The Steelers opened the season with the defense carrying the offense and special teams to victory over the Falcons. A week later, special teams joined the defense in carrying the Steelers to victory over the Titans while the offense was along for the ride.
Against Tampa Bay the Steelers offense roared to life, putting 31 points on the board while the defense continued to dominate.
Lest any part of the story become bland, the Steelers offensive explosion was led by Charlie Batch, a man who was not even an after thought only 30 days ago.
Tampa Tries to Turn the Tables
This game was filled with subplots. Mike Tomlin squaring off against his protégée and best friend Raheem Morris.
Greg Lloyd making his coaching debut against the Steelers.
Josh Freeman growing into his “little Ben” role on the heels of a surprise 2-0 start.
And for a while it appeared Tampa might have caught Tomlin in a trap game as the Buccaneers intercepted Charlie Batch’s first pass and took a quick 3-0 lead.
Batch struck back quickly with his 46 yard lob to Mike Wallace, but Tampa showed no signs of relenting.
On the next possession Tampa looked every bit as impressive as advertised. Their offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. Josh Freeman was evading the rush, scrambling around, and hitting open receivers on the run.
Freeman, in fact, played like “little Ben” and it looked like the story line was setting in: The pupil surpasses the master; the upstart team serves the NFL notice by surprising an established contender.
That is how it was shaping up as Tampa marched from its 21 to the Steelers 7, threatening to retake the lead.
Dick LeBeau and the Steelers defenses’ pride must have been hurt by that, because at that point they shifted into high gear and never looked back, forcing Freeman into 3 ineffective plays that ended in a field goal.
Charlie Batch Answers the Call
Up to this point in the 2010 season the Steelers offense had not shown much. Yes, Mendenhall’s 50 yard overtime bust against Atlanta was impressive. And Batch’s 46 yard strike to Mike Wallace was also good, although both men benefited from Cody Grimm’s mental error. So the question still hung in the air, could this unit go the length of the field?
Charlie Batch and Rashard Mendenhall answered with a definitive “YES” on the next drive, going 90 yards, 26 of which came on a 3rd down scramble by Batch, and ended with a 3 yard touchdown run by Mendenhall.
Against the Falcons Troy Polamalu’s interception gave the Steelers the chance to win the game in over time. The offense could only muster a meager sum of yards, and Jeff Reed missed makeable field goal.
Against the Titans, the Steelers defense presented the offense with 7 turnovers, of which the offense was only able to convert into 12 points off of field goals.
Without Roethlisberger, could the Steelers offense be capable of converting turnovers into touchdowns?
Again, Batch answered the call.
Two plays after Ryan Clark recovered a fumble Batch lit it up again, with a 41 yard pass to Mike Wallace. It wasn’t perfect, the pass should have been picked off but, as Mike Tomlin says, they don’t add points for style.
Steelers Sitting Pretty at 3-0
It is still early in the season and the Steelers still have yet to play their most difficult opponents, let alone division rivals.
But with each week, they slip something else into place. As Tampa showed in the early going, it is a mistake to take any team for granted in the NFL. Let a young, hungry team build some momentum, and you open yourself to an upset (remember last year against KC?)
The Steelers prevented that from happening today. The defense dominated. Josh Freeman, after starting strong out of the gate, ended confused, battered, and befuddled. Cadillac Williams ran like a second-hand Chevette.
So far we have a mirror image of last week’s contest in Tennessee.
The difference this Sunday was that the Steelers offense took care of business to the point where Brett Kesiel’s 4th quarter 79 yard pick-six was simply icing on the cake.
It is safe to say that few predicted a 3-0 start for the Steelers. Next week brings the Steelers their biggest test as the division rival Baltimore Ravens come to Pittsburgh.
Could the Steelers improve their mark and hand Ben Roethlisberger a 4-0 record?
After what the Steelers offense showed today, we can begin discussing that as a realistic possibility.
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