The Steelers were faced with a double test on Sunday in their first game to be played without starting inside linebacker Devin Bush.
So far, so good.
Bush was placed on injured reserve and is expected to miss the remainder of the 2020 season after suffering an ACL injury that required surgery in the Steelers’ Week 6 win over the Cleveland Browns.
His replacement, third-year pro Robert Spillane, performed admirably against tough competition. The Tennessee Titans run the ball with All-Pro back Derrick Henry better than almost anyone in the country and the also use a pair of talented tight ends and play-action passes to put pressure on defenses.
But the inexperienced Spillane, making his first career start after playing just 39 career snaps on defense coming into the game, proved to be mostly up to the task in Pittsburgh’s 27-24 victory.
“It’s very tough to fill in that middle linebacker position, especially when you have a player as talented as Devin is,” outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “We truly believe in the next-man-up mentality and I feel like Rob Spillane did a great job.”
The Steelers also made some other changes, moving Bud Dupree around the defense and also some modifications to their sub packages in order to replicate the three-down effort that Bush usually brings.
“We knew it was going to take the whole team to provide depth for Devin,” Spillane said. “We knew it was going to be 11 on defense, offense and special teams to make up for his absence.”
Spillane’s biggest impact — literally — came in the second half at the Steelers’ goal line, when he plugged a gap on a running play and collided with Henry at full speed.
Robert Spillane, I SALUTE you. If people didn't know who you were before this play, they will after this. I promise you, you will see this play ALL WEEK! pic.twitter.com/koZzfUsvFo
— Charlie Batch (@CharlieBatch16) October 25, 2020
“They’re on the 1-yard line,” Spillane said. “They’ve got a 250-pound running back. There’s no going slow into the hole. I took all my force with me and TJ was there to help, as well.”
Spillane briefly left the game after the big hit and the Titans wound up scoring later on that drive after a defensive penalty on Minkah Fitzpatrick, but on the whole, there defense did a better job of limiting Henry and company than most.
He finished the afternoon with 75 yards on 20 carries, which is the second-lowest rushing total for for the big back over his last 10 games.
On the whole, the Steelers weren’t completely satisfied with their performance defensively, especially in the second half but Spillane’s fill-in work did the trick.
From the Steelers Locker Room: Ben Roethlisberger Admits Offensive Struggles, Defends Receivers
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger answered questions from the media, including Alan Saunders of Steelers Now, after his team’s 19-14 win over the Ravens.
Roethlisberger admitted the offensive struggles, defended his receivers and expressed moving focus to getting better.
Steelers Postgame Show: Steelers Move on From Ravens with Sloppy Win
After several postponements and an extremely bizarre week plus leading up to the game, the Steelers now move on from Week 12 still undefeated after a 19-14 win over the Ravens.
Host Mike Asti was joined by Steelers Now colleague Cale Berger on Pittsburgh Postgame on Pittsburgh Sports Live to discuss everything that was the sloppy Wednesday afternoon game. Have the Steelers slowly been exposed this season despite winning? Does the running game need fixed for this team to make a championship run (no pun intended)? Mike and Cale answer those questions and more while evaluating just how good the 11-0 Steelers actually are.
They couldn’t fully move on without talking about some questionable decisions by the NFL in continuously moving this game but not others around the league.
Mike Tomlin Unloads on Steelers ‘Disappointing’ Performance in Win over Ravens
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated their arch rivals on Wednesday afternoon, beating the Baltimore Ravens 19-14 to sweep the season series against Baltimore for the second time in 11 seasons and improve to an AFC- and NFL-leading 11-0 on the 2020 season.
None of that made Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin very happy.
Despite the victory, the Steelers played a sloppy football game, with two turnovers, big plays against the defense and a plethora of dropped passes that conspired to keep the depleted Ravens in the game far longer than they should have been.
Tomlin did not pull any punches in letting his team and the public know how disappointed he was in the performance, even after a win.
“To be bluntly honest, I’m really disappointed in our performance tonight,” Tomlin said to lead off his postgame press conference. “We did enough to win, but that’s all. It was really junior varsity, to be quite honest with you. It was in all three phases.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 2, 2020
“We couldn’t run the ball effective when we needed to. We dropped too many significant passes — very catchable, makable passes. We didn’t make significant plays in the special teams game. Our kickoff coverage unit wasn’t good enough. We turned the damn ball over. We gave up big plays in critical moments on defense. Can’t have it. They converted a long run on a possession down before the half. Unacceptable. They had a 70-yard touchdown late in the game. Unacceptable.
“We’re fortunate tonight. It’s good to proceed with the victory. I acknowledge that. But not a lot happened tonight to be proud of or be excited about.”
Tomlin would not accept the almost insane set of circumstances leading up to the game, with it postponed three times and finally played at 3:40 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, as an excuse for his team’s play.
When asked specifically about the offense’s struggles with dropped passes and in the red zone, Tomlin was just as blunt and even more concise:
Tomlin add that he could not recall the last time he was this upset after a win.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I know this one is pretty frustrating.”