I haven’t been satisfied with the way the coaching staff of the Pittsburgh Steelers have called several games in 2015. Against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, I finally saw some light at the end of what was becoming a dark tunnel. From head coach Mike Tomlin to offensive coordinator Todd Haley and defensive coordinator Keith Butler, the lack of adjustment and just silly play-calling was beginning to look like someone’s head would roll at the end of this season. I can’t let Joey Porter, Carnell Lake, Danny Smith, Mike Munchak or the rest of the assistant coaching staff off the hook, either. As a coaching staff – they were horrible when it came to game-time decisions.
Things were different from the jump against the Colts in week 13. Yes, Danny Smith probably regrets that the Steelers hired Jacoby Jones and allowed him into the game (after Jones mishandled two kick returns), but thank goodness he had the brains to park him on the bench.
On offense, the Steelers came out in the first two possessions with a different look and continued to change things up as far as personnel. Getting fullbacks Roosevelt Nix and Will Johnson into the game not only provided blocking help for the offensive line and rushers DeAngelo Williams and Fitzgerald Toussaint, but scoring opportunities. Without Heath Miller, Pittsburgh allowed Jesse James to get off of blocks into the field for catches while keeping Matt Spaeth at home on the line to block – his specialty. The Steelers also threw a little DHB – Darrius Heyward-Bey – into the mix as Ben Roethlisberger targeted seven different receivers on the night.
On defense, there were some major changes in the defensive backfield. Tomlin and Butler had hinted that there may be, and I had to nearly do a hallelujah when I saw the Steelers coaching staff actually live up to their word. Out came Brandon Boykin for truly the first time on defense – and guess what, fans were right to ask where he’d been. Boykin wasn’t a tackling machine (he had zero) but caught a critical interception off of a Will Gay tip and defended two passes. A lot of people are going to say that Boykin didn’t really give much of a performance if you look at his stats. What was important was that he allowed the other corners to not only get a breather after also playing on special teams, but a spark and look that Indianapolis wasn’t expecting. Boykin ended up playing 40 snaps on defense against the Colts.
Butler seemed to get on the same page with Lake and Porter by mixing up different sack packages with rotating personnel, both up front (defensive line and linebackers) as well as in the backfield (safeties and corners). It worked extremely well. In fact, it was the first time all season the defense has put the whole puzzle together for a complete game. Jarvis Jones and James Harrison worked from one side while Bud Dupree, Vince Williams and Arthur Moats did the same on the other. With good pressure from Cam Heyward, Cam Thomas, Stephon Tuitt, Steve McLendon, Terence Garvin, Lawrence Timmons and a Dan McCullers showing, safeties Mike Mitchell and Will Allen had relatively quiet nights. The pressure kept Matt Hasselbeck rattled, the Colts offense in a quagmire and gave Gay, Ross Cockrell, Boykin and especially Antwon Blake time to operate at a better pace.
I mention so many players because the coaching staff really got as many players involved as possible. The substitutions made the Steelers look fresh on the field and gave them a lift. It was a boost that I had been waiting to see after watching glimpses of it earlier in the season. I recommend Pittsburgh use a similar approach to finish out the season if they truly want a run at the postseason.
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