Occasionally, in an NFL game, the opening drive will tell you all you need to know. It will be an indicator of the disparity between the two teams all afternoon, and a telling beacon of what is to follow.
Sometimes, one team is just going to be able to push the other one all over the field, on both sides of the ball, drive after drive. That's certainly what it looked like Sunday in Nashville, with the Steelers opening the game with a magnum opus of a scoring drive, having their way with the Titans for the first half, but then having to hold on late to win. It reminded a bit of what their Week 8 opponents, the Ravens, did their last time out against the Eagles, having to cling for life in a game that they were controlling into the second half.
A win is a win, I suppose, and this was an impressive outing, knocking off the unbeaten Titans, 27-24. As shocking as it is that it became so close, after Pittsburgh stormed to a 27-7 lead and looked like it might score whenever it touched the football. It was a reminder of how quickly things can turn, and so far this season, even though they have let down in games -- and the Steelers have at some point nearly every week -- it left them the lone AFC unbeaten, flashing enough of what they can do so well to survive.
Pittsburgh did whatever it wanted on offense into the third quarter, sprinkling the ball to all receivers, dinking and dunking on early downs (this is a methodical offense more than a quick-strike one) and delivering knockout blows downfield on third down. Running back James Conner took over a few drives for good measure, and overall the results were nothing short of embarrassing for a Titans defense that has been suffering much of the season. The Steelers led 14-0 after their first two drives, going an astounding 7-for-7 on third down conversions despite often facing long yardage to the sticks.
It was a wild Week 7 Sunday and there's a lot to go over. John Breech and Ryan Wilson join Will Brinson on the Pick Six Podcast to break it all down; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness fired into your eardrums.
Ben Roethlisberger's first four third-down attempts had an average length of third-and-10, yet he went 4-for-4 for 61 yards on them through those first two drives, and then, facing third-and-2 from the 9, hit Dionte Johnson (who had successive 14 yard gains on third-and-longs early in the game) for a touchdown on a pretty inside-out route. Meantime, Titans running back Derrick Henry was continually pounded behind the line of scrimmage, the Titans line could generate no push and any hopes of trying to exploit novice middle linebacker Robert Spillane (who left the game late), in his first game replacing uber-athlete Devin Bush was quickly extinguished with the Titans tight ends catching one ball and featuring not at all in the first half (the second half was reduced to a preseason game, given how lopsided the score became).
The Steelers held the ball for 13:39 of the first quarter and Roethlisberger was never under any sort of duress, with the Titans lacking a pass rush and Big Ben's offensive line healthier than it has been all season. The Steelers ran 20 more plays than the Titans in the first half, ran up 228 yards to 83 for Tennessee (much of it coming very late in the second quarter). When the Titans managed to hang around in the third quarter for a spell, due in large part to busted coverage on a short pass and a Roethlisberger batted pass for an interception, the Steelers quickly turned it back on in the fourth quarter.
This is a Steelers team that can win in a shootout, we know that much. And it held on despite Big Ben tossing two late picks and despite the offense amassing just 134 yards in the second half and scoring just three points and getting ravaged on third downs. It was a total and complete reversal, but the reality is this team is good enough to beat very good teams without playing a complete game.
Perhaps that catches up to them soon. And having to go to a third-string middle linebacker might pose some problems. But at any given moment this offense can be elite and this defense can be stifling and that's not a bad combination.
Time for Texans to hold a fire sale
The Texans should trade anything they can. Couches from the owner's suite. Extra goal posts. The JUGGS guns. All of it.
Their defense is an abject failure and if they're going to give up 600 yards with Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt, they might as well find out what life is like without them and with some draft picks. Because Bill O'Brien blew this thing up on the way out, the cupboard is bare, Deshaun Watson doesn't have a fighting chance with this group and the results are beyond troubling. The David Johnson-De'Andre Hopkins trade looks more surreal by the day (yeah, that happened).
This game was over at the half, with the Packers leading, 21-0, rolling up 253 yards with Aaron Rodgers doing whatever he wanted (16-of-21 for 197 yards and three touchdowns). This is a thoroughly non-competitive outfit, by and large, week after week. Their cap and payroll are a mess and they are in desperate need of draft picks. Nothing short of a fire sale between now and the NFL combine makes sense.
Bills' troubles point to wild three-way AFC East race
The Bills have become entirely too field-goal reliant, and when your kicker can't make them, you've got problems. Josh Allen is getting off to slow starts, getting a little erratic with his footwork and trying to do too much. For the third straight week the offense has looked constricted and uncomfortable, and all season the run game lives or dies with the quarterback. No one else is getting it done on the ground. They have gone three weeks without a rushing score and have just four touchdowns in their last three games. They continue to give me pause, and the AFC East is going to be a wild three-way race to the finish, I believe. This should have been a feel-good game for the Bills, against the overmatched Jets, and it was anything but. Eight field goal attempts against a winless team will do that to you.
Burrow impressive despite loss
Joe Burrow continues to do magic things as a rookie. The ridiculous touchdown pass he threaded at the end of the first half was nothing short of perfect. He ran for a monster first down in the closing minutes on third-and-10 and capped that drive with a touch pass around the goal line to give his team yet another chance to win in the dying minutes, this time despite no Joe Mixon and a triage unit across the offensive line. This kid is going to win a ton of games in this league when he gets an infrastructure around him. Hope they stay very balanced and stick with the run with an already bad offensive line now reduced to backups in key spots. Of course, the Bengals gave up the game in the final minute, anyway, but there is nothing the Rookie of the Year could do about that
More Week 7 insider notes
- The Saints remain very vulnerable to allowing big plays and while they held on for a gutty win over a divisional opponent, this defense is not what it was a few years ago. Come January that's going to be a problem ...
- The Browns are who I thought they were -- they will beat enough bad or rebuilding teams to reach the expanded postseason but aren't ready for the big stage yet. Too many breakdowns on defense and Baker Mayfield's inconsistencies are magnified against teams that can pressure him and fool him with the zone blitz ...
- More Tony Pollard for the Cowboys. That Zeke Elliott contract won't age well at all and the running back seems to be in his own head and his own worst enemy in a season in which Dallas needs him more than ever. It's cute that the Cowboys have all those deep threats at a time when they have no OL anymore and can't run the ball and have the worst defense in the NFL ...
- The Falcons finding a new, ridiculous, ludicrous way to lose a football game should surprise no one at this point. The sad thing for them at 1-6 is that besides Calvin Ridley they don't even have much young talent that would draw you in to watch each week.