There was just a different feeling in the air Sunday. Despite a 1-3 start, there was a positive aura around the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 5 matchup against the Denver Broncos. Fans seemed pretty good about getting a victory. It wasn't easy as the Broncos made life tough in the end, but the Steelers did, in fact, get a potentially season-saving victory over Denver 27-19.
Lose this game and the Steelers sit at 1-4 heading into Sunday Night Football against the Seahawks next weekend. Now Pittsburgh is 2-3 and will face Geno Smith at home in prime time. Crawling back to .500 heading into the bye would be a massive development early on in the season, especially with how the other three teams in the division are playing to this point.
Following their first win since week one, there is a lot of praise to be handed out. Flavell's Five Thoughts have been a bit depressing the last few weeks, so the tone for this one will be much more joyous. Without further ado, let's get started, shall we?
Lots of All-Around Improvement
Anytime you can get a win to snap a three-game losing streak, that is a huge development. The Steelers looked a trillion times better in almost every facet of the game. The run game was dominant. The quarterback play was much improved. Defensively, they were strong when they had to be. Even Ray-Ray McCloud had a solid kick return out over the 30-yard line.
Granted, the Broncos did not play very well today. Teddy Bridgewater was not able to move the ball downfield as effectively as he usually does. Denver's run-game looked solid at times but didn't break off big runs with consistency. Their pass rush didn't get to Roethlisberger all that often, but they did force a strip-sack on him in the first half.
Overall, the Steelers looked more like the team that showed up Week 1 in Buffalo than the duds that had the past few weeks. That is truly a welcome sign. Roethlisberger looked more efficient Sunday and passed with more accuracy. If he can shake off the struggles and get back to being at least serviceable, the Steelers' season can be saved over the next month.
The O-Line Kept Big Ben Clean, Created Holes
Do you think the young offensive line has heard the negative noise surrounding them?
They stepped up as a unit today and kept the pocket pretty clean for Roethlisberger. Von Miller, one of the best pass rushers in the game, didn't make much impact getting after the quarterback. If he isn't getting the push then the line as a whole is likely not going to get after the quarterback.
For the first time this year, Najee Harris actually had some room to run. Without getting stuffed on nearly every single play like he had in all his prior attempts before Sunday, Harris proved why he was worth the first-round draft selection. More on him later.
The one facet of the offensive line that was disappointing in this one happened to be Chuks Okorafor. Okorafor got flagged for two false starts and I noticed him moving early on a few other occasions where he wasn't called.
The discipline has to be better. Those types of penalties can add up and derail drives. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, the damage was small on Sunday. With the play of the offensive line being poor up to that point, no one's job should be safe. Zach Banner's arrival looms. Joe Haeg and B.J. Finney could also play.
If Okorafor can't clean up the penalties, then maybe he can keep a seat on the bench warm.
Harris, Claypool Shine Brightest on Offense
Good for Harris. I'm sure he was getting frustrated running into 300-plus pound men on a consistent basis and not finding holes to run through. That changed on Sunday. Harris put together his first 100-yard rushing performance and scored a touchdown. He averaged 5.3 yards a carry, his highest number yet through five weeks.
Harris, the former Alabama running back, finally got to show off his full display of talents with space and time. If the line can begin to gel - and that remains a big if - then many of the Steelers' problems will disappear. Harris can become a bell-cow back that teams fear having to attempt to tackle.
Chase Claypool, a former Notre Dame wide receiver, had one of his better games of his young career Sunday as well. Claypool hauled in five catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. He used his athleticism to bust off a few long runs. His touchdown catch in the fourth quarter was a sweet grab over three defenders. He used his frame to get up and make a wonderful grab despite getting popped. The catch ended up being the winner for Pittsburgh.
James Washington didn't play Sunday and JuJu Smith-Schuster went out with a shoulder injury during the game. Claypool became the de facto number two receiver behind Diontae Johnson and did a superb job showing off why the Steelers took him in the second round last season.
What a Roller Coaster Game for James Pierre
Pierre hasn't had much NFL experience. To expect him to come in and be an all-pro corner as an undrafted free agent is a bit crazy. It seems with more playing time he continues to get better every game. He did show some signs of being a young, inexperienced player Sunday, though.
Pierre made an awesome play that can't be underrated on the long Javonte Williams scamper that almost resulted in a touchdown. Minkah Fitzpatrick missed a tackle on Williams that he turned into a 49-yard run. Williams was tackled from behind inside the five by Pierre. It surely seemed like he was gone. Williams got up and spiked the ball, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty.
Had Pierre not made that tackle, the Broncos would have an extra score on the board and the dynamic of the game changes.
Pierre was also beaten badly on a few occasions late in the game and had a frustrating performance to that point. So it was only fitting for Pierre to be the hero on the Broncos' final possession of the game.
Bridgewater dropped back to pass and left the pocket trying to hit his receiver in the back of the end zone. Pierre stayed with his man and was able to make the interception to seal the game. Pierre's box score looks really good despite his up-and-down play. He deserves his fair share of criticism but made two very important plays in this game and has every right to take that confidence and use it going forward.
Steelers Take Care of Business, Now It's Geno Smith
Vegas odds had the Broncos slightly favored. That's unheard of for most teams coming to Heinz Field. Despite what Vegas had been telling us and both teams' records, it felt like the Steelers were the better team. They proved as much Sunday.
They took care of business at home, and now they'll have another home matchup against an inferior opponent. With the Seahawks coming in, typically, they would be an awesome Sunday Night Football matchup. Maybe it will be. But it shouldn't be.
Geno Smith is currently running the ship for the Seahawks. He'll be making his first NFL start since 2017. Russell Wilson is expected to miss anywhere from 4-8 weeks with a broken finger on his throwing hand.
Add all of that up and couple in Mike Tomlin's penchant for playing in prime time, the Steelers should mop the Seahawks with the floor next week. Unfortunately, this Steelers team hasn't showed enough to warrant that kind of attitude. A definitive home win against a depleted Seahawks team could change a lot of outsiders' opinions heading into the bye week after that game.
There can't be a lackadaisical attitude going into that game. The Steelers don't deserve to treat that contest like the Seahawks are playing with a quarterback who hasn't started a game since 2017.
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