Thursday Night Football this week saw the Carolina Panthers (on a three game winning streak) come in to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers (on a four game winning streak). On paper it looked like it was going to be a titanic matchup and things started well for Carolina, as they scored on their first possession with Cam Newton passing short to Christian McCaffrey for a 20 yard touchdown.
In reality it was memorable for other reasons. The Steelers’ first offensive play resulted in a touchdown to 75 yard touchdown for Juju Smith- Schuster.
Things went from bad to worse as the Steelers made it two in 13 seconds on a defensive score. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton made a desperation pass to avoid being sacked by T.J. Watt in the end zone. The pass was intercepted by Vince Williams who raced 17 yards for the touchdown. And so the tone was set.
It was a match in which the Steelers showed their versatility. Having relied on James Conner in recent weeks the Steelers shifted the focus of the offense. This match never became the James Conner matchup against Luke Kuechly that many identified.
Instead, it was Ben Roethlisberger who dissected the Panthers. Ben was nearly perfect in the first half, completing 10 of 11 passes. Juju Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown both scored long first half touchdowns in this game and the Steelers scored an impressive 31 points in the first half.
But the Steelers weren’t done there. As the Steelers offensive line cocooned around their quarterback Ben took over. The Steelers unit of Villanueva, Foster, Pouncey, DeCastro and Feiler is one of the best in the league. As with most high powered offenses they rarely get the credit they deserve. They are part of the reason why the team has become so impressive of late.
The Steelers offence as a whole was dominant from start to finish. Ben wasn’t pressured most of the night, in stark contrast to Newton. His lone scary moment was when he too a helmet to the face from Carolina safety Eric Reid. Reid was ejected for the hit, harshly in my opinion. How can a player who is off their feet contort their body to avoid the quarterback, especially if they’re sliding late. Make no mistake though, this didn’t affect the outcome of the game. The Panthers were already beaten.
Pittsburgh scored on 7 of 9 possessions and Big Ben certainly finished with stats befitting his nickname as he went 22 of 25 for 328 and a whopping 5 touchdowns. Tight ends Vance McDonald and Jessie James scored a touchdown each while rookie Roosevelt Nix scored his first NFL touchdown. In fact, up 52-14 the team turned to backup quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Big Ben’s 88.0 completion percentage set a Steelers franchise record and a mark that will be tough to beat.
The game was already over by the time the Steelers watched James Connor leave the field in the fourth quarter. Losing him to the NFL’s concussion protocol meant that James couldn’t close out the game running as they may have liked. Perhaps more importantly it puts his status for next week’s match in question.
It wasn’t just the offense that excelled here though. The Steelers defence continues to play pretty well. Both Bud Dupree and TJ Watt made their presence felt, harassing Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Cameron Heyward recorded a pair of sacks, Jon Bostic had 10 tackles, the Steeler recorded 7 tackles for a loss and the Panthers rarely got the ball down field. The Panthers offense was forced to rely on Christian McCaffery and struggled when he didn’t get the ball. The former Stanford running back looked effective as a runner but was most impressive catching the ball out of the backfield. McCaffery finished with 3 touchdowns (one running, two receiving), 77 yards on 14 carries on the ground and 5 receptions for 61 yards. Pittsburgh was able to constantly pressure Cam Newton and also shut down the run. Newton had been sacked 12 times at the start of the night, by the end that figure was up to 17! The Steelers swarmed their way to 5 sacks and constantly pressured Newton.