What we learned: 5 leftovers from Steelers’ convincing win over Panthers
Five things we learned from Steelers 52, Panthers 21.
1. It was like a Little League game in that everybody plays
Coach Mike Tomlin used every player on his 53-man roster and that wasn’t simply due to the Steelers owning a 38-point lead five seconds into the fourth quarter.
With the Steelers playing for the second time in five days, Tomlin wanted to keep players such as running back James Conner fresh. Which is why backups Stevan Ridley and Jaylen Samuels were infused into the game plan well before Conner left with a potential concussion in the second half.
Nine players caught a pass, five had carries and even embattled cornerback Artie Burns got into the game on defense in the fourth quarter.
With the game well in hand, Tomlin also was able to rest guard David DeCastro and center Maurkice Pouncey for the final few series. The Steelers, with no significant injuries to report, should be plenty rested when they play at Jacksonville on Nov. 18.
2. The defensive game plan was pretty basic
The Steelers stayed in their base 3-4 defense for much of the game, and the players that typically leave the field on subpackages made significant contributions.
Jon Bostic had a game-high 10 tackles.
Javon Hargrave was second on the Steelers with six tackles.
Vince Williams had four tackles, a sack and a 17-yard interception return for a touchdown.
3. A forgotten face had multiple sacks
Defensive end Cameron Heyward was coming off an All-Pro season in which he led the Steelers with 12 sacks, becoming the Steelers’ first lineman to reach double digits since 1986.
Such success led to inevitable double teams for Heyward and, as a result, he had just 2.5 sacks through the first half of the season.
On Thursday, the Panthers couldn’t keep Heyward from collapsing the pocket, and he sacked quarterback Cam Newton twice – a 5-yard loss in the first quarter and a 10-yard reduction in the fourth.
Perhaps the Panthers were mindful that Stephon Tuitt had gotten a sack in each of the previous three games. Tuitt didn’t get to Newton, but Heyward was more than willing to pick up the slack and the result was a strong start to his second half of the season.
4. The color yellow was confined to Terrible Towels
It took nine games, but the Steelers are no longer the most-penalized team in the NFL.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the blowout win was that the Steelers didn’t draw a flag until 6 minutes, 14 seconds remained in the game. And that one flag came against Burns, who was called for a 24-yard pass interference, a penalty that set up Carolina’s final touchdown.
Through nine games, the Steelers have had 75 penalties accepted. The Kansas City Chiefs take over the mantle of being the worst offenders, with 76 accepted penalties.
5. The players got extra time off for good behavior
Tomlin essentially told his players he doesn’t want to see them again until Wednesday, a five-day break that is 24 hours longer than the time off the Steelers received during their bye.
A three-day respite was expected, but Tomlin also excused the players from Monday film review and meetings. Tuesday is the traditional day off for the players, which means by the time they report back to UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Wednesday morning, they will know whether Le’Veon Bell has signed his franchise-tag tender or if he will sit out the rest of the season.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at email@example.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.