I went on a road trip last week when the NFL announced the postponement of the Steelers game against the Tennessee Titans. We made it to Las Vegas when the Steelers ticket office notified me that they would let me into Heinz Field for the Philadelphia Eagles game. Who else but a couple of yinzers, Steve S. and Rich N plus Greg M. a stray Californian agree to drive to Vegas and back to DC in a week? Nice thing, I did not drive a single mile until heading up to the Burgh.
We departed Vegas Wednesday afternoon covering 2500 miles in a little over three days. I got to my car in Arlington Virginia and heading for the Burgh with a brief stop home. My wife had made a pot of coffee and a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs to fuel my last leg of a weeklong, five thousand plus mile adventure. I made it to Pittsburgh’s north shore at about midnight with 13 hours to spare until kickoff.
One of our stops was the Vail Brewing Company. We met a group of guys from Ireland, Indiana. One was a big Steelers fan and said their town had enough Black and Gold fans that they charter a bus for some Steelers games.
The 3-0 Steelers came into the game healthy. Their vaunted defense was going against a depleted Eagles offensive line and the birds were missing some wide receivers. Pittsburgh’s offense faced an extraordinarily strong defensive line featuring former Steeler Javon Hargrave but weak secondary.
Pennsylvania state authorities permitted the Steelers to host up to 7500 persons for the game. After players, coaches, administration, stadium staff 5500 tickets went to season ticket holders based on a computer-generated selection. I got in.
THE STEELERS FORECAST
Steelers Depot gives us specific things we should look for during the game. I always read these articles prior to kickoff:
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Matthew Marczi described what we should watch for in the game . Matt wanted us to watch Carson Wentz and the Eagles passing game. With a patchwork offensive line could the Steelers defense intercept and sack a turnover prone quarterback? Then, Matt focused our attention on whether the Steelers offensive line could handle the Eagles talented defensive front. Matt concluded “I think we will see more motion, and more of Anthony McFarland and Ray-Ray McCloud …. This week may provide a good opportunity to expand their repertoire a bit.”
Tyler Wise identified the key matchup to watch this week. Tyler focused our attention on the Steelers offense versus the Eagles linebackers. Tight ends could have a big day but using motion running out of the backfield to exploit the man to man matchups allowing Ben to pass quickly to avoid the Eagles fearsome pass rush.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Dave Bryan identified the five keys to a Steelers victory . First, McCloud and McFarland get seven to ten touches between them. Second, Ben connects on some deep passes including a TD. Third, defense shuts down Miles Sanders early. Fourth, make a player other than Ertz or Sanders beat you. Fifth, Steelers defensive front outperforms Eagles defensive front.
Alex Kozora forecast what would happen in his Steelers versus Eagles prediction. Alex foresaw victory if Steelers win field position battle, defensive front is disciplined, and the tight ends feast. On the other hand, the Steelers lose if they have post-bye rust, the defense is out schemed, and Eagles front four applies heavy pressure on Ben. Alex predicted the Steelers winning 27-21.
You can compare these pregame guides to Alex’s analysis of the game’s winners and losers which came out within minutes of the final whistle. How does his analysis compare with your view of the game?
The Steelers offense punted on their opening drive. But score 17 points on the next three possessions. Good Show.
GOOD FIELD POSITION FINALLY YIELDS SEVEN
The Steelers offense started with great field position on their own 46-yard line after defense forces Eagles to a three and out to start the game. The first offensive play was Ben passing to Ray-Ray McCloud. Anthony McFarland ran on the second play. The two plays only gained six yards, but you could see the speed these two bring to the offense. Eric Ebron converted the third down. Unfortunately, Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave sacked Ben to set up a third and 17. Ben threw a short pass to Diontae Johnson who ran four yards up the field before reversing direction and losing two yards on the play. The Steelers punt with a little more space.
Defense forces another three and out and the Steelers get fair field position on their own 38. However, Diontae Johnson is hit in the back and spent the rest of the game pacing the sideline. James Conner gained a first down running three yards into the teeth of the Eagles defense. Ben threw a series of short passes to take the ball to the 22-yard line. The Eagles pressured Ben and the referees called Chuks Okorafor for offensive holding backing the ball up ten yards. Two plays later officials called Darius Slay for defensive pass interference on James Washington. Eagles fans behind me yelling it was a bogus call. I was yelling that Slay ripped Washington’s jersey off his back. Regardless, it was first and goal from the seven. Conner gained four yards on second and seven to the goal line. Malik Jackson penalized for unnecessary roughness, so it is first and goal from the one. Eagles stuff Benny Snell for one-yard loss. On next play Chase Claypool runs left for the score with fellow wide receiver James Washington blocking for him. An early 7-0 lead but believe this was the Series Dave DeCastro got hurt.
OFFENSE ANSWERS EAGLES TD WITH ONE OF THEIR OWN
The Steelers lead only last 57 seconds. Eagles tie game on a 74-yard Miles Sanders run. The offense starts their third drive at the 25-yard line. Ben completes a short right pass to Chase Claypool on third and 11. He manages to keep the drive alive with a first down. James Conner ripped a 25-yard run entering Eagles turf. Ben went to Claypool again on third down. This time, Claypool crosses the field from left to right scoring from 32 yards out. Back in front 14-7.
OFFENSE BREAKS TIE FOR THIRD TIME
The Eagles came to Pittsburgh to play for the win. It’s 14-14 and the Steelers fourth drive begins at the 25 again. Ben throws deep to Ray-Ray who does not get to the ball but due to Darius Slay interfering which gains 15 yards for the Steelers. Conner goes nowhere on a run so Ben passes to Conner for 11 on the next play. On second and seven ben throws a wounded duck in the direction of Ebron who comes back for the catch. JuJu Smith-Schuster gains 12 yards but officials call Kevin Dotson for being an ineligible receiver downfield. A dumbfounding play since Dotson was on the line of scrimmage. They mistook JuJu’s 19 for Dotson’s 69. On third and ten Conner catches a short pass but cannot break the tackle to gain the necessary yardage to continue the drive. On fourth and four, Chris Boswell kicks a field goal from the 23-yard line. Steelers up 17-14 with 1:57 left in the half.
Steelers score touchdown on opening drive. Extend the lead before fumbling away a drive. Finish strong with a touchdown and finally in victory formation.
Ray-Ray McCloud shows a lot of burst on his kick returns. In this game the motion runs also showed the speed that he and McFarland bring to the offense. On the Steelers opening drive of the second half, Ray-Ray showed his deadly speed. The Steelers reached the 37-yard line on a seven-yard Ebron reception for a first down. Ray-Ray ran to the right and a Vance McDonald block opened some daylight. Ray-Ray went 58 yards down the field before defenders brought him down five yards short of a touchdown. Two plays later Ben connected with Claypool for another his third touchdown. 24-14.
OFFENSE GOES OVER 30!
The Steelers have not been scoring a lot of points. Before this game, it was 24 games ago that the team scored 30 points in a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers who scored 33 last season. It was 27 games ago that the Steelers scored more than 30 a 52-21 win over the Carolina Panthers. Sunday, the Steelers went over 30 following Steve Nelson’s first interception that gave them the ball at the 23-yard line. JuJu entered the red zone with a four-yard reception. Conner gained seven for a new set of downs at the 12. A pass interference call put the ball on the one. Conner scored on his second attempt. With Boswell’s kick the Steelers have 31 points.
EAGLES SCORE 15 UNANSWERED POINTS
The Eagles cut the Steelers lead by eight points. McCloud returned the kickoff 24 yards bud started six yards deep in the end zone so only made it to the 18. James Washington took the ball to the 32 on an eight-yard catch for a first down. Ben passed deep right for an apparent completion at the sideline, but the Eagles challenged. The replay showed that the leg of the Eagles defender was underneath Claypool’s foot preventing him from touching the turf. Otherwise it would have been a clutch catch. Ebron breaks his stance and referees call his false start. JuJu gains 11 on third and 16 so Colquitt punts for the second time.
The Eagles score again. Steelers start at the 24. The drive looks promising. JuJu makes a first down on a 14-yard reception. Chase Claypool gained another on 11-yard reception. Kevin Dotson’s holding penalty put them in a hole. But Ben connected with Chase Claypool for 42 yards and touchdown. But the zebras claim Claypool pushed off negating the play making it second and 22. The replay drew many boos in the stadium as it looked like a clean catch. Ben completed a pass over the middle to Eric Ebron, but Duke Riley forced the fumble. The Steelers were clinging to a 31-29 lead and just gave up the ball!
OFFENSE EXPLOITS EAGLES MISSED FIELD GOAL
The offense got the ball at their own 47-yard line following a missed field goal. Bradon Graham grabbed a facemask on a short Conner run for 15 yards. Ben targeted Ebron again and at first it seemed like he caught the ball and went to the ground. Suddenly an Eagle is running downfield with an intercepted ball. Ben grabs his helmet with both hands. A replay on the scoreboard shows the ball bounced to the ground – nice bluff by the Eagles defender. The referees reverse their call and soon it is third and eight but still Steelers ball. Claypool splits the defenders in the middle and Ben finds him for the 35-yard touchdown. Now it would take two scores with just 2:59 left to play.
The offense ran three more plays before Ben ended the game in the victory formation. Unfortunately, Maurkice Pouncey limped off the field right around the two-minute warning with a foot injury. The offense stepped up when needed and displayed the speed of a couple young players. Impressive offensive scheme adjustments.
Defense starts strong with two three and outs but then gave up 74-yard touchdown run. Second quarter is two long drives one for touchdown, but Eagles run out of time on the second.
EAGLES FOOL AGGRESSIVE DEFENSE
Vince Williams tackled Miles Sanders for a two-yard loss to set the tempo for the defense. T.J. Watt sacked Carson Wentz two plays later to force a punt on the first drive. The defense went after Wentz who threw two incompletions after a five-yard pass to finish the second Eagle possession with a punt. Following the Steelers first touchdown, the defense had the Eagles at third and nine. Hoping for a third consecutive three and out, the defense rushed strong but instead of passing it was a draw play. A couple defenders over pursued and Miles Sanders was past them before they could react. Mike Hilton squared up on Sanders, but he ran right by him. Steelers should learn some rugby tackling. Referees did not see the old on Terrell Edmunds and Sanders scores 74 yards later to tie the game.
EAGLES DISCOVER NEW WIDE RECEIVER
The Steelers regained the lead 14-7. The Eagles start at their own 24-yard line. Wentz targeted a receiver named Travis Fulgham five straight times on this drive. That is just one less target than his career total coming into this game. Fulgham caught four for 47 yards. On a third and three Wentz eluded Bud Dupree’s grasp and Vince Williams hit him as he completed a first down to Fulgham. That added 15 more yards to the play. Fulgham’s receptions took the Eagles to the 13. Terrell Edmunds tackled Zach Ertz just short of the goal line a few plays later, but he set up a first and goal on the one. Sanders finished the drive to tie the game up again 14-14.
DEFENSE SAVED BY THE BELL
The Eagles got the ball back with 1:57 left in the half and down by a field goal. The defense started strong with Watt tackling Sanders for two-yard loss. Then Cam Heyward sacked Wentz for five more lost yards. The Steelers call timeout anticipating getting the ball back with a third and 17 play coming up from the Eagles own 18-yard line. Wentz completes a 20-yard pass to Fulgham who is loosely covered by Joe Haden. Wentz completes a nine-yard pass to John Hightower and the Eagles take their second timeout. On third and one, Miles Sanders bursts for four yards as Dupree and Vince Williams bring him down. The Eagles expend their final timeout. Just 27 seconds remain. Wentz throws two incompletions. On third and ten he completes a 37 yarder to JJ Arcega-Whiteside within easy field goal range to retie the game. But the clock ticks down and stops. The stadium clock preserves the slim 17-14 Steelers lead.
The defense starts and finishes strong. But look vulnerable in-between.
STEVE NELSON ENDS EAGLES FIRST POSSESSION
The Steelers offense extended the Steelers lead to 24-14 to open the second half. The Eagles tried to air the ball out. Cam Heyward tipped Wentz’s first pass. Wentz targeted Ertz but found Steve Nelson instead who returned the interception three yards. The offense converted this turnover into a 31-14 lead.
DEFENSE GIVES UP 15 BUT NOT 18
The defense started so nicely. Mike Hilton sacks Wentz. But on third and 12 Travis Fulgham is open for 31 yards with Hilton in coverage and gets the first down to keep the drive alive. A second and six play turns into a first down when Joe Haden called for pass interference. Miles Sanders catches a pass and takes it to the five-yard line. After the defense drops Sanders for a three-yard loss Wentz comes back to connect with Greg Ward for the touchdown. The two-point conversion succeeds to make it 31-22. Eagles look confident.
Steelers offense stopped and the Eagles get the ball at their own 20 with 1:54 left in third quarter. The defense sets up a third and eight. And there is that name again. Travis Fulgham catches an 18 yard pass this time Steve Nelson is the defensive back having to tackle him after a catch. Fulgham gains 19 on the next play with Nelson and Hilton bringing him down as the quarter ends.
Rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts threw the first pass of the fourth quarter. He connected with Richard Rodgers. Minkah Fitzpatrick tackled him but he had used a shoulder without wrapping giving up yardage. Wentz back behind center completes passes to Fulgham and Greg Ward to bring ball to the four-yard line. On third down Wentz completes the TD pass to Fulgham. 15 unanswered points and it is a very slim 31-29 Steelers lead.
BEND BUT DON’T BREAK
The Eagles got the ball back at their 45-yard line following Ebron’s fumble. At this point Steelers fans are nervous. Could the defense squander the 17-point lead? Terrell Edmunds defended the first pass of this drive. The Eagles enter Pittsburgh territory on John Hightower’s nine-yard reception. Alex Highsmith tackled Wentz on his keeper but not before he gained the two yards needed for a first down. Stephon Tuitt sacked Wentz on a significant effort. On third and five Joe Haden defended a pass going to Fulgham at a critical moment. The defense was too generous on third downs. This set up an awfully long 57-yard field goal attempt. The kicker missed what could have been a game changing three points.
NELSON ENDS EAGLES LAST POSSESSION
The Steelers fourth quarter touchdown make it a two-score lead. But there is still 2:59 to play. Bud Dupree and Tuitt sack Wentz on the first play. Wentz throws two incompletions to set up fourth and 20. Wentz heaves the ball deep for Hightower but Steve Nelson in deep center field intercepts the ball to end the Eagles hopes. Their fans are streaming out of the stadium. Steelers fans are cheering. Here We Go.
I break special teams play into six phases: Kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, punt returns, field goal kicking and blocking field goals plus PAT attempts.
Chris Boswell kicked off seven times. Four kickoffs were touchbacks. Boston Scott returned three for 48 yards. He reached the 24-yard line once. Steelers coverage unit tackled Scott at the 17- and 15-yard line on the other two returns. Jordan Dangerfield tackled him twice. The Eagles best starting position resulted from the touchbacks.
Jake Elliot kicked off five times. The first three were touchbacks. Ray-Ray McCloud returned the last two for 24 yards apiece. Ray-Ray returned one from six yards deep in the endzone. He reached the 24 on the other. Like the Eagles, the Steelers best starting position resulted from touchbacks. Advantage Even.
Dustin Colquitt punted twice averaging 41.5 yards a punt. The Eagles fair caught his first that was just 39 yards at the 14-yard line. Greg Ward returned the 44-yarder but was driven out of bounds by James Pierre after gaining one yard to the 20. Colquitt netted an even 41 yards per punt, but both resulted in the Eagles starting at or behind the 20-yard line.
Cameron Johnston punted twice averaging 50 yards a punt. Both punts occurred in the first quarter. Diontae Johnson returned both six yards. However, the Eagles knocked Diontae out of the game on the second return. The Steelers got the ball at their own 46- and 38-yard lines, respectively. Johnston’s net 44 yards exceeded Colquitt’s gross average. However, he was kicking with the full field while Colquitt had half a field to work with.
I watched both punters during pregame warmups. Both were punting the ball 40-50 yards to limber up their legs. But Johnston’s punts went higher evincing a stronger leg. The Steelers may be satisfied with shorter punts but more consistency. Not sure if we will see Diontae Johnson returning anymore punts. Ray-Ray may be returning punts and kickoffs in the future.
FIELD GOALS AND POINTS AFTER TDS
Chris Boswell made his only field goal attempt. He went five for five on extra point attempts. The field goal gave the Steelers a 17-14 lead to end the first half. Johnston made all three of his extra point attempts. But he missed his 57-yard field goal attempt that would have put the Eagles into the lead. The Eagles scored a two-point conversion that closed the gap. Although it was exceptionally long, Johnston had to make that kick to keep the Eagles in the game. Advantage Steelers.
DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST REVIEW
- McCloud and McFarland get seven to ten touches between them. They combined for eight. McCloud’s 58-yard run set up a touchdown. The speed they bring is impressive. Mission accomplished.
- Ben connects on some deep passes including a TD. Ben did go deep and connected with Claypool for the 35-yard TD. But most fell incomplete. Three penalties were called on deep passes two on Eagles one bogus one on Claypool. Its coming just not yet. Mission fail.
- Defense shuts down Miles Sanders early. Sanders gained 74 yards on one carry. He gained six yards on his other ten. But the early TD kept Eagles in game, and he scored another TD. Mission fail.
- Make a player other than Ertz or Sanders beat you. Sanders shutdown after his big run. Ertz held to one catch. Fulgham’s 10 receptions for 152 yards and touchdown kept this game uncomfortably close. Mission accomplished.
- Steelers defensive front outperforms Eagles defensive front. Eagles sack Ben once and hit him twice. Wentz sacked four times by Steelers front and hit ten times. Mission accomplished.
YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME
FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS
Steelers Depot readers commented 712 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Ross McCorkle kept us informed with live updates as we chirped our comments.
Alex Kozora got the best comment by opening the thread with “Good to be back! Thanks for being here everyone!”
Country Club expressed frustration on one of the many Eagles third down conversions. “None of that happens if Dupree actually gets the sack.” Bud had Wentz but he slipped away to complete a first down pass as Vince Williams hit him. The referees tacked on 15 ore yards for a bogus roughing call.
Folks upvoted Country Club again when he continued the theme: “The TD run was kind of a fluke. But, giving up that 3rd and 17 is just unacceptable.”
Commenters noticed Claypool’s play in the first half too. El Sweet Lee proclaimed Claypool as “MAPLETRON 🍁” Mezzetin1 added “Chase is becoming a star.”
DarthYinzer liked Ben’s demeanor under pressure. “Ben showing a lot of poise, he’s getting harassed every pass.”
Depot commenters start slowly like the Steelers. Steelers leading 17-14 at half.
SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS
Comments picked up in the second half. Comments increased to 1270 in the 2nd half live discussion. The Steelers start strong then Eagles score 15 unanswered points. Steelers put it away in the fourth.
Nelsonator762 upset that unknown receivers like Travis Fulgham torching the Steelers secondary. “They didn’t even cover him. I’m so sick of the amount of STUPID plays this team makes every year”
The defensive performance on third downs continues to be noticed. El Sweet Lee asked, “Is there a team that is worse on defense 3rd and 11+ than this team?”
Jaybird and others questioned the Eagles decision to attempt a 57-yard field goal: “Would we have stopped them on 4th down? I’d have went for it instead of a 57yrder at Heinz” Mikethebum noted “He had the distance” Thomas Johnson explained “The problem is the wind that blows the ball off at long distances…”
RyanM shared his observations from reading the tabloids: “Is it just me or does Carson Wentz look like that Harry guy that’s married to Megan Markle?”
The officiating is always a popular topic. Nik Draft asked “Does anyone get called for more phantom pi calls than Haden”
Stone Age Tone concluded “WINNERS: Claypool, Ben. LOSERS: Butler, NFL Officiating, seriously, do they want people to keep tuning in every week?” DirtDawg1964 responded “Worst reffed game I’ve seen this year. Where was the emphasis on clear and obvious?”
The Steelers announced that 4708 fans attended the game meaning 792 no shows. A disappointing 85.6% attendance based on available tickets. A few season ticket holders must have cashed in on their seats since there was many Eagles fans at the game. My guestimate is 8-10% of the fans in the stands wore green.
The fans tried to make some noise, but Heinz Field is a large audio void to fill when less than seven percent of its seats are filled. But we tried. The terrible towels were waving, and the players seemed to notice. It was cool listening to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra play the National Anthem. I did miss Renegade. Thought there was a good point to play it in third quarter but instead showed a montage of defensive plays covered by some techno music. Meh.
The fans in the stands made the mistake of starting to relax when the Steelers went up 31-14. All stayed until the end and erupted when Ben connected with Chase Claypool’s fat trick touchdown to almost ice the game. A final roar when Steve Nelson intercepted the final desperation pass. All said, a few fans are better than no fans. Here we go.
The defense looked dominant at times. But giving up 10 first downs out of 14 third downs against a depleted offensive line and backup receivers is concerning. The next three opponents have much stronger offenses. The sacks, quarterback pressure and turnovers continue. They just need to finish it on third down.
The offense scored on six of ten possessions (nine if you don’t include the last in victory formation). The offense has many weapons, and the coaching staff is making it difficult for defenses to adapt. Chase Claypool is the hero this week. Who will be the hero next week?
I like when we don’t notice referees during a game. The “clear and obvious” standard for throwing flags makes for a better rhythm to games and allows players to settle the outcome. Big game next week!
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to offer a music selection. I was on a mission to get into Heinz Field for this past game. Accomplished. The Steelers are on their own mission. We lost a great one in Eddie. Here is Man on a Mission by Van Halen.