— Although the Pittsburgh offense put up 43-points and the Steelers’ defense allowed 409-yards, it still feels like the ‘D’ was the story of the win. Probably because Santa Clara (San Francisco) was held to just three points in the first half. And probably because this Steelers offense has spoiled us while thinking of five sacks for the defense is usually a month-long-total kind of thought.
— Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, the team’s first-round draft pick from 2014, was “everywhere” according to both Jarvis Jones and your eyeballs. 17 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, a QB hit, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery is a pretty nice stat line, especially in a personal battle with his old Ohio State teammate Carlos Hyde (held to 43 yards on 14 carries, a 3.1 per carry average).
“He wants to do good every week, but we had to shut him down,” Shazier said of Hyde, a second-round pick from last year. “I told him we were going to get him before the game. That’s one of my close friends.”
Shazier was also part of the effort to limit quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the run game (8 carries for 54 yards), although not in a traditional ‘spy’ role.
“I don’t think it was just a spy job,” Shazier said. “We just read our keys and listened to what our coaches were telling us. In certain situations we knew we had to keep our eyes on him. It’s not really a spy, but when we saw that he was getting ready to go we had to have our hook droppers be ready for him.”
Shazier continued about Kaepernick, “The way he runs the ball it definitely changes the way you have to play. He’s a really good runner, and he has great vision so if you overrun a gap he can cut back and cut right to the holes you’re supposed to be in. You just have to stay disciplined.”
— About that Shazier sack, Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward said “he stole it”. That’s probably true, as Hewyard did the dirty work with initial penetration, causing Kaepernick to retreat 17-yards to the 2-yard line. But, Shazier used his speed to get around left tackle and made no mistake on the finish. One play later, Darrius Heyward-Bey was in the endzone and the Steelers led 22-3.
— Speaking of Heyward-Bey, although he only had four catches, two of them were game-changers as he got loose for 41-yards and for his 35-yard touchdown. I asked DHB after the game how dangerous he was as a deep threat, and he said modestly, “I just try to make a play whenever the ball comes my way.” I then asked if he was as fast as he’s ever been, and he said not-modestly, “I am always fast.”
— And speaking of modest, Ben Roethlisberger took credit for calling “almost every single play” after the game, but also described his confidence in DHB as “tons”. Roethlisberger said the offensive minds were discussing which play to run on the sideline before the Heyward-Bey touchdown, and Ben thought of the play because he had Heyward-Bey in his mind’s eye.
— Roethlisberger finished the day 21-of-27 passing, with 369-yards and three touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 155.8. It was the first time in Ben’s career that he started a season with back-to-back 300-plus-yard games (351 last week in the loss at New England), and the 39th of his career in the regular season.
In other historical QB footnotes, Roethlisberger tied Terry Bradshaw for the franchise lead with his 107th all-time win, and tied Sonny Jurgensen for 15th place all-time in touchdown passes with his three on Sunday giving him 255 for his career. Roethlisberger trails fellow-2004 draftees Eli Manning (261) and Philip Rivers (256) on the latter list.
— Antonio Brown was probably the game MVP again, though, let’s be honest. ‘AB’ pulled in nine catches for 195-yards (one shy of his highest single-game total in his career), with one touchdown and several key third-down conversions. Brown’s 28-yard grab on 3rd-and-10 got the Pittsburgh offense moving on their opening drive; his 12-yard catch on a 3rd-and-7 with a defender in his face moved the chains and his 59-yard grab behind two defenders was a thing of beauty; later, a 56-yard catch behind Tremaine Brock set up Brown’s own touchdown in the corner of the endzone on a schooling of the 49ers’ zone defense. Antonio Brown is ridiculously good.
— I have grown to mock, like many, the manufactured stat that Brown has at least five catches and 50-plus yards in 34 consecutive games (dating to Week 1 of the 2013 season). However, I somehow love the invented seven-plus catches in an NFL record 13 straight games, or 14 straight games if you include the playoffs. Yes, Brown catches quite a few “run-game-alternative” catches to boost his totals, but seven-plus catches every week is also ridiculously good. He seems truly unstoppable right now.
— The Steelers were unhappy with their redzone performance in Week 1’s loss to New England, mostly because they settled for a field goal after a 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard-line situation. Actually, they finished last week 2-for-3 in redzone appearances for touchdowns. Against San Francisco, they finished 5-for-5 in redzone trips resulting in TDs. And DeAngelo Williams was the beneficiary, or the creator, of three of them.
— In his two weeks filling in for the suspended Le’Veon Bell, Williams had 224 all-purpose yards, with a 4.97 per carry average on 41 totes. Roethlisberger said the prospects of getting Bell back next week is “great, [but] I think DeAngelo has done an awesome job. I don’t think it means he will stop being on the field.” Last year, Bell averaged 4.7 yards per carry. Although, Bell did have a 53-yards per game average in terms of receiving yards, and Williams this year has just five catches for 20-yards. Bottom line, both backs are capable of excelling, and I have no idea how they are going to split time. There may not be a wrong answer of how to use them.