Week Nine Steelers Vs Raiders First Half Notes And Observations

The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to climb back into the win column with a game-winning drive at the end of regulation on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, edging above .500 once again. Below are my notes and observations from the first half of the game.

  • We were immediately introduced to the Steelers’ new kick returner, Jacoby Jones, after he returned the opening kickoff all of 16 yards out to the 21-yard line, after initially muffing the ball. But it’s not going to get better if the blocking doesn’t. It was glaringly obvious that as one Raiders defender was being doubled, another rushed in to make the tackle.
  • The first play of the game was designed to be a simple and easy one to get a rhythm, a quick out to Martavis Bryant. The second-year receiver had other ideas, dropping the amply catchable ball.
  • The Raiders blew their coverage on the third-and-four pass to DeAngelo Williams that went for a 33-yard gain. The Steelers stressed the middle of the field with two drag routes, confusing the inside linebacker as Williams leaked out of the backfield.
  • After a difficult but potentially catchable pass delivered to Heath Miller down the field on the next play, Darrius Heyward-Bey was guilty of the second drop of the drive on third and four, which would have given the Steelers the ball at the Raiders’ 30. The Steelers went for it on fourth down, with Oakland able to get a deflection to force a turnover on downs.
  • Newcomer Ross Cockrell was able to get a hand on the first pass of the day for Derek Carr, targeted for Amari Cooper, on first down, the deflection nearly lining up for an interception for Mike Mitchell.
  • While Ryan Shazier may not have been ideally positioned to defend the ensuing 44-yard run by Latavius Murray, credit must be given to the Raiders offensive line, who took advantage of a nickel look with an inside linebacker blitz. The center and guard were able to split the Steelers’ two ends and the big back simply found the hole.
  • The next play was a 22-yard pass to Michael Crabtree splitting Cockrell and Mitchell, but attention should be paid to Jarvis Jones, who walked the left tackle back into the pocket, showing some speed-to-power, and getting his arm up to contest the throw when the pressure did not arrive in time to reach the quarterback.
  • The second return for Jones on kick returns met similar problems as the first—multiple blockers non-strategically committed to the same defender, allowing another to go free.
  • The Steelers opened their second series out of a 22 look, featuring Jesse James with his first career snap on offense. Of course, out of this set came a 22-yard pass to Miller on a run-pass-option, with the Raiders stuffing the box to play the run.
  • Since his return, Ben Roethlisberger has picked up where he left off in terms of how the Steelers have played third-and-short situations—that is, attack vertically. Only it hasn’t been working, as attested to an overthrow of a possible 53-yard touchdown to Antonio Brown on third and three out of a relatively clean pocket.
  • Maddening inconsistency is what we saw out of Brad Wing last year, and we are seeing that this year from Jordan Berry, even if he purportedly leads the league in punts downed inside the 20. His first punt of the day, however, was an excellent one, at 51-yarder downed by Heyward-Bey at the two.
  • Raiders tight end Lee Smith blatantly and illegally kicked the ball out of bounds on second down after Shazier ripped the ball out of the receiver’s hand after a completed pass. I’m not sure exactly what penalty Oakland should have incurred for this incident, but it was clearly a missed infraction. Replay clearly shows the ball out before the ball carrier is down, and Smith essentially punts it out of bounds in a deliberate motion.
  • Justice fortunately prevailed, however, as safety Will Allen’s hit on Clive Walford on third down caused him to lose possession of the ball before securing it for the first down.
  • Jones losing three yards on his first punt return—that one is on him for choosing to run backwards.
  • The first career reception for Jesse James came on a deflected pass for a nine-yard gain. And I will say this for James, relative to Matt Spaeth—when James caught the ball, he didn’t look terrified of it.
  • After successfully driving down the field, with Brown largely the catalyst on the drive, Roethlisberger and Markus Wheaton were on the wrong page on the dreaded third and four, but Chris Boswell got the Steelers on the board.
  • Nose tackle Steve McLendon did not get much playing time in this game with Stephon Tuitt back and the defense staying in the nickel, but he is continuing to show very well, particularly against stretch run plays with his lateral agility and footwork, making the run stop on Murray on second down.
  • Roethlisberger made sure not to overthrow Brown this time, in fact underthrowing the ball, which forced the receiver to hold up and wait for the pass. As it was, the play went for 59 yards, but had Roethlisberger gotten more distance on the pass, it could have gone for 83 and a score.
  • Brown still picked up 21 of the remaining 24 yards on receptions of 12 and nine yards, which set up Williams for second-and-one at the three-yard line. Brown converted on third and nine with an excellent stiff arm on the defensive back on a crossing route.
  • From the three, Williams set up his hole by using his fullback to guide his footwork on what looked to be a designed run right through the A gap. In doing so, he sucked in the inside linebackers as he cut around right tackle for the relatively easy score.
  • On a first-and-10 pass from the 32, Lawrence Timmons slipped in coverage, with Shazier overrunning the play. A missed tackle from Antwon Blake added up to a 20-yard reception for Crabtree.
  • The drive was spared with a misfire from Carr to Cooper on third down, but the Raiders still pinned the Steelers down at the two.
  • The defense was able to hold them to two yards and a three-and-out, and Berry’s ensuing punt was a poor one, shanked out of bounds after 36 yards. The Raiders had to travel just 40 yards to score a wide open touchdown to Cooper for 15 on a blown coverage during which one of the inside linebackers was obviously supposed to carry him.
  • The Steelers were able to respond, however, on a drive centered around a key third-and-seven conversion, with a beautiful arcing pass delivered right into Brown’s lap for a 41-yard gain.
  • That put the ball on the 12, and Williams picked up 11 on first down. He came up just shy of the first on second down, and then lost yardage on third down, but Tomlin played it aggressive, and Williams not only converted but scored on fourth and a foot.
  • After the defense got the Raiders into a third and long, Tomlin used a timeout with 1:10 to play, using his last after a four-yard loss on a run blitz from Blake on third down.
  • That gave Roethlisberger 59 seconds to drive down the field, which he did, setting up Boswell for a successful 38-yard make to take a 21-14 lead into the locker room.
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