BLACK AND GOLD OR SILVER?
Heinz Field finally hosted a Steelers game full of fans. The North Shore packed with fans. Tailgate parties in full swing. I enjoyed reconnecting with fellow fans for the first time since 2019 including Carol, Ken S and Canada Glen among many more. Former Steelers kicker Jeff Reed showed up at the Renegade Tailgate. Team Highsmith was there too.
There were a lot of Raiders fans in Silver and Black. More than a few hundred visiting fans like most games. I estimate two or three thousand. Some were local contrarians. Three young fans I met hail from Latrobe. But most seemed to have flown in. I saw more than one faded Snake Stabler jerseys. I shuddered thinking of the 1976 game when he led the Raiders to 17 unanswered points on the Steel Curtain defense with little more than five minutes left to win 31-28.
BOSS IN THE HOUSE
Art Rooney II walked through our section. Rocky Bleier led the Terrible Towel twirl just before kickoff. Heinz Field was ready to rock. Steelers fans hungry for some live football after a long wait.
The inactive list included Joe Haden and Devin Bush. Losing two starters with Stephon Tuitt still waiting to be activated from injured reserve concerning but nothing to cause panic. The next man will just have to step up.
OFFENSE SUBSTANDARD FIRST HALF REDUX
The Steelers offense delivers another substandard first half. The Steelers had four possessions. A punt, an interception, failed fourth down conversion until finally scoring on their last possession of the half. The Steelers had slightly more time of possession in the first half and an even 50% of third down attempts (three for six). But the Raiders scored on three of their four possessions to maintain a 9-7 lead.
On the second drive, a special teams play put the Steelers in a deep hole. Ray-Ray McCloud returned a deep punt to the 25-yard line. However, referees flagged him for unnecessary roughness pushing the ball to the eight-yard line. The referee enforced the penalty from the 16-yard line so not sure if he grabbed a facemask, but it is unusual for a returner to be penalized. Najee Harris got the Steelers out of the hole with a 14-yard line but then got stuffed for a loss. Ben threw a pass intended for Diontae Johnson that the Raiders intercepted. These two were not on the same page. The Raiders exploit the turnover for a 3-0 lead.
The Steelers reached Raider’s territory on the next drive when Ben connected with JuJu Smith-Schuster for 17 yards on a third and eight play. On fourth and four at the Raiders 38, Ben failed to connect with Chase Claypool. Again, the Raiders exploit a turnover, this one on downs to go up 6-0.
FINALLY ON TRACK
The offense finally got on track during the fourth drive. Ben to Diontae for 13 yards. Then Najee Harris around the right end for 14 on the ground. A big third and eight pass to Diontae for 41 yards showed that Ben can throw the ball deep. Najee ran again this time for two yards to the three-yard line. JuJu finished it with a run off right tackle. Steelers take the lead 7-6.
Najee Harris ran the ball seven times for 28 first half rushing yards including two 14 yarders. He was three of six for a 43% successful run rate. He lost yardage on two runs.
OFFENSE SCORES TEN SECOND HALF POINTS
WHERE WAS OFFENSE IN THIRD QUARTER?
The Steelers offense disappeared in the third quarter as did the running game. The Steelers scored ten fourth quarter points, but the Raiders answered each time.
On the first drive, Ben connected with Pat Freiermuth for 14 yards on third and five. Najee Harris stopped for one setting up second and nine. The Raiders sacked Ben on the next play. Ben threw way short of the sticks giving Diontae just three yards on a third and 12 play. Steeler’s punt.
The Raiders score a touchdown to go up 16-7. The Steelers answer with another punt. Najee ran four yards on the first play of the drive. He would run only one more time in the second half. Ben connects with Freiermuth again for a first down. On the same play, Ben draws a roughing the passer penalty. Unusual, and he took a much more vicious shot to the chinstrap which was unpenalized. I wonder how much the score impacts NFL referees officiating. Just saying. Just in Raiders territory but out of field goal range, Harvin punts a beauty that the Steelers down at the three-yard line.
PENALTY DAMPENS NAJEE’S FIRST SCORE
Derek Carr easily passes the Raiders out of the hole, but they eventually punt back to Pittsburgh. Najee Harris’ final run of the game came with 12:56 to go in the game. He gained three yards on first down. Then the deep pass to Chase Claypool who went to the ground but got up to gain a few more yards for a 52-yard passing play. Then Ben hits Najee Harris from the 25-yard line who makes a great effort for a diving touchdown. Pittsburgh is in it just two points down with over 11 minutes to play.
The excitement dampened by the offsetting roughness penalties called by Jerome Boger. Trai Turner ejected but Solomon Thomas was not during a fracas that including spitting. In the stadium it was confusing since Boger did not announce the touchdown. So, when Chris Boswell went to kick some in the stadium were not sure if it was for the PAT or a field goal even though the scoreboard showed 13 points for the Steelers. This officiating crew needs to communicate what is happening better. I did hear that the Ravens are 15-3 in games he officiates in. Just saying.
The Raiders came right back with that 61-yard impalement of the Steelers chances to make it a two-score game.
CONTROVERSIAL PLAY CALLING
The offense got the ball twice more with enough time on the clock to make a difference. One a three and out with Mike Tomlin’s controversial decision to punt on fourth and one from their own 34-yard line. The defense did stop the Raiders on the next drive. But isn’t this what we have Najee Harris for or even a quarterback sneak? Freiermuth was so close to the sticks.
The Steelers went down with Ben passing on the final drive. He connected on five of seven. I believe Tomlin’s decision to attempt the field goal was correct call on fourth and ten. They needed two scores. Boswell drilled it but the drive ate over two minutes of time that the Steelers did not have. Regardless, the Raiders answered the field goal with one of their own to keep the two-score lead at 26-17.
The Steelers did get the ball back with 20 seconds left. Just enough time for Ben to dump it off to Diontae Johnson who made his way to the sideline but hurt his knee in the process. An ignominious but fitting end to a disappointing game. Again, was this the right decision with the game out of the reach?
DEFENSE KEEPS IT CLOSE AGAIN
For the second game in a row, the defense kept the Steelers in the game during the first half. However, Tyson Alualu breaking his ankle early in the game and losing TJ Watt later in the half hurt. Especially when Devin Bush and Joe Haden did not dress for the game.
The Raiders had two third down plays on their first drive. TJ Watt made both tackles. Once allowing the first down but stopping them two yards short on the second forcing a punt. A few minutes later the defense back on the field following Ben’s intercepted pass. The Raiders start with the ball with just 39 yards to the goal line. Watt strip sacks Derek Carr and the stadium goes nuts. But the Raiders keep the ball despite many Steelers signaling a Pittsburgh recovery. An aborted snap then Alex Leatherwood false starts to set up a third and 19. Derek Carr throws underneath to Kenyan Drake to set up Daniel Carlson’s 46-yard field goal. Raiders up 3-0 but good show by the defense.
The offense gives up the ball on downs. The Raiders have decent starting position taking over at their own 38-yard line. Derek Carr scrambled for five yards and took a shot from Robert Spillane as he lowered his head. The officials flag Spillane for a personal foul when the quarterback was clearly a runner beyond the line of scrimmage and not sliding. The penalty pushes the ball over to the Pittsburgh 38-yard line. Hunter Renfrow catches a pass for 17 yards with Cam Heyward tackling him downfield. The Raiders go up 6-0.
The Steelers offense finally woke up to take a 7-6 lead with 6:25 in the half. The defense allows a long six-minute scoring drive to relinquish the lead. TJ Watt lost for the game with a groin injury and Carr able to put on a passing clinic going nine for 11. The Raiders reached the two-yard line, but a false start aided by fan noise. Carr connects with Bryan Edwards for a touchdown, but Leatherwood’s holding call nullifies the score. A third Raiders penalty pushes the ball to the 22 and the Carson field goal makes it 9-7.
DEFENSE FALTERS IN SECOND HALF
The Raiders performed better against the Steelers faltering defense in the second half. Las Vegas scored on three of six drives but two were touchdowns instead of field goals. The Steelers scored twice but the Raiders responded with scores both times.
The Raiders converted one third down on a 14-yard pass to Willie Snead with Minkah Fitzpatrick in coverage. Robert Spillane tackled Kenton Drake for a one-yard gain to set up a third and nine. Carr threw incomplete to Drake forcing a punt.
Pressley Harvin flipped the field with a 59-yard punt. The Raiders returned the ball to the 18. Their worst starting position since the opening drive. Derek Carr threw to everyone except their big tight end Derek Waller. Marvin sacked Carr but it was not enough as Carr went five for five. Carr hit Bryan Edwards for 18. Kenyan Drake for nine yards. Following the sack, Hunter Renfrow went 23 yards on a third and nine play. Then a deep 30-yard pass to Henry Ruggs. Finally, the Raiders capped the drive with Foster Moreau catching a nine-yard touchdown pass. What a difference when a quarterback can stand up in the pocket with little pressure.
Harvin hit another good punt downed at the three-yard line. The Raiders worst starting position of the game. But, Carr completes five straight passes including one to backup running back Drake for 13 yards on first down and another to Waller. The Raiders eventually punt but had reached midfield instead of pinned down deep in their own territory.
RAIDERS ANSWER STEELERS SCORES
The Steelers pull within two with plenty of time. But the defense gives up a huge 61-yard touchdown pass. Ahkello Witherspoon in for his first defensive snap of the game at left corner. At first, I thought Ruggs burnt him like toast. But folks with better football savvy than me explained that Minkah Fitzpatrick had responsibility for covering the deep middle of the field. Darren Waller lined up to the left and Minkah hesitated long enough for Ruggs to be breaking downfield and no way anyone would catch him. Up until this point, I was optimistic that the Steelers could come from behind to win it.
The defense faced two more Raiders drives. The first after Harvin punted on the controversial decision not to go for it on fourth and one with 8:35 to play. The defense responded with a three and out. The key play involved Terrell Edmunds and Heyward combining to tackle Peyton Barber for a four-yard loss on third down.
Boswell’s field goal made it 23-17. A Steelers touchdown could win it. But the defense needed another strong stand. The Raiders outplayed the Steelers defense. Darren Waller caught a crucial 25-yard pass to go into Pittsburgh territory. Then four straight Peyton barber runs including the 13 yarder that put them into field goal range and consumed valuable time. The 45-yard kick reinstated the Raider two score lead and just 20 ticks left on the clock. Game over except the one garbage play.
I believe special teams are an underappreciated facet of the game where one big play can shift momentum or even determine the game winner. So, have broken this facet of the game into a separate overview here.
In summary, Chris Boswell set a new Heinz Field record with his 56-yard field goal. Pressley Harvin improved his punting this week. Ray-Ray McCloud’s unsportsmanlike penalty put Steelers in an unnecessary early hole.
DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST
Dave Bryan provided five keys for a Steelers victory. Here is how the Steelers performed them:
- Hold TE Waller to a stat line like Stephon Diggs last week (nine receptions for 69 yards with no TDs). Waller caught five passes for 65 yards and did not score. Mission accomplished.
- Defense exploits inexperienced Raider offensive line to produce up to six sacks. The defense sacked Carr twice including a strip sack but did not recover the ball. The five quarterback hits Carr suffered was half of Ben’s total. Mission failure.
- The offense must neutralize DE Maxx Crosby line. Crosby hit Ben Roethlisberger five times but did not sack him. He added two tackles including one for a loss. Mission accomplished.
- Najee Harris gains 100 rushing yards with 50% successful run rate. Najee ran 10 times for 38 yards with 40% successful run rate Mission failure.
- Offense performs better in red zone and scores at least 23 points. The Steelers did score a touchdown on their only red zone trip (Najee TD from 25 yards out) but only scored 17 points. Mission failure.
Steelers achieve just two of five keys. Dave Bryan left a good list for the Steelers to follow. Pittsburgh will win more often if they achieve three or more of Dave’s keys to victory.
YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME
FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS
Steelers Depot readers commented 846 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. A bit less than the standard. Respondents may have been too shocked at the early results to comment. Thank you, Ross McCorkle, for keeping us up to date with the latest tweets and updates as the game progressed.
Early in the game, Chad Weiss expressed what many Steelers fans were thinking on a beautiful sunny day, “It’s a good day to go 2 -0 “
Questionable referee calls always catch our attention. Nunya did not like Ben taking an unpenalized shot to the chinstrap. “And once again…Ben hit in the head and no flag.” A late hit did draw one flag but usually officials allow defenders to tee off on Ben. Meanwhile, Derek Carr lowers his head beyond the line of scrimmage as Robert Spillane hits him and it’s the Steelers defender who referees flag.
RyanM liked JuJu’s physical play. His short run also put the Steelers in the lead midway in the second quarter. “Juju might be the hardest WR in the NFL to tackle.”
The Steelers brief 7-6 lead gave way to a Raiders field goal at end of first half. Caa123 looked for a repeat of last week: “Let’s hope for a similar HT (halftime) adjustment to last weeks”
The Steelers down 9-7. I too, looked for the Steelers to turn it around in the second half.
SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS
The Depot respondents 1219 comments met the standard in the second half live discussion. The Steelers scored twice more but the Raiders responded each time to keep the game out of reach.
The Raiders struck first in the second half to extend their lead. Melvin Ingram sacked Carr to set up a third and nine but the Raiders kept moving until they scored a touchdown. Many blamed the defense, HaterzMD “In all fairness, Carr made some great throws that drive.” JSteeler added “Carr was 5-5 on that drive.”
Donald had the top comment when the Steelers came within two. “Hella effort by Najee there … way to go rook” Najee Harris showed what he could do if given a little wiggle room. The house was rocking.
Kingribel could see Mike Tomlin upset after Trai Turner’s ejection. In the stadium, we could see Tomlin talking to the officials but could not feel the heat. “Tomlin doesn’t go Cowher too often so there is something definitely up.”
Comments on the 61-yard strike that sank the Steelers chances did not reach the top. Many were unprintable.
The Steelers got beat. Both teams suffered significant injuries prior to the game plus the Steelers lost two defensive starters in Tyson Alualu and TJ Watt in the first half. But the Raiders adapted to their injuries better than the Steelers did, at least that’s what the scoreboard tells me.
Usually, players exit the field at midfield and do not mingle with fans after the game. This game was a painful loss. I’m sure a lot of players felt it more than the fans. Eric Ebron and JuJu Smith-Schuster came back through the entry tunnel. JuJu took the time to sign autographs, shake hands and take photos with some young fans before exiting the stadium. I thought it was an extremely nice gesture.
The offense is awful. During the offseason, Art Rooney II laid a marker down. He said that the Steelers finishing last in the league in rushing is unacceptable. The Steelers went out and drafted a running back in the first round. But they have a young offensive line that we are told will be aggressive. I guess spitting is an act of aggression, but does it help the running game? Right now, after two games, the Steelers are dead last in rushing yards.
Ben threw a few nice passes but not consistently. Plus, his chemistry with Diontae Johnson appears off. Ben throws long on an extended play and Diontae pulls up short. The Cincinnati Bengals defense are licking their chops. Matt Canada must design a scheme that Ben and the rest of the offense can carry out successfully. His first two game plans were ineffectual and remind me of the Fichtner plan.
The defense is cracking. No defense can expect the same performance when missing four starters, five if you include Stephon Tuitt. But the next man up must perform. I was okay with Robert Spillane coming in for Bush. We missed Joe Haden, but it was the lack of consistent pressure once TJ Watt left the game that allowed Carr to do damage in the passing game. The defense did neutralize Darren Waller and the Raiders missed their starting running back. But Gruden effectively used the passing game and receivers not named Waller to control the tempo of the game.
The defense looked tired in the first half even though the Steelers had more time of possession. A small point but was wearing black jerseys on a hot September day a contributing factor to their energy level as the game wore on? The defense failed to prevent the Raiders from responding to Pittsburgh scores in the second half plus allowed a drive to go from the three-yard line to midfield. Joe Burrow is another quarterback that will complete a lot of passes if given the time.
Special teams did not play a huge factor in the game. Though Ray-Ray McCloud put them in a deep hole early in the game. The Steelers need to clean up the dumb penalties. Play aggressive during play not after the whistle.
It is only week two. The Steelers play 15 more games. The Steelers are 1-1 which is right where most predicted the Steelers would be. Some still believe the Steelers have a shot at a strong season once the offensive line gels. Najee Harris did score his first career NFL touchdown and Chris Boswell set a new Heinz Field field goal record. But frankly, I don’t see a lot of silver lining in this game. How about you?
Most of my season tickets sold but I’ve decided I must go back to Pittsburgh this week. Can the Steelers turn this around on the Bengals? I must see for myself.
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to offer a music selection. The Steelers need to get their running game going like it was 1999 but not their record. Here is 1999 by Prince.