Following each game in the 2020 Steelers season I will be giving you my 10 takes. These aren’t going to be hot takes and meant to shock the world. This will be instant reactions to the game written while still in that period just following the game when the emotions are high and the ideas are fresh. Included will be thoughts, observations, queries and reasons that caused me to yell at the television.
Week – Regular Season Week 9
Opponent – Dallas Cowboys
1. Sometimes You Just Know – It’s no secret the Steelers have had a tendency to play down to their opponents in the past but this year was looking different. As has been there pattern this year to find a way to win but sometimes you get a feeling early that things just don’t feel right. The deep throw to Chase Claypool in the first quarter had that feeling. Claypool got pushed and there was no flag. He had a chance to catch it but wasn’t able to make the play. That no call had me thinking conspiracy theory; the referees wanted to keep it close in a game that on paper looked lopsided. Turns out the Steelers just didn’t have it early and spotting the Cowboys thirteen points churned stomachs and had us asking “This isn’t happening, is it?”
2. O-Line, Oh No – Did the travel and tough schedule make an impact on the offensive line? They were never able to get the running game going and basically abandoned it in the second half of the game. At one point the Steelers ran the ball three consecutive plays needing one yard and couldn’t get it. The pass protection wasn’t much better. Dallas was able to get pressure inside and on the edge and looked to be moving at a higher speed than the Steelers. The hope is that it was just fatigue after three consecutive road games and two physical games prior to this one.
3. Berry’s Business is Booming – It has only been a couple games but Jordan Berry has performed well. He averaged nearly 51 yards a punt on Sunday with a couple big ones coming from deep in their own zone including a 57 yarder from the 25 yard line, 62 from the 32 and 50 from the 31. Flipping the field is a big part of the punt game and he has been up to the task so far.
4. 6, 3, -2, 1, 1, 4, 3 – Add those numbers up and you get 16. That is how many yards the Steelers gained on seven second down runs. That averages out to 2.29 yards per carry. None of those second down runs resulted in a first down. Moreover only once in those seven attempts were the Steelers able to convert a first down after running the ball on second down. That is not a good pattern you want to see.
5. Smart Players Make Smart Plays – Up until this game the special team coverage units had been very good. There are bumps in every road and the Steelers face planted multiple times against the Cowboys. Jordan Dangerfield made a great play to save a touchdown on the lateraled kick return. Hustle and taking a great angle put him in position to make a play. Getting in front of the blocker to draw the flag for being pushed in the back was big enough but he still managed to trip up the returner from his back in case he didn’t get the flag. He has balled out in kick coverage this year and deserves some praise for his play.
6. Absence Makes My Heart Grow Fonder – Before the season there were questions about who would play in the middle of the defensive line. Some expected a high draft pick but that was not in the cards. Why we questioned. I think we got our answer that the Steelers staff knew what they were doing. Injuries are tough on every team but losing Tyson Alualu for the past two games shined a bright line on just how good he has been. The Steelers have given up a combined 409 yards rushing the last two games. Let’s all share healing thoughts to get Alualu back ASAP.
7. Minkah’s Mojo – He has been relatively quiet for most of the season but he looks to have his mojo back over the last two games. When announcers say things like “the ball finds Fitzpatrick” that’s not by chance. That is because of his ability to process what he sees and put himself in the right position to be around the ball. One play that won’t stand out in the box score was the end around. Yes it ended up in an 8 yard gain but it could have been much more. His mental processing allowed him to read that play and be in a position to prevent a bigger play. That is what a big part of what makes him so good.
8. Did I Jinx Them? (Probably) – Just two short weeks ago after the Tennessee game in this very article I praised the coordinators for how good they were doing. Boy that escalated quickly. There is no way around it; they were outcoached on offense, defense and special teams. No answers to stop an offense led by a 4th string QB (who played pretty well for most of the game). Linebackers covering wide receivers. Let’s not start that again. The offense couldn’t move the ball until they went to the 01 personnel again. And special teams yikes. Big returns and missed extra points should not be happening. I hope this game is a slap in the face that wakes everybody up.
9. Rough or Fluff? – I am happy it worked out in the Steelers favor but plenty times in the past it has not. The roughing the passer penalty that came at 4:03 of the fourth quarter not only helped a touchdown drive it reignited it. They were going to have to punt but a minor hand across the facemask probably changed the outcome of the game. Protecting the QB is paramount for the NFL shield and I get it. We know all too well what a difference losing a QB makes (see 2019) but with all the limbs and weight being thrown around during a pass rush you have to give these guys a little leeway.
10. Arms of Iron and Electric Hands- Dallas did a nice job against the pressure that the Steelers were bringing but there were big plays still made. Cam Heyward got the biggest pressure and (half) sack late in the game by using a long arm to the chest of the blocker. We’ve seen him beat very good offensive lineman with this before and to watch him be able to move someone who doesn’t want to be moved with a well-placed hand to the chest and leverage is really impressive. T.J. Watt was also stymied for most of the game but three times he put his hands in the throwing lane to knock down passes when he knew he wouldn’t get to the QB. Playmakers make plays.