Josh Shreckengost | High Top Sports Network
My absolute favorite thing about football is that it is the quintessential team game. No matter how individually talented a team may be at a position, it takes all 11 guys on offense, defense and special teams to put together a victory. In every other major sport, an individual can literally "take over the game" and will his or her team to victory. Not football.
So far in 2020, the Steelers have looked like the true definition of "team" by the way that they have been able to pick one another up. That's the main reason why they're 4-0 in 2020 and why they were able to avoid disaster and gut out a 38-29 win over the visiting Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5. The offense finally broke out and put up 30-plus points for the first time since a Week 12 loss to the then-San Diego Chargers in 2018. The Steelers snapped what was a 23-game streak without 30-plus points which was the longest in the NFL until Sunday. It couldn't have come at a better time as the defense uncharacteristically coughed up 29 points to what is a mediocre-at-best Eagles team. Yet when Eric Ebron fumbled with the Eagles down just two points in the fourth quarter, the defense made a play when it had to thanks to Joe Haden's pass break-up which forced the Eagles to attempt a 57-yard field goal which fell short. Less than 20 seconds later, Big Ben found rookie Chase Claypool for his third TD reception of the afternoon to ice a game that was much closer than it should have been late in the fourth quarter.
That's what a team does: find a way to win. The Steelers have been finding a variety of ways to win in 2020 and should this trend continue, Pittsburgh must be considered a contender for at least a deep run in the playoffs.
In this week's three Big Play Bullet points, we break down Claypool's emergence, the defense's up-and-down outing and why Big Ben is off to the best start of his 17-year career. Let's go!
· Mapletron has arrived
Well, early indications are that the Steelers have unearthed yet another gem at the wide receiver position via the draft in Chase Claypool. The second-rounder had a monster game against the Eagles, with seven catches for 110 yards and three touchdown grabs to go along with a two-yard rushing touchdown. His four total TDs are a Steelers rookie record and Claypool the first Steeler to score four touchdowns in a game since Roy Jefferson accomplished the feat all the way back in 1968. We've seen flashes of what Claypool can do over the team's first three games, highlighted by an 84-yard TD catch-and-run during the team's 26-21 win over Denver back on Sept. 20. Claypool did a little of everything against the Eagles, running the ball with authority on short yardage for a score and taking a shallow cross to the house. Claypool was targeted by Ben Roethlisberger a team-high 11 times in the win over Philly and he played a huge role in the team's offense after Diontae Johnson exited early with a concussion. Roethlisberger said that Claypool was "special, he has some God-given abilities" after the game and that is certainly an understatement. You wouldn't expect the Steelers to give Claypool that much run against the Eagles and not continue to target him and increase his workload in the weeks to come. Look for Claypool to become more and more involved in the offensive game plan as the season progresses.
· The D appeared, disappeared then reappeared
Though Pittsburgh's vaunted defense gave up 21 points to both the Broncos and Texans after holding the Giants to just 16 in the season opener, it had its worst outing of the season against the Eagles and allowed a season-high 29 points to the Eagles. The performance was inconsistent to say the least. Though they were gashed by Miles Sanders for a 74-yard touchdown run, the Steelers were able to suffocate Sanders and the rest of Philadelphia's rushing attack for the majority of the afternoon. Sanders finished with 80 yards on 11 carries, which meant on his other 10 carries, he gained only six yards. The Steelers also held Carson Wentz to 11 rushing yards on four carries and did not allow Philly to eclipse 100 rushing yards for the game, despite Sanders' long TD jaunt. The Pittsburgh secondary also struggled against wide receiver Travis Flugham who had a career day with 10 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown. The second-year player from Old Dominion looked like Calvin Johnson against the Steelers' secondary, but Mike Hilton again led the team in tackles and Steven Nelson recorded two interceptions of Wentz, the second of which sealed the Steelers' victory. The D also squandered a 17-point lead and the Eagles were within two points late in the game, but a sack by Stephon Tuitt and a pass break-up by Haden kept the Eagles at bay. Team also added five more sacks to its league-leading total of 20, which ties them with the Los Angeles Rams, who have played one more game than the Steelers. In all, the defense needs to tighten up going forward, especially with a stretch of games that will include road contests against the Cowboys, Titans and Ravens.
· Like a fine win, Big Ben better with age
There were points in the game against the Eagles that I was sincerely worried about Ben Roethlisberger's arm. Everything seemed to be short and underneath and he was missing the deep ball down the field. Yet Roethlisberger threw three touchdowns and no interceptions against Philly and though his 27 completions amounted to just 239 yards -- a paltry average of 8.8 yards -- the efficiency and game management Big Ben showed on Sunday marked a new chapter in the evolution of his Hall of Fame career. After coming back from major elbow surgery, Big Ben has been nearly mistake-free and the Steelers are undefeated and that is surely no coincidence. Roethlisberger is completing a career-best 69.93 percent of his throws this season (his previous season best was 68.02 percent in 2015) and he has 10 TD passes against just one interception for a career-high rating of 110.4. Roethlisberger's QBR against the Eagles was 125.9, the highest of any QB in the NFL in Week 5. What has become abundantly clear over the first four games of the 2020 season is that Roethlisberger's decision making has improved and his grasp of the offense and knowledge of the personnel surrounding him is at an all-time high. Roethlisberger also doesn't have an Antonio Brown griping about the number of balls he sees during a game and the running backs behind him aren't high-carry workhorses like Le'Veon Bell or Willie Parker. That allows Big Ben to run the show on his terms and that has paid huge dividends for the Steelers during the first quarter of the 2020 campaign. I believe that Roethlisberger will only continue to improve and regain his arm strength and accuracy and, so long as he stays healthy, the Steelers can beat any team in the NFL.
Make sure to check back every week after each Steelers game for Shreck’s Steelers Synopsis as Josh Shreckengost posts his musings, observations and opinions on the Black and Gold here at www.hightopsportsnetwork.com.