Random Steelers Observations: Week 10 Edition
The 2023 NFL season for the Pittsburgh Steelers thus far has resembled an episode of Stranger Things for this old Steelers fan. Up is down, and right is wrong. Nothing is as it seems, and you might as well throw logic right out the window.
The Steelers success this season, they currently sit at 5-3 in second place in the best division in the NFL, defies all logic. The Steelers have been outgained in every game this season. They are a bad first half team, particularly in the first quarter. But why should the anemic offense get all the credit, when the defense hasn’t lived up to expectations either.
The Steelers are the classic bend but don’t break defense thus far this season. Play it safe, keep it close, and try to win in the end with your surprisingly clutch second year QB. Plenty of soft zone coverages to prevent quick strike scoring plays. The thought process being the longer the opponent’s drive takes, the more opportunities for one of the Steelers superstar edge guys to make a game changing play. For the most part, that strategy was successful during the first half of the season, hence the winning record, but an abnormal amount of good fortune was required.
Good fortune is neither predictable, nor sustainable. If anything, the law of averages will catch up to you at some point, and balance the scales. I believe that the Steelers coaching staff are starting to acknowledge that reality, because they are finally implementing some personnel and coverage changes that myself and others have been suggesting for weeks now.
Levi Wallace has been replaced as a starter by Joey Porter Jr. Broderick Jones has finally earned a starting spot, even though he has been the Steelers best offensive tackle all season. Keannu Benton has absorbed more of the interior work along the defensive line, which has actually helped Montravius Adams play the best football of his career over the past few weeks. Isn’t it funny how often a player finds success when utilized correctly. Even the soft zone concepts aren’t being utilized as frequently. Could we be on the precipice of an increase in defensive creativity, similar to the second half of last season? More on that in the these observations.
Now it’s time for this week’s Steelers thoughts and observations:
I was extremely pleased with the Steelers offensive line performance against the Titans. The Titans possess a powerful and talented defensive front, but the Steelers line exceeded my expectations. The offensive line worked well in unison, even with a noticeable increase in players pulling. They consistently reached and executed their second level blocks. The athleticism and intensity of Broderick Jones was evident throughout, as was the precision of James Daniels and Isaac Seumalo. I believe that the offensive line is finally finding their groove, thanks in no small part to getting the best personnel on the field. That bodes well for the second half of the season.
Don’t look now, but Teryl Austin is starting to crank up the creativity level on defense, similar to the second half of last season. Last year, the Steelers utilized unique personnel packages in the second half of the season, depending on matchups, more than in any season I can remember. It was honestly refreshing. The Steelers used the three safety looks consistently, and the three inside linebacker looks on occasion. Austin revealed the three edge look against the Titans. He had Watt, Highsmith, and Nick Herbig on the field at the same time, with Herbig lining up off ball. This showed impressive creativity, and a willingness to utilize all the talent at your disposal. It also showcased the immense talents and versatility of Herbig, which will be needed in Cole Holcomb’s abscence. The Steelers have a talented quartet of edge players. Use them.
Speaking of Holcomb’s injury, I am most concerned about it’s impact on Kwon Alexander. Alexander has enjoyed an outstanding season thus far. His play has improved each week, as he gains comfort within the system. I would dare to say that he has been playing on an instinctual level in recent weeks. Now he will be wearing the green dot, and his presnap responsibilities will change. Hopefully this doesn’t negatively impact the suddenness of his recent performances. Elandon Roberts just needs to continue what he has been providing. Punishing physicality on the interior. I wholeheartedly believe that Mark Robinson is his perfect understudy. Hungry to learn and eager to contribute. In my opinion, Herbig holds the key to this group’s continued effectiveness. If Herbig can give quality minutes doing his best Holcomb impersonation, that should help prevent Alexander from getting beaten up and worn down over the second half of the season. Don’t underestimate the Steelers edge depth’s ability to contribute in this way.
Speaking of unusual creativity, plus the willingness to get all your available talent on the field, Darius Rush saw far more action against the Titans than anyone could have imagined. I definitely suggested it, but I never thought that the Steelers would actually do it. Leading up to the game, I kept hearing comments coming from the lockerroom about the talented rookie cornerback. Patrick Peterson commented about Rush’s football IQ, and his willingness to learn. What a great combination: insane length and athleticism, plus he’s a quick study. That’s exactly what the Steelers need from Rush, because if the Steelers can put two quality press corners behind their elite pass rush, then opposing offensive attacks are in for a rude awakening.
I am not sure what finally clicked, but Montravius Adams has been playing strong football over the past few weeks. It appears to be a much needed mindset change. Adams is reading run first, especially on early downs. This has allowed him to anchor and disengage far more efficiently. His effectiveness should only continue to improve, with his more focused usage and mindset, and the healthy return of Cameron Heyward.
Behold, we are witnessing the emergence of the Steelers next standout defensive lineman in Keannu Benton. Benton was my second highest rated defensive lineman in the class, but his rapid development is astonishing. Many evaluators questioned Benton’s pass rush potential, instead labeling him as a talented but limited run stuffer. Apparently they failed to pay proper attention to his Senior Bowl practices, where his insane natural athleticism and contact balance shown through. We hear contact balance mentioned often when evaluating running backs, but no where near enough at other positions, although it’s just as important. Benton flows through traffic effortlessly, leaving overmatched blockers in his wake. He reminds me very much of a young Heyward, which is the highest compliment.
I don’t like to use terms like must win this early in the season, but Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers definitely qualifies. The Steelers hold home field advantage, and they must hold serve against middle of the pack competition. They will also be wearing their throwback uniforms, and they have a perfect record when doing so. Nobody wants to be a part of breaking that streak. The Steelers need to get this victory through superior gameplans and player execution. Then continue to steadily improve into the second half of the season, filled with season defining division matchups.
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