Rookie safety Shamarko Thomas was used more on defense against Baltimore than he had been all season.
That was partly a result of how the Ravens attacked the Steelers and partly a result of how Thomas attacked the Ravens.
“Baltimore went all three-wide receivers (sets) pretty much,” defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “They probably didn’t have 10 snaps of regular or extra-tight end (sets) and Shamarko’s in that (six-defensive backs) package.
“He’ll play every snap if that’s what we get.”
Thomas will do so because he’s earning the playing time in something other than a special-teams setting.
He had six tackles on defense and another on special teams against Baltimore, and in a couple of those instances Thomas made sure the Ravens knew he was there.
“I think he’s growing,” LeBeau said. “He’s a physical guy, that’s what we liked about him, and he’s getting more comfortable in the defense and you’re seeing some of that
physicality show up.
“He made several really strong plays.”
Thomas’ development is a part of the Steelers’ next wave of young players beginning to emerge this season, which should help the cause the rest of the way in 2013 and
pay dividends down the road no matter how this season turns out.
Also included on that list at present are linebacker Jarvis Jones, guard David DeCastro, running back Le’Veon Bell, offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum, defensive lineman Cam Heyward and linebacker Vince Williams.
More (wide receiver Markus Wheaton? Nose tackle Steve McLendon?) may yet emerge.
“I’d say he’s on schedule,” LeBeau said of Thomas. “He’s a young player but I don’t worry about him when he’s in there. I know he’s going to go wrong some plays because he is new but he’s gonna be a good football player.”
It was a win the Steelers desperately needed and one that was achieved in a manner that suggested they have a little something on the ball after all.
But it would be a mistake to perceive last Sunday’s 19-6 triumph in the swamps of Jersey as an example of the “real” Steelers finally showing up following an uncharacteristic and unanticipated 0-4 start.
“We’d like to think that but until we start stacking wins on top of each other and until we’re consistent … only time will tell,” safety Troy Polamalu acknowledged.
In reality, they all count one.
And the one against the Jets, much like the majority of the losses that preceded it, was another one of those NFL affairs decided by a handful of plays.
The results could have been different against the Bengals, Bears and Vikings had just a couple of plays worked out in the Steelers’ favor. The same might even hold for the regular-season opener against the Titans.
But the same can also be said of the Jets game.
If Ben Roethlisberger gets sacked for a safety on the Steelers’ fourth offensive snap it’s probably a different game (somehow Roethlisberger escaped).
If Balil Powell runs for a first down or a touchdown on third-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 2-yard line during the Jets’ second possession it’s probably a different game
(he got stuffed by Cam Heyward and Brett Keisel and the Jets kicked a field goal).
If Geno Smith hits wide-open Stephen Hill for what could have been a 77-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter it’s probably a different game (Smith over-threw
Hill for an incompletion).
And if Smith doesn’t throw into triple-coverage and over-throw Konrad Reuland on first-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 23 midway through the third quarter with the Jets trailing 16-6 it’s probably a different game (Ryan Clark wound up with an interception).
Sunday’s showdown with the Ravens, likewise, will probably come down to a handful of decisive plays.
That the Steelers were capable of making those against the Jets doesn’t mean they will be again.
Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders spent some time on Tuesday night and again this afternoon explaining his motivation for and the significance of his flip into
the end zone last Sunday in the Meadowlands.
Since Mike Tomlin had already outlawed further such displays, Sanders’ explanations came off as beating a horse that, if not already dead, had at least clearly escaped the barn.
But given Sanders’ history this season, you have to wonder what he’ll come up with next in terms of ill-timed, ill-advised displays that betray his inability to keep
his eye on the ball.
Against Chicago, Sanders missed a block that contributed to a Felix Jones fumble.
Sanders reacted in anguish instantly, before the ball had been recovered, which it eventually was by the Bears.
And against Minnesota in London, Sanders cut off a route on what became an interception and once again reacted instantly and obviously to the mishap, before a tackle had been made and the play had been completed.
Sanders is a good player who can make the occasional splash play, one who blocks well and competes hard and is appreciated for as much in the Steelers’ locker room.
But he’s not yet a great player and one reason why is he’s too emotional and too caught up in his individual impact on a play (good or bad).
Sanders needs to tone it down, focus and understand that what ultimately matters is winning.
He’ll have plenty of time to react with as much emotion as he can muster in response to whatever the ultimate result.
Doing so prematurely isn’t helping Sanders or the Steelers.