While there were a lot of crucial moments throughout yesterday’s game that fundamentally shaped the outcome, the penultimate came with 2:11 to go in the fourth quarter. The Seattle Seahawks were facing a third and 16 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A stop there would have given them the ball back with two minutes to play and all of their timeouts, and the offense had scored on three of their four previous drives.
And then the defense allowed Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to scramble his way forward for a 15-yard gain, nearly picking up the first down all by himself. Of course it was still crucial that they were able to convert on fourth and one on the following play, which finished off the game, but they would never have even attempted a fourth-down conversion had they been stopped for, say, even a 13-yard gain perhaps.
Understandably, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about that play after the game during his post-game press conference. “It was a five-man rush on the significant play, the third-down play”, he said. “We brought five because of his mobility, so as to minimize escape lanes. I’d imagine one or more people had their shots at him. We didn’t get it done”.
The Steelers presented a bit of an amoeba look on the play with their ideal personnel on the field. Left to right, defensively: T.J. Watt, Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, and Bud Dupree. Inside linebacker Mark Barron was hovering over the front four. Watt had his hand in the dirt, while Heyward was standing.
They all rushed together, Barron looping outside while Dupree came inside. Heyward also angled toward his right. Almost immediately, Wilson prepared to take off, and Dupree, looping inside, was the only one with a chance to get the quarterback.
But the left guard was able to get between him and Wilson, and Wilson was able to use that pivot point to get around the corner on Dupree, making a diving tackle at the line of scrimmage that the quarterback stepped through, at which point there were no defenders near enough to touch him for about 15 yards. It was Kameron Kelly touching him down at the 34. The first-down marker was at the 33.
The last scramble by Wilson that set up a 4th & 1.
Five-man rush and Bud missed him. HUGE miss.
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) September 16, 2019
The Steelers didn’t get it done. Dupree didn’t get tit done, but it wasn’t just on him, either. Collectively, they failed, on third down, and then on fourth down, and in doing so, they allowed the Seahawks to eat up the final five and a half minutes of the game.
The defense initially did its part by forcing a fumble and giving the offense the ball at the three-yard line, scoring on the next play. That made it a two-point game, but they were never able to get the ball back to the offense with a chance to take the lead. And it all came back to the five-man rush on that third-and-16 play.