Ladies and gentlemen, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 8-0 for the first time in franchise history. While they didn’t make things easy, Pittsburgh squeaked out a victory over the Dallas Cowboys, 24-19.
Ben Roethlisberger did a great job keeping his composure and leading the team back into the game. Every receiver seemed to get in on the action. While it wasn’t all that good, the defense rose to the occasion when it had to.
For the eighth consecutive week, Flavell’s Five Thoughts are brought to you with good vibes. As always, there’s much to discuss. Let’s get to it.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is worth every penny
When the trade to bring Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh went down, it was largely crucified. Many thought the Steelers were nuts for giving up their first-round pick. From my perspective, I loved it.
The timing seemed a bit ill-advised, but it turns out that it couldn’t have been better. The Steelers added a defensive playmaker, something they had lacked in the secondary dating back to Troy Polamalu. It’s often best not to doubt Kevin Colbert. He is pretty darn good at what he does.
After making an impact last season, Fitzpatrick struggled in the first few games. However, he is starting to find his stride. Over the last four games, Fitzpatrick has 19 tackles, two interceptions - one of them a pick-six on Baker Mayfield a few weeks back - four passes defended, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Sunday, Fitzpatrick intercepted one of those passes and recovered a fumble that popped right into his hands. In the right spot at the right time, he continues to prove why the Steelers paid the price to bring him into their defensive backfield.
For the second week in a row, Fitzpatrick made a defensive play at the buzzer in the end zone to preserve a Steelers victory. Last week, Fitzpatrick met Willie Snead IV in the air to break up the potential game-winning score against Baltimore last weekend. This weekend, he stepped in front of Garrett Gilbert’s pass to CeeDee Lamb that would’ve seen Dallas upset Pittsburgh.
With two more games against inferior opponents, Fitzpatrick is beginning to find his stride at the right time heading into the eventual Thanksgiving rematch with Baltimore.
Ben Roethlisberger was great when he needed to be
You won’t get any argument from me. Ben Roethlisberger was not good for two and a half quarters on Sunday. But for the final 20 minutes of the game, Roethlisberger channeled his inner beast mode on his way to leading a fourth quarter comeback for the 34th time in his career.
He finished with 306 yards and three touchdowns. Roethlisberger tossed another game without turning the ball over. What would’ve been a crippling strip-sack return for a touchdown late in the game was nullified by a Jaylon Smith penalty. The Steelers went down and scored the final touchdown of the game on a pass to Eric Ebron.
The injury scare late in the first half sunk the hearts of many in Steelers Nation. An undefeated record looked primed to slowly wither away at the hands of the Steelers’ backup quarterbacks for a second year in a row.
Instead, as customary at this point, Roethlisberger’s resurrection inspired his team to avoid a massive upset at the hands of the Cowboys. The franchise quarterback matters. Sunday, Roethlisberger got hot and helped avoid what could’ve been a season-defining loss to a lowly 2-7 team.
Tyson Alualu’s absence cannot be understated
The Steelers front seven is dominant and there is no questioning that. But they were gashed badly on third down and short situations in this one.
On too many occasions, Henry Mondeaux and Carlos Davis were getting time in crucial situations. On a winning team, that isn’t a recipe to succeed.
Alualu is very good at stopping the run and presents a huge option inside with Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. A former first-rounder, Alualu spent time in a few organizations but has found a permanent home in Pittsburgh. His injury presented a big problem this weekend.
The Cowboys, a bottom-tier team in the league, ran for 144 yards on 31 attempts with ease. Ezekiel Elliott went into the game questionable with an injury. Tony Pollard is inexperienced. Garrett Gilbert was making his first career start. This added up to make a pretty good scenario for the stout front seven to make some stops and shut down the Cowboys easily.
But Gilbert held his own and the defense couldn’t sell out to the run. For the Steelers, they could not find an answer to the run game. Mondeaux and Davis are not that answer. Let’s hope Alualu can be available next week and going forward.
Mike Tomlin deserves his fair share of criticism
As a staunch Tomlin defender, it is only fair to point out that Sunday was not one of his finest moments.
The Steelers had a crucial third down and fourth down and short where they elected to go for it. Instead of putting their bellcow James Conner on the field, Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland Jr. received those carries.
While Conner didn’t have a great game - nine carries for 22 yards - he has been given glowing endorsements from Tomlin over the course of the season. Instead, Tomlin put in two smaller backs and tried to run them straight up the middle, failing to convert on both occasions.
The game script forced the Steelers to stray from the run game. Trailing the entire contest, there was no way to establish the run game effectively.
Later on came the decision to go for it on fourth and one with around a minute to go. This time, Conner did get the ball but came up short.
I understand the thought process of trying to put the game away. However, the offense up to that point had been very inconsistent. With a five-point lead, the Steelers would have kicked a short field goal and taken an eight-point lead. This would’ve forced the Cowboys to go for the two-point conversion if they scored. Instead, the Cowboys could’ve won outright.
That was certainly a head-scratcher. Fortunately, it ended up working out. The Cowboys didn’t have any timeouts so they had to basically go the length of the field. Chris Boswell had two extra points blocked and the defenders were jumping over long snapper Kam Canaday and nearly blocking kicks.
There was certainly logic to the thought process. It caused extra stress for all involved but, in the end, worked for the Steelers.
This team has a thing for drama, doesn’t it?
This was the trap game Steelers fans were waiting for. The recipe screamed the inevitable annual game where the Steelers fell flat on their face. Don’t discount the emotion and physicality that drained from the Steelers following the win over Baltimore last week. The high from that victory in Baltimore couldn’t quite be matched in intensity facing a bad team like Dallas.
They missed kicks. They got gashed in the run game. Dallas even found a way to make an impact in the return game. Pittsburgh did not make things easy on themselves, either.
Mix all that with the aforementioned Tomlin decisions and the Steelers probably shouldn’t be 8-0. But somehow, they are.
This just goes to show how anyone can beat anyone on any given week. A team starting their fourth quarterback of the season hung with the only undefeated team left in the National Football League. For the second week in a row, that undefeated team looked very vulnerable late in the game but rose to the occasion.
The supposed best team in the NFC in Seattle proved how bad their defense is. New Orleans beat up on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Even the potent Kansas City offense is coupled with a weak defense that struggled to stop an average Panthers team. Truly anything can happen in the NFL.
It’s totally feasible that the Steelers might be the most complete team in football. But, again, they almost lost to Dallas. Things are as wide open as they’ve been in the NFL for years. It should be a rather fun next few months.