Film Room: Steelers Winning Possession Downs

One of Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s preferred phrases in recent years has been “possession downs”, and for good reason. Success in football ultimately comes down to success in specific situations, and one of the critical areas in which teams must find success are the so-called possession downs.

Put simply, possession downs are the plays on a drive on which you either extend or end the drive. Failure to execute and gain a first down will result in either a punt or a turnover on downs. And in this area of the game, the Steelers were for pretty much the first time all season exceptional.

As I wrote about earlier this week, the offense successfully converted on nine of their 13 possession-down scenarios, including a fourth-and-one touchdown shovel pass to Xavier Grimble, which I won’t feature here. But I have almost all the rest covered below.

The Steelers faced three possession downs on their opening drive and came out of it with a touchdown. It started off with a quick-hitter to Le’Veon Bell out of the slot on third and one from the Packers’ 20-yard line.

Just about a minute and a half later, the offense faced a third and six, where they’ve struggled all year. But here, a well-designed and executed screen to Jesse James picked up six, aided by an excellent block from David DeCastro. It’s worth noting that the Packers blanketed James in similar situations for the rest of the game after this play.

Third and medium was a popular range for Pittsburgh, in the four-to-six yard region. This third-and-five was converted with James lined up in a bunch set to the right, using paired routes of varying depth crossing over the middle to widen the defending area.

Similarly, using a mesh concept over the middle, they were able to get Antonio Brown free beyond the safety to pick up the first on third and one.

Even when execution fails, playmaking rises to the occasion. Roethlisberger stepped up in to the pocket here in order to deliver the ball to Brown, who was able to quickly turn up field and pick up 39.

While Martavis Bryant’s touchdown was nice, his third-down conversion in the third quarter had a higher degree of difficulty, and he deserves most of the credit for going up and getting this one.

In the fourth, past midfield and in a tie game, the Steelers gave the ball to Le’Veon Bell out of the 11, relying upon the blocking acumen of their receivers to spring him. He one-cut a defender to pick himself up a chunk of yardage when he only needed a yard.

Execution in critical moments has been this offense’s greatest flaw all season, even if they have been able to overcome it. But if this last game is any indication, they are in the process of reforming it into a strength.

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