Tim Benz: Feats of strength (and a few grievances) from Steelers' blowout victory
It's a short week. And, by extension, a long weekend. So, let's do our "Feats of Strength" and "Airing of Grievances" together to wrap up things on a Friday.
After the Steelers rolled to a 52-21 victory over Carolina at Heinz Field, there was a lot more good than bad. And most of the bad is what the Panthers did — or tried to do — to the Steelers.
FEATS OF STRENGTH
The Panthers marched 75 yards on nine plays in four minutes, 31 seconds to open the game. Forty of those yards were on the ground. The vaunted Panthers rush attack — second in the league entering the game — gained only 55 the rest of the way.
"The first series, we were adjusting," Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward end. "But after that, we settled in."
The Steelers were more willing to let Christian McCaffrey get his yards than they were willing to let quarterback Cam Newton get loose on the ground. That's part of the reason you saw T.J. Watt screaming upfield to the quarterback, even at the expense of letting McCaffery get by him on occasion.
"Definitely. On the zone read stuff, we had certain calls when I was going right for (Newton)," Watt said. "Just trying to take away one of the options. Because on zone reads, they are going to have one or the other. If you take away one option, you know what they are going to do the rest of the time."
Newton ended the game with just 10 yards on two carries. Stunningly, he was outrushed by Ben Roethlisberger, who had 27 yards on three carries.
The pass rush
The last two games against Cleveland and Baltimore, the pass-rush was effective. It bothered Baker Mayfield and Joe Flacco en route to victories against the Browns and Ravens. But it manifested in only four sacks in 74 passing attempts.
Last night, the Steelers dropped Newton five times. On a sixth pressure, Watt didn't sack Newton, but he forced a pass that turned into Vince Williams' interception for a touchdown.
"I just got wide. Blitzed off the edge," Watt said. "I couldn't get him down before he got the ball out. But I'm glad we got the pick-six."
Detecting a theme? Watt wasn't just good on that play or against the zone read. He also drilled Newton on a sack which forced a fumble. The Panthers recovered. But they lost 9 yards.
The hit was so beautiful. Naturally, I assumed he'd get a penalty. That's just how the NFL works these days. Any hit that looks hard gets a flag. Not in this case, though.
Watt had one tackle in the box score. The box score sometimes lies.
The offensive line. Again.
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked just once in 25 pass attempts. The running game averaged 4.6 yards per carry. That's the offensive line shining for a fifth consecutive game.
"We're just a band of brothers," center Maurkice Pouncey said. "This team fights. We've got a lot of good players. And we are all willing to work."
AIRING OF GRIEVANCES
Eric Reid's hit
Carolina safety Eric Reid hit Roethlisberger high and late as Roethlisberger was sliding.
He got ejected. He should've been. We'll see if the league fines him. If it does, it'll create a politically correct firestorm because some will assume the NFL is picking on Reid because he was an anthem kneeler.
But he should get fined. Just because Roethlisberger is OK, that doesn't mean that play is acceptable. Other players have been fined for much less. Ask Watt.
It was a big lovefest after the game. Roethlisberger and Pouncey absolved Reid because he apologized after the play. If Roethlisberger was concussed, the apology wouldn't mean much.
Kudos to David DeCastro and Pouncey for running to Roethlisberger's aid afterward.
"It's a hockey kind of thing," DeCastro said. "You've got to stand up for your guy."
Negative marks to Carolina's Donte Jackson (No. 26) for being a fake tough guy and reaching through three people to push DeCastro's facemask then walking away.
The first defensive drive
Like we said earlier. It happened. It wasn't good. But at least the defense rebounded.
I asked Heyward if he thought the Panthers were working off a script there. He said, based on the short week and the unpredictable nature of the zone read, maybe not. Jon Bostic thought it could've been the case, though.
Regardless, Carolina was "off script" badly the rest of the way.
In limited playing time, Burns was still beaten deep, giving up a long pass interference penalty. It cost the defense 24 yards.
All those "Le'Veon Who?" signs we saw at the stadium Thursday may get thrown in the trash really fast if Conner does have a concussion. Head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that Conner is in the protocol.