If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that nothing comes easy. For what seems like the millionth time, the Steelers struggled to put a team away they should've buried early. However, all that counts is putting another 'W' in the win column. And in 11 opportunities, the Steelers have put 11 wins in that column.
The path to an undefeated season looks much easier after a win over their division rival Baltimore. But this team wants more. They want to win playoff games and eventually play in the Super Bowl. With Kansas City hot on their heels, the Steelers legitimately may need to finish 16-0 to get the number one seed and the first-round bye.
Exciting times continue in Pittsburgh, but the work isn't done. As always, there's much to discuss. Victory vibes activated, let's discuss.
The only thing perfect about the Steelers is their record
Mike Tomlin said it best on a few occasions that despite their perfect record, there is nothing perfect about this team. That was evident today.
Offensively, the Steelers never really got going. Sure, they rose up when they had to. But they never really clicked in this one.
Ben Roethlisberger looked fairly sharp in this one. He certainly was at fault for a few of the drops by the receivers with some misplaced passes but those primarily were on the receivers. While both of the Steelers' fumbles were near the sidelines and went out of bounds, the receivers need to be more disciplined and aware when carrying it.
The running game did its part today. Neither Benny Snell nor Anthony McFarland had an exceptional game, but they did just enough to get by. Snell had a few impressive runs where he extended the play and gained yards on what looked to be a loss in the backfield. Between the two, they averaged 3.6 yards per carry. They generally left a lot to be desired.
And the slow starts. I mean, they really need to subside.
If they meet Patrick Mahomes in the AFC Championship game, then there is no way they can come out that flat offensively and have a chance. It's just not going to happen. The defense is good enough to overcome some of Mahomes, but inevitably they're going to torch you.
Now that the negative rant is out of the way, on to the important stuff.
Bud Dupree's loss looms large
Watching Dupree go down, essentially non-contact, coming off the edge late in the fourth quarter and going to the ground clutching his knee was not fun. While Alex Highsmith might just be okay, losing Dupree is a huge blow when Devin Bush is already gone for the season.
Initial tests seem to indicate a torn ACL for Dupree. That stands to mean Dupree has likely played his last down for the Pittsburgh Steelers as he is playing on the franchise tag. That is such an unfortunate blow to the defense.
Highsmith was the Steelers' third-round pick this offseason and was pegged as the eventual Dupree replacement following the season. It looks as though his time is coming sooner rather than later.
Dupree made Watt more effective and vice versa. Both are good players on their own but containing both is not an easy thing to do. Hopefully, for the defense's sake, Highsmith can be good enough to continue the pressure off the edge.
Give it up for James Washington
Between the Steelers' top three receivers, Washington gets no love. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool get all the love and attention in the passing game. Washington doesn't get the ball much anymore.
However, Washington made the play of the game on a third-down late in the game.
Roethlisberger tossed a floater in the direction of five players, four of them being Ravens defenders. Yet it was Washington who came away with the ball furthering his reputation as the combat catch king of the Steelers' receiving core.
Washington has done nothing but produce in his limited chance. Last year, in a season full of mediocre quarterback play, he was the leading receiver on the team in most statistical categories. He seemed to be a favorite receiver of Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph last year.
Roethlisberger always seems to be a proponent of Washington, but his playing time and target share haven't quite matched that trust. This catch, seemingly sealing the game for the Steelers, should lead to more opportunity.
There are a lot of mouths to feed, without a doubt. JuJu Smith-Schuster likely will depart following this season. Washington should then slide into the number three spot on the depth chart with an opportunity to play his way into even more targets. He's as talented as any of the receivers on the team and this game shows why he deserves more chances.
Can we hand Watt Defensive Player of the Year now?
Losing Dupree on the opposite side likely will hinder Watt a little bit. But let's be real, he is as talented and ferocious as they come.
It is a wonder how 29 other teams passed on Watt and he fell to the Steelers at number 30. Upon drafting him, people knew Watt is the younger brother of Texans star, J.J., and expected him to at least be similar to his brother. T.J. has arguably been even better.
He got another sack tonight and had a few tackles for a loss. He blew up multiple plays in the backfield despite the speed of the offensive backfield for the Ravens.
Watching Watt work is incredible. He goes full speed every single play. He never gives less than 110% on any given play. The work ethic and motor on Watt is unbelievable.
He's approaching Aaron Donald territory, and I don't think that is too much of a stretch. Watt is so disruptive and always has a nose for the ball. He's one of the best strip sack artists in the game. Watt's ability to punch the ball out of the ball carrier's hands is insane. He even drops into coverage every so often and makes plays in that area of the game as well. There is never a time that Watt seems out of place.
If he continues on this pace without Dupree, Watt deserves Defensive Player of the Year. He arguably should've won last year but Stephon Gilmore won it. Right now, there isn't a close second.
Can the Steelers sustain this throwing 45+ times?
Roethlisberger attempted 51 passes on Wednesday. He attempted 46 in the prior two games and 42 in the game before that. This, in turn, means the Steelers obviously aren't running the ball much.
The running game hasn't been good. Whether you want to point the blame at the running backs or the run blocking, the point is it has been bad. That probably has to change for continued success, especially in the playoffs.
I'm not a firm believer that they need to be balanced. I think balance in the NFL is overrated. The Chiefs have the most talented player in the NFL throwing the ball and are a pass-heavy team. It can be done.
The Steelers have got to be mindful of the fact that their 38-year old quarterback is no young man. Airing it out 50 times a game may not be the smartest thing. However, they are winning. 11 out of 11 times, in fact.
If all goes well, the Steelers will continue to be a pass-heavy team, and James Conner's time off may help him going forward. Conner can come back fresh and produce well enough down the stretch that teams have to respect both the passing and running game heading into the playoffs.
11-0, Steelers fans. Embrace this. Times are fun in Pittsburgh. Let's see how long they can make this last and if a Super Bowl run could be in the cards.