Harris: Dominant Steelers show no mercy to Carolina
The Steelers didn't mess around with Carolina.
The Panthers didn't want any part of the Steelers.
The best way to put a bad team out of its misery is to beat it down early and often. That's what the Steelers did Thursday night on a cold and wintry night at Heinz Field because that's what good teams do.
The Steelers don't need help from anyone. They control their playoff destiny. If they defeat Cleveland in the final regular-season game, they'll be the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind New England. That means a bye and extra week of rest and recovery for safety Troy Polamalu and defensive end Aaron Smith.
It was a strange week for the Steelers, who weren't in the best of moods after a tough home loss to the New York Jets.
The team's biggest challenge didn't come from Carolina; it came from their fourth-year coach.
Mike Tomlin called some of his players old. While it was a stale motivational ploy — a coach reaching deep into his bag of tricks to pump up self-motivated veterans who didn't need the kick in the pants — darned if it didn't work.
Tomlin has cornered the market on four-leaf clovers. He's been pushing the right buttons all season.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed the first four games because of a suspension, and the Steelers won.
Key players have been injured, and the Steelers keep winning.
Anyone detect a trend?
Tomlin doesn't have a "system" or call attention to himself, so he probably won't be in serious consideration for coach of the year accolades. But he deserves consideration because the Steelers weren't given much of a chance to win nine games at the start of the season much less 11 and possibly 12.
Of course, facing two-win Carolina helps when you're playing without Polamalu, Smith, Max Starks and Willie Colon, to name but four. But when you're hot, you're hot.
About the only thing the Steelers did wrong was fail to score after recovering a fumble on a kickoff return at the Carolina 28-yard line late in the first half. In the second half, the Steelers' biggest challenge was not losing interest.
Did we mention that Carolina has talent issues?
The Steelers were so much in control that they didn't need to resort to their shotgun spread attack that gave the offense life against the against the Jets and Cincinnati.
The shotgun spread is an interesting gadget. For a team like the Steelers, who struggle with pass protection, it forces the defense to account for four and five receivers with man coverage, reducing the number of players available to rush the quarterback.
The Steelers used the formation often against the Jets. As a result, Roethlisberger was relatively pressure-free.
The shotgun spread opened up the running game, as Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown against the Jets. Of course, the Steelers also learned a hard lesson when they ran a draw play from their 3-yard line and Mewelde Moore was tackled for a safety.
Tight end Heath Miller's return from post-concussion symptoms also reduced the need for four and five receivers against the Panthers. Miller had four receptions for 59 yards in the first half alone.
Roethlisberger and receiver Mike Wallace are developing a special chemistry. They connected on a 43-yard touchdown pass-and-run — emphasis on run — in the second quarter that featured Wallace covering the final 30 yards about as fast as a cheetah.
By halftime, Roethlisberger had completed 16 of 23 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown. By comparison, Carolina managed only 84 total yards.
If the NFL had a mercy rule, they would have used it last night. The Panthers were out of their league.