Flavell's Five Thoughts: Not Perfect, but the Steelers Are 6-0
It wasn't pretty, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have moved to 6-0 after a 27-24 win over the Tennessee Titans. In typical Steelers fashion, a game that seemed largely out of reach heading into the locker room at halftime came down to a last second missed field goal by the Titans.
In shocking fashion, the Steelers took the ball first after winning the coin toss. They set the tone by scoring and tacked on 24 total by halftime. However, with just seconds to go, Stephen Gostkowski had a chance to send the game to overtime. The momentum was overwhelmingly in the Titans' favor at that point. Overtime likely wouldn't have been friendly for the Steelers.
Luckily for them, overtime wasn't needed, and the Steelers are still undefeated.
There are tons to discuss, so, as we do every week, let's dive in.
Nothing worries this Steelers defense
Titans running back Derrick Henry entered this game as the league's leading rusher on the season. He left the game looking like a shell of his usual self after the Steelers stuffed him for most of the day.
Henry carried 20 times for only 75 yards for a 3.8 yards per carry average. Henry did have the late touchdown to make it a three-point game but not after he was stuffed on multiple occasions. A holding penalty on Minkah Fitzpatrick gave the Titans a fresh set of downs. Henry wasn't going to be denied again.
The most notable stop on the goal line came from Robert Spillane, who met Henry in the whole and blew him up. The car crash-like collision injured Spillane's shoulder but doesn't seem serious. Spillane, the new starter at inside linebacker following Devin Bush's injury, made a huge play. Had Fitzpatrick not committed the penalty, Spillane may have made the biggest play of the day.
The Steelers did a tremendous job of bottling up Henry. He was swallowed up in the backfield on multiple occasions and didn't have many opportunities to get into the secondary to make them miss.
The talk all week was that the Steelers would struggle to stop Henry, and he would wear them down and get better as the game went on. The front seven wasn't going to allow that to happen. They were the better unit today.
Mistake-free Roethlisberger went out the window
Sunday was a roller coaster day for Ben Roethlisberger.
On one hand, the first half version of Roethlisberger was fitting balls into tight windows, including the first touchdown pass of the game to Diontae Johnson.
On the final play of the second quarter, Roethlisberger lobbed a pass deep into the end zone after a Titans turnover on downs. The Steelers had a little more than ten seconds to play with. Instead of picking up a few yards and making an easier kick for Chris Boswell, Roethlisberger went for the jugular deep and was picked off in the end zone.
I didn't hate the play call. The Titans gifted the Steelers good field position, so why not take a shot at the end zone? But the Titans came ready for it and played their defensive backs deep. In hindsight, it is easy to say the Steelers could've just kicked the field goal. Regardless, it was the opposite of what we've seen from Roethlisberger recently.
Big Ben's second pick of the day was tipped at the line of scrimmage and caught. Those things happen. You take it with a grain of salt and move on. The third interception was the most concerning.
The Steelers were having success running the ball. Conner's efficiency from the past couple weeks wasn't as high, but they were still moving it well. The entire final offensive drove down the field, the Steelers continued to resort to the pass. Instead of allowing the clock to drip down, a few incompletions and plays that went out of bounds stopped the clock.
To cap it off, Roethlisberger tried to toss a pass over the middle into the end zone to JuJu Smith-Schuster with four defenders in the area. The pass was picked off, and the Titans were suddenly in business with one timeout and just over a minute to go. This eventually led to the game-tying field goal being missed. But Roethlisberger's mistakes nearly handed the Titans a game the Steelers had locked up after one half.
Multiple pass catchers got involved Sunday
After Chase Claypool's emergence over the past few weeks, he took a back seat today.
Johnson's return netted him nine catches for 80 yards and two touchdowns.
Smith-Schuster had his best game of the season so far with nine catches himself for 85 yards. While he didn't score, Smith-Schuster made a few good catches and looked more like the player the Steelers were hoping to get this year.
Eric Ebron got heavily involved as well with six catches for 50 yards, including a nice 22-yard grab over the multiple that looked like airmail from Roethlisberger. Ebron showed his athleticism that excited fans across Steeler Nation when his signing was announced.
Jame Conner had three catches. Vance McDonald and Ray-Ray McCloud both hauled in two passes.
James Washington was targeted only once and didn't make a catch. Claypool's only target was a 2-yard loss.
It was encouraging to see Roethlisberger utilize a bevy of receivers Sunday. Claypool was bound to slow down after a few weeks of dominance. Washington's target share is kind of concerning for his long-term outlook, but he was a favorite of Roethlisberger's last week.
On a week-to-week basis, it looks as though the Steelers will game plan so that everyone gets a chance to eat. No one particular receiver can currently be labeled the Steelers' number one guy. They're deep enough that everyone is a threat on a weekly basis.
Williams, Watt, Sutton shine on defense
Pittsburgh didn't get to Tannehill much on Sunday. They only recorded two sacks, one by Vince Williams and one by T.J. Watt.
Williams led the team with 10 tackles, two of them for a loss. Watt, continuing his Defensive Player of the Year campaign, got a sack of his own Sunday. He only factored in five tackles, but three of them came for a loss. He got to Henry in the backfield on a few occasions.
Those two are usual cogs in the Steelers defense. However, an unusual face got to show off his abilities Sunday.
Cam Sutton has played more and more over time in his first few seasons in Pittsburgh. With Mike Hilton missing Sunday's game, Sutton got the start as the slot corner. As he has done in his short career in Pittsburgh, Sutton shined in coverage.
Sutton had two pass defenses that arguably could've been picked off. Had he made a play on either, those would've been the game-changing splash plays the Steelers could've used in the second half. Nonetheless, proving that he can make plays and keep the ball out of the receiver's hands will earn him more playing time going forward.
As a whole, the defense played well. Tannehill navigated some tough waters and brought the Titans within striking distance following a poor start. Give him credit for keeping things going when the going got tough. The Steelers' defensive unit also deserves credit for bending and not breaking when the Titans forced them against the wall.
The Steelers earned their deserved respect
Looking at the Steelers' first five games, the Browns were their toughest opponent by a wide margin. They blew them out.
Sunday, the Titans presented the biggest challenge to date for the Steelers. They whisked them away and moved to 6-0.
Many fans and some media around the league considered the Steelers as undefeated frauds claiming they wouldn't be able to hang with the top teams once they played tough competition. After defeating the only other undefeated AFC squad, Pittsburgh gained their respect.
The defense proved Sunday that regardless of the opposing running back, they won't be scared. Roethlisberger continues to prove that, if he stays healthy, the offense is going to be dangerous. Even Chris Boswell, the league's most underappreciated kicker, continues to do nothing but make kicks of all distances and difficulties.
It's not even a secret anymore. Right now, as it stands, the Steelers are the AFC's top team. That may not be true in a month. Things could go south for them or teams like Kansas City, Baltimore, Tennessee, or even Buffalo could get very hot.
But at this moment, the Steelers are the AFC's best team. There is even an argument to be made that they might currently be the team to beat in the entire NFL.
It's now Ravens week. Things are going to get very interesting heading into next Sunday. See you then.