The Steelers Offense
When Todd Haley was building this offense over the last couple of seasons, in between intense goatee sculpting sessions, I imagine yesterday is what the Steelers had in mind. The best game of Ben Roethlisberger’s career was made possible by every member of his (relatively) young receiving corps and his pleasantly surprising second-year running back.
Getting to face a Colts secondary without Vontae Davis — who’s been playing at a Pro Bowl level all season — certainly helped, but Roethlisberger put up 522 yards and six touchdowns, with a completion percentage in the 80s, against a team that came into the game ranked second in pass defense DVOA. A day like that is about more than one guy, on both sides of the ball.
Antonio Brown continues to be a superhero. With Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green hurt, and both Jordy Nelson and Julio Jones slowing down, it’s safe to say he’s been the best receiver in football. Brown leads the league in receptions, and is second in both yards and touchdowns. His five-catch, 50-yard streak now sits at something like 528 games (approximately). It’s starting to feel like he’s making it harder on himself just because he’s bored. He probably could have used two hands on that first touchdown catch yesterday, but that would have been too easy.
Games like the one he had against the Colts — 10 catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns — are what we expect from Brown, but the new guys were also getting in on the fun. Martavis Bryant has been active for only two games, but he’s already hauled in three touchdowns and given Pittsburgh’s offense an added deep-ball dimension. Markus Wheaton got on the board for the first time all year, and Le’Veon Bell added six catches of his own.
The Steelers defense still leaves plenty to be desired, even against teams not quarterbacked by Andrew Luck. But if they can be even a fraction of what they were yesterday, they’ll be in just about every game they play. Even with their bumpy start, the Steelers are now firmly in the AFC North race, just as they’re starting to hum along offensively.
Rob Gronkowski and Arian Foster
We’ve all been there. You’re at home or at a bar, giddily watching a player lay waste to a defense, scoring at will. Out of curiosity, you check your fantasy scores, and you realize what you’ve been enjoying is also what’s ruined your week.
That was Gronk and Arian Foster yesterday — both with multiple touchdowns in walking-away wins. For both Patriots fans and Gronkowski owners, it was a welcome sight to see Gronk in the safety-exploding mode he’s found in the past. New England eased him back over its first few games, but now Gronk is a go, and he embarrassed the Bears yesterday. It wasn’t just that the tight end got in the end zone three times, it was how he did it: stealing Shea McClellin’s lunch money down in the red zone, then catching a ball over the middle and taking it 30 yards for a score. Gronk gronk’d, and if he hadn’t left the game early in the third quarter, it probably would have been even worse.
There has been no easing in for Foster this year. Save for the game against Buffalo, which he probably should have skipped anyway, he’s been one of the safest bets around. Foster has topped 100 yards in six of the seven games he’s played, while averaging 5.2 yards per carry and finding the end zone seven times. He’s on pace for the type of casual 300-carry, 1,500-yard season that just doesn’t happen much anymore. It’s all the more impressive when you consider he’s coming off back surgery that cost him half of last season.
If ever there were a case for an NFL program that loaned out great players on shitty teams for the stretch run, Lavonte David made it yesterday. He was everywhere against the Vikings, racking up 14 tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage, and three more than went for fewer than 2 yards. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if there were a leaguewide bid for him after Week 12 and he spent the rest of the year on a team like the Patriots? Every year, as the Bucs’ season starts to deteriorate, David still plays like he’s being shot out of a cannon.
“We’ve got to do this all of the time, not some of the time,” Doug Marrone said yesterday after the Bills hung up 43 points. Sadly, coach, you don’t get to play the Jets secondary every week. But you do get to keep Sammy Watkins. Watkins averaged 52.3 yards per catch yesterday, and managed to make up for his early-celebration gaffe by catching a 61-yard touchdown two quarters later. Kyle Orton had 238 yards and four touchdowns while throwing only 17 passes, which makes me wonder why the hell the Bills threw the ball only 17 times.
The Bears Defense
You could sell the Patriots’ drive chart from this game as a horror movie spec script. Anyone who’s seen the Bears try to defend the middle of the field this year should have known Gronkowski was going to gore them … but, man. Tom Brady really couldn’t have had an easier time. Of the 27 passes Brady threw to his top three targets, exactly zero fell incomplete: 9-of-9 to Gronk, 11-of-11 to Brandon LaFell, 7-of-7 to Tim Wright. That’s almost impossible. You’d assume that even the laws of nature would see one of those hit the turf.
It wasn’t much better on the ground. Somebody named Jonas Gray ripped off 5.1 yards per carry, as the Chicago run defense started to look like the one that ended the season a year ago. I’m not sure what else there is to say or do, so I’ll be crawling back into bed to cry now.
There are bad days as a rookie quarterback, and then there’s what Blake Bortles did yesterday. His overall numbers weren’t great — 18-of-34 for 221 yards, one touchdown, and two picks — but they were made even worse when you realize both of those picks were returned for touchdowns.
Giving the Dolphins 14 points was particularly heartbreaking, considering how well the rest of the Jaguars fared against Miami. Denard Robinson has finally given Jacksonville some semblance of a running game, carrying the ball 18 times for 108 yards against one of the better defenses in the league. Rookie Allen Robinson continues to play well, and the Jacksonville defense managed to slow down Ryan Tannehill, a week after he lit the Bears on fire. “I’m killing us,” Bortles told Jaguars.com after the game. Sometimes, quarterbacks take on a bit too much of the blame, but yesterday he was probably right.
I’m still not sure how the Falcons managed to lose. Forget how Atlanta gave up a 21-point first-half lead. When Matt Ryan hit Julio Jones on a 22-yard gain to take the game to the two-minute warning, the game should have been over. But when third down crept up again, with 1:50 left — and with the Lions out of timeouts — a similar throw to Jones fell incomplete, giving Detroit new life and more than a minute and a half to march down the field. If the Falcons had run the ball there, the best possible situation for the Lions is that they’re on their own 20, with no timeouts and about 45 seconds to go 50 yards.
At one point in the Lions’ final drive, it looked like Jim Caldwell’s screwup might have been enough to overcome Mike Smith’s. A team done in by their kicking all year decided it was best to settle for a 43-yard field goal to win the game. I think we’ve all seen what happens next. Matt Prater pushed the kick to the right. A delay-of-game penalty gave him another shot from five yards back. Of course, it went in. It’s a tough year to be the Falcons.
That should just about do it for the Geno Smith era in New York. Smith turned in one of the all-time bad quarterback lines in his short stint against the Bills: 2-of-8, five yards, three interceptions. Typically, it’s good to finish a game with at least five more yards than you have picks.
At 1-7, the Jets might be tempted to stick with Smith for the rest of the year, but at this point, it seems there’s little he can do to enter next season with the inside track to start. With Rex Ryan likely gone, general manager John Idzik will probably be looking to pair his new head coach with a new quarterback. What the Jets have to hope for now is that they don’t win too many games and take themselves out of the Marcus Mariota sweepstakes.
This is hard for me, but we need to address the Zach Mettenberger–J.J. Watt selfie fiasco. Earlier this week, rookie and king Mettenberger was named the starting quarterback of the Tennessee Titans. Mettenberger was so firmly dedicated to his White Goodman look for Halloween that he did his first press conference as an NFL starter with a mustache, feathered hair, and a headband. That’s devotion.
Before yesterday’s game, Mettenberger snapped a selfie of himself in the locker room. It seemed like a pretty innocent way to document a big day in a guy’s life. I don’t know. I don’t care.
Apparently, J.J. Watt did. After sacking Mettenberger yesterday, Watt took his own fake selfie, with him and the crumpled quarterback underneath him.
That part was funny. What happened after the game wasn’t. “It’s just kind of a reminder, this is the National Football League, not high school. Welcome to the show,” Watt said. “I just, I take my job very seriously. If I was a rookie quarterback being named the starter for the first time in the league, I feel like I’d be a little bit more focused than that.” According to science, Watt is two years older than Mettenberger. But based on the old-man-yells-at-cloud scale, Watt has decades on the Titans QB. This “I hate fun” look isn’t good on you, J.J. You do all the maniacal focusing you want, but damn, let the kid live.