuJu Smith-Schuster ensured that he would be known for more than his funny touchdown celebrations or having his bike stolen. The rookie out of the University of Southern California who has quickly become one of the city’s most beloved athletes put on a show on the big stage.

His 424 receiving yards this season are more than the combined total of receiving yards for the five receivers taken before him in last year’s draft. If that isn’t enough, his 191 yard performance last night was only 41 yards shy of tying Martavis Bryant’s 234 yards receiving for the entire season.

Finally, his 97 yard touchdown reception was the longest offensive play in Steelers history. With his popularity sky rocketing due to his great play and one of a kind personality, JuJu is here to stay.

There is no telling just how good he will be for the Steelers, but one thing is for sure, he has replaced Bryant as the Steelers second option in the passing game.

3. Martavis Bryant isn’t done but Eli Rogers is

Though I just said JuJu has replaced Bryant as a starter, I am not ready to write him off as a potential impact player for the Steelers this season. Bryant has been regarded as a hard worker and a tough competitor by multiple teammates and I do not expect him to vanish.

As Ben Roethlisberger slowly gets better each week, we are starting to see the passing game open up, more and more. After sitting out last week and having the bye week to let things cool down, I expect Bryant to come back and make a difference in the second half of the Steelers season.

However, if JuJu’s big performance was to have ended the Steelers career for one receiver, it was Eli Rogers. With Bryant out, Rogers had an enormous opportunity to step up and get himself more involved. Unfortunately for him, he did the opposite.

In the one pass that Rogers was targeted on, he allowed himself to drop it, in the end zone. Not getting open and making the most of your chances will get you forgotten by any team, let alone one that has Smith-Schuster, Bryant and Antonio Brown ahead of you on the depth chart.

Something that also stood out to me that might not be a huge deal was Roger’s reaction after Le’Veon Bell’s rushing touchdown. While all the offense is doing a group celebration, he can be seen walking off by himself in the background.

This might mean nothing or it could show his obvious frustration that it was Bell in the end zone instead of him.

4. Jim Caldwell is not smart

I am all for being aggressive and believing in your guys, but as a Steelers fan, I almost feel personally obligated to send a thank you note to Jim Caldwell for going for it on Fourth and goal, instead of taking the points that he needed.

There is no doubt in my mind that if the Lions kick that field goal that they end up winning that game. Though his team was in the spot to take the lead numerous times, at the end of the day, his decision to go for it against a defense that was lights out all game in the red zone is what cost them a win. I am not complaining though.

5. Cam Heyward is the defensive MVP

Aside from Brown and Bell, there is not a more valuable player on the Pittsburgh Steelers than Cam Heyward. Don’t agree with me? Take a look at how much better the defense is this year not that he is healthy. Yes, Joe Haden was a huge addition.

Yes, the Linebackers have been great. However, when it comes to the key to the Pittsburgh defense, look no further than number 97. Heyward had one sack and two tackles for loss last night.

When he wasn’t making big plays, he was busy doing the dirty work, taking on double teams and freeing up lanes for his teammates behind him.

As we saw last night, Heyward is an all around difference maker for this team. He stops the run by plugging holes and getting into the backfield and his force on the pass rush is a notable asset to the secondary.

Take Heyward away from this team and there will be a monumental decline.

6. Good…. But not Great

A win is a win. There were a great deal of positives that came from the Steelers performance on Sunday night, but there are still obvious flaws that need addressed.

For the first time this year, the secondary looked human. It isn’t a coincidence that it came in a match up against the best passer they have seen all year.

Goal line stands are fantastic, but if you are playing a team whose head coach makes better decisions, there may have been a different outcome.

I hate to steal a quote from the Yinzer handbook, but I have to ask the question, will this team be able to beat New England? In my opinion, as of right now, the answer is no.

We are now half way into the season and the Steelers offense has yet to score over 30 points. Ben has not looked like an elite level quarterback and though the run game is good, Detroit showed last night that it can be limited.

There is still a lot of football left to be played and there are 30 other teams to worry about beating aside from the Patriots, but I know we are all thinking about it deep down.

Regardless of the wins, there is still a lot of room for improvement as the Steelers enter the bye week.


Photo from: Paul Sancya of the Associated Press.

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Noah Hiles

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