The pivotal moment in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss to the Las Vegas Raiders came around midway in the third quarter. Pittsburgh, the home team, had just gotten the score differential down to two points, thanks to a nifty catch and run from running back Najee Harris, but the defense allowed Las Vegas back into the control position, seizing all of the momentum with a deflating 61-yard dagger score from quarterback Derek Carr to wide receiver Henry Ruggs III.
We’ll have a breakdown of that play for you later today, but let’s hear from some Steelers first, both past and present. Free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick took responsibility for that play after the game, on which newly-acquired cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was in one-on-one coverage.
“They had 83 [tight end Darren Waller] one-on-one by himself. He ran directly at me, got me to sit on my feet”, Fitzpatrick said. “He’s a big target for them, especially on big plays. I just can’t stop my feet. I’ve got to stay in the middle of the field, be where I’m at. That’s one me, 110 percent. I’ve just got to play better, do better”.
Waller, the Raiders’ star tight end, was isolated against cornerback James Pierre on the left side, and the offense had a Trips formation to the left. An aggressive route by Waller forced Fitzpatrick to his side, coming forward, which as former Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor explained, was his fatal mistake.
“If I’m scouting a Minkah Fitzpatrick, I know Minkah’s very versatile, he’s very instinctive. He likes to make plays”, he said on the Beav Podcast Network. “What I’m gonna do as an offensive coordinator, I’m gonna use that to my advantage”.
Coach LeBeau used to always talk about false steps, and as a secondary guy, your first step, if it’s not a run, should never be coming forward. I thought the only reason Minkah got beat on this play, one, because he’s very instinctive, and because he likes to make plays, two, he came up two steps forward. Now when you’re playing the deep field at safety, especially this formation, my first thing needs to be three steps back. It was only a step or two that Minkah came up, but those first two false steps put him in a bad situation. You’ve got a guy running the out, you’ve got a guy who’s running in the middle of Minkah, and you’ve got to know your personnel. You got Ruggs on the outside, and you know Ruggs can run fast coming out of Alabama. They used that formation, they used Minkah’s strength, which is being aggressive and being instinctive, against him on that play.
That play made it a 23-14 game, and while things were still very much in reach, the offense simply could not get things going. They went three and out on their responding drive, and only managed a field goal on an eight-play, 30-yard possession after that. They would not get the ball again until there were just 20 seconds remaining, with Las Vegas adding another field goal to make it 26-17.