Though it’s somewhat on the lower end for them this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers managed to put up 376 yards of offense on the New England Patriots on Sunday, their most in the past three games. Though their net passing was at a season-low of just 218, they rushed for 158 yards, their third-highest of the season, missing the second-most spot by just a yard.
In other words, in terms of moving the ball it was actually a pretty good day, and makes it hard to explain how they only came away with 17 points. A missed field goal helps, but only so much. Poor field positioning was among their crosses to bear, as they started from within their own 10 three times and never better than the 28. Below are, in my opinion, the six offensive plays that best explain why the team didn’t get better results on the scoreboard for their offensive performance.
The first play of note came on their second drive, after scoring a touchdown on their opening possession. They started with their best field position of the day at the 28 and ran a couple of successful plays out to the 47-yard line.
Then rookie running back Jaylen Samuels missed a hot blitz read, allowing Kyle Van Noy to get to Ben Roethlisberger unabated for a 10-yard loss. This sabotaged a promising drive, and the offense would surrender another sack on third and 16 two plays later.
In the middle of the second quarter, on a drive that began on their own one-yard line, the offense was able to move 53 yards on just four plays before Roethlisberger overthrew JuJu Smith-Schuster just past midfield on second and 10, with safety Duron Harmon intercepting the pass. Had the turnover not occurred, it still would have been third and 10 though, admittedly, and the defense did force a three and out.
On the next position, as the Steelers found themselves near midfield again, they had a third and two on which Roethlisberger couldn’t fit the ball to Smith-Schuster. This was probably about as well as the Patriots covered all night and they were able to get off the field at a big moment in the first half.
In the middle of the third quarter, Pittsburgh drove from their own 21 all the way down to the Patriots’ four, but on second and goal, Matt Feiler lost control of Lawrence Guy, who forced Roethlisberger to throw the ball away for an intentional grounding penalty. That made it third and goal from the 14. They still nearly scored on the next play with Vance McDonald just barely stepping out of bounds, but then Chris Boswell missed a field goal.
Early in the fourth quarter, after traversing 25 yards to midfield on four plays, the Steelers had a third and six on which they bunched their receivers. Stephon Gilmore was able to disrupt a pass to Antonio Brown enough to pop it up in the air, where it was intercepted again by Harmon.
Finally, with under three minutes to go, Pittsburgh was facing a third and six from New England’s 30 after driving 61 yards over 12 plays from their own four-yard line. Roethlisberger nearly had a touchdown to Smith-Schuster, but the defender was able to break it up. Had the quarterback done a better job of throwing him open, this likely would have been at least a 21-10 game instead of 17-10.
Of the Steelers’ eight meaningful possessions, they picked up over 50 yards on five of them and reached at least their own 47-yard line on seven of them. They were able to move the ball very well very frequently, but these specific plays sabotaged their night on the scoreboard.