There is a lot to be happy about, if you’re a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, following Monday Night’s contest against Washington. The running game was there, the passing game couldn’t be stopped, but more than anything, the Steelers converted all red zone opportunities as well as third and fourth downs.
Pittsburgh finished the game going 9-14 on third downs (64%), while Washington posted a meager 3-10 (30%). And on fourth down, the Steelers were perfect, converting both attempts, while Kirk Cousins and company failed both of their fourth down attempts.
This was pivotal to the flow of the game, and contributed to Pittsburgh’s ability to control the tempo, largely starting in the second quarter.
That’s where I will be focusing, considering the first quarter was about as uneventful as a trip to the DMV. The first of their two fourth down conversions came at a key moment with just over ten minutes to go in the first half. It was fourth and one when Ben Roethlisberger faked the handoff and connected with Antonio Brown on the go route that resulted in a 29 yard touchdown, thrusting the Steelers into the lead.
The ensuing Washington drive showed just how the Steelers battled on third and fourth downs on the defensive side of the ball as well. Washington was looking to regain the lead after a big play by Desean Jackson, but on fourth down it was Robert Golden, with help from Sean Davis and Mike Mitchell, who stopped the Redskins shy of the marker, forcing a turnover on downs.
If it weren’t for the fourth down touchdown to AB, I would say this fourth down stop was the play of the game. While there was still plenty of time left to play, it took the wind out of Washington’s sails, and further solidified Pittsburgh’s momentum.
That would be evident immediately following the stop, as the Steelers were once again faced with third and fourth downs. First it was DeAngelo Williams converting a third and inches, but then they were faced with a fourth down just a few plays later.
This time, Ben hit Eli Rogers on the quick slant to convert and keep the drive going. Of course, it ended with the bizarre touchdown to Rogers, who caught the ball off a deflection on a pass intended for Sammie Coates. Regardless, Pittsburgh went into the half with a 14-6 lead.
Pittsburgh finished the half dominating third and fourth downs (5-8, 2-2). The second half wouldn’t showcase as many flashy plays, and they wouldn’t attempt any more fourth downs, but the Steelers continued to dominate and wouldn’t stop scoring. They converted four more third downs in the second half, conceding just one conversion to Washington.
And just as importantly, when Pittsburgh had the opportunity in the red zone to score, they put up points every single time. That’s a recipe for success.
This all culminated in the Steelers owning one facet of the game that tends to get overlooked: time of possession. They finished the game bolstering nearly 7 more minutes of possession than Washington, which clearly had an effect on their defense as they appeared to be worn out much throughout the game. When you dominate the offensive snap count, you’re difficult to beat, and that’s what Pittsburgh did Monday night.
Obviously, there were plenty of factors, including turnovers, run game, the offensive line etc., that contributed largely to the victory, but with their conversions on third and fourth down, as well as in the red zone, Pittsburgh ensured a week one victory.