The curious Vegas-lined week 3 game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and St. Louis Rams started with an ominous feel and may have foretold of treacherous goings inside the Edward Jones Stadium, but for who?
When one of the best overall defenses in the NFL with a NFC-leading eight sacks, and the top-ranked offensive unit in the league square off against each other on one of the fastest tracks in football, you can expect to see flames rising from the turf…literally—even before the opening kickoff, according to the Rams’ Sunday game when as the home team was coming out onto the field amidst the pyrotechnics display, the field itself burst into flames. A patch of turf inside the 5-yard zone to the far left (thankfully, somewhat out of major play) appeared to ignite with no visible cause as some players ran past it unaware. After it was quickly extinguished, someone brought what looked like their great grandfather’s old Shop Vac out to clean up the dust, dry chemical and ashes after strange and pointless attempts by foot to whisk away debris like a guilty child spilling cookie crumbs. Even stranger to this writer is how the game, delayed over twenty minutes by the incident, managed to end before several others. Maybe not so strange after reading the game summary.
FIRST QUARTER: The game got underway nearly twenty-five minutes late but it didn’t effect the Steelers’ sharpness as they proceeded to methodically march up the field with small-to-moderate dink-and-dunk plays highlighted by a 20-yard pass play down the middle to Le’Veon Bell before being held on two plays at the Rams’ 3-yard line and settling for a 21 -yard field goal by Josh Scobee. The Rams moved the ball to near mid-field but punted on their only possession of the quarter. Pittsburgh was on the move again as the quarter came to an end. Score: Steelers 3, Rams 0
SECOND QUARTER: The sharpest drive of the night on either side continued and was highlighted by one 19-yard run from Bell, and three pass of 19, 16, and 15 yards from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown. Le’Veon scored on a 1-yard run. Coach Tomlin, true to his word this past week that he will continue to go for the two-point conversion, did just that, but a pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey failed. Rams top draft pick Todd Gurley made his debut on this series but was ineffective and the Rams punted away. However, on the next Steelers drive, Rams corner Janoris Jenkins picked off a deep pass intended for receiver Markus Wheaton. Led by two completions from Nick Foles to Kenny Britt, the Rams’ Greg Zuerlein kicked a successful 49-yard field with plenty of distance to spare approaching the two-minute warning. Halftime Score: Steelers 9, Rams 3
THIRD QUARTER: The Rams continued the second half where they left off; more moderate play-calling highlighted by a 12-yard Benny Cunningham run and a 15-yard pass play to Britt, the Rams stalled near mid-field again and punted. The Steelers were now only looking as good as the Rams as they drove slowly up the field on plays no larger than an 8-yard gain until completing a 14-yarder to Brown. The drive stalled at the Pittsburgh 40 after Big Ben, sacked twice on consecutive plays (DT Aaron Donald/8-yard loss, Mark Barron/5-yard loss) late in the quarter, went down and stayed down, becoming the quarter’s only excitement as he left the game and didn’t return. Score: Steelers 9, Rams 3
FOURTH QUARTER: The final quarter opened with another two consecutive plays of sacks by the Rams defense, this time DE Robert Quinn and LB Alec Ogletree. Both defenses were playing well at this point. It wasn’t until a 34-yard penalty aided the Rams enough to score another field goal of 27 yards on the foot of Zuerlein inside six minutes to play. With 3:02 left to play, Steelers safety Will Allen intercepted a Foles pass in Rams territory but the Steelers could not go ten yards or puncture the red zone and kicked a 41-yard field at the two-minute warning. FINAL SCORE: Steelers 12, Rams 6
Credit the Steelers defense for saving this game, sure, they played their best game this season. However, this should have been a better game for several reasons. Nick Foles didn’t play his best and on some of his best passes there were drops. With their inability to sustain drives, their defense deserves more credit for cooling down one of the hottest quarterbacks in football. Add 5 more sacks to their collective total, though they must play the run better.
Le’Veon Bell looked to be in mid-season form, fresh-legged and seeing the field well…It also helps when the offensive coordinator uses a player to the best of their ability. Meanwhile, the highly-awaited rookie running sensation Todd Gurley made his debut and was in for two spaced-apart series. The eyeball test only revealed that the Rams O-line doesn’t blow people off the line and clear holes well. Gurley has not seen the field in some time and resembled Adrian Peterson’s first game back.
Big Ben injury update: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s knee injury is being called a MCL sprain and bone bruise. He is expected to miss 6 to 8 weeks. Michael Vick is slated to start in his place.
Fantasy implications: Before you storm off into week 4 with instant downgrades of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and trade them away, keep this in mind; Roethlisberger was injured late in the third quarter and had yet to throw a touchdown pass against a Rams defense that was appearing to tighten up at the time after lucking out in the first half considering how the Steelers moved the ball with mild ease. With Vick at the helm, Antonio Brown’s value may dip a bit or fluctuate (if you can get Julio Jones for him, go for it) but Le’Veon value should hold or increase as Vick is sure to check down (or bail out) often enough. This can also create opportunities for Brown, who is so good that it’s just a matter of how well Vick sees the field.