Unfortunately the Pittsburgh Steelers come out of Week 2 with a loss against the Las Vegas Raiders, and in this article I would like to provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.
On the right side of the graph, we see all the high usage players from the game, led by wide receiver Diontae Johnson with a 72.3 grade. Only four players had above a 70 grade, highlighting the rest of the core players leaving much to be desired overall. Mostly agree with the grades though, maybe Juju a touch higher and tackle Chukwuma Okorafor a bit lower. Now for some of my specific takeaways:
On the first drive, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger came out looking sharp in my opinion. On the first two throws of the game, I enjoyed the short stick route to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and two plays later finding him again on a similar route for two successful plays and a third down conversion. Roethlisberger found JuJu again after he went in motion then back across the formation in the flat, but the defender made a nice tackle despite the stiff-arm attempt by Smith-Schuster that led to third down. Center Kendrick Green got pushed back and guard Kevin Dotson then got beat, allowing pressure on Roethlisberger. After Ben faked out the cameraman with his famous pump fake, he was able to extend the play even with a defenders hand on his jersey, doing a good job getting the ball to tight end eric Ebron in traffic but it fell off of his hands on third and nine. Only a six-play drive, two successful plays, but noticed five of the first six plays included motion.
Ben went deep for wide receiver Chase Claypool to start the second drive, but Casey Heyward Jr. had a great pass breakup. Running back Najee Harris had a great gain of 14-yards to start the second drive, and the blocking was great overall including Okorafor, guard Trai Turner, tight ends Pat Freiermuth, and Zach Gentry. Harris was stopped for a loss on the next play though and noted Dotson and Okorafor getting beat on the play, and tackle Dan Moore Jr. almost getting pushed into Roethlisberger the following play. On third down the RDE split Moore and Harris forcing Ben to step up and took a hit from Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby, who got around Chuks on the play. Diontae Johnson then stopped on his route and Ben threw deep and went for the interception, which was the only turnover of the game.
Harris started the last drive of the first quarter strong, catching a short pass and getting a great stiff arm and run after the catch along the sideline. Then JuJu was penalized for holding which negated a would be first down to Johnson, but Ben went right back to Diontae on the next play for the first down, but this was the play he had to leave the game. Benny Snell came in for a short one-yard carry, where I noted that he could have bounced the run to the left but ran straight into traffic. Harris came right back into the game, but had the same result of one yard, where I noted Dotson and Green getting pushed back. On third down and eight Juju caught the screen pass with Freiermuth getting in the defenders’ way just enough to help spring Smith-Schuster who provided great YAC eluding defenders. Roethlisberger was sacked on the first play of the second quarter, looking deep on first down but the Raiders played deep zone. and Ben had Najee short but instead stepped up and was sacked. Harris then went in motion for an empty set, where Ben found JuJu for another successful catch on second down. On third down, Ben threw to the end zone looking for Claypool who had an opportunity to make the jumping catch, but Heyward Jr. was there again to provide the pass break up. The Steelers decided to go for it on fourth down and four, where Moore and Dotson allowed initial pressure paired with Green, Turner and Dotson letting up their effort resulting in another hit on Roethlisberger. With the Steelers down a field goal to this point, taking going for three points seemed like the smarter play to me, what would you have done in Tomlin’s shoes?
With 9:34 left in the second quarter, the offense came out with a couple of 10+ yard plays. Diontae Johnson made a nice catch in tight coverage on a Ben rollout after faking the toss, followed by a Najee Harris’ second 14-yard run of the game where I noted Okorafor with a good pancake block on the sideline. The Steelers then went to the play action end around play that went for a big play against the Bills in week one, but no such luck here as Claypool tries to hurdle the defender in the backfield and is tackled for a loss. Then they went to JuJu as they did earlier on a short route to set up third and manageable. On third and eight, Ben went to Diontae on a go route down the left sideline and despite the defender being penalized for illegal hands made a nice catch for 41-yards and getting the offense up inside the ten-yard line. Najee Harris had a short run getting what he could and noted Kendrick Green getting pushed back but good overall blocking just better defense. I loved the approach on the next play by going to the line quick in an empty shotgun look, then quickly shifting everyone to attach to the formation then motioning and handing the ball to JuJu on the jet sweep and score where he also eluded the tackle. This caught the Raiders defense off guard and the Steelers got their first lead here at 7-6 and was nice to see the offense provide a drive moving the ball down the field here.
Roethlisberger came out in the second half throwing deep to Claypool again, another jumping contested catch that he couldn’t come down with. Pittsburgh then went with three receivers to the left setting up a Diontae screen from the slot and Claypool and Juju blocking in front. This is a play we saw through the game and really enjoy how it plays to the group’s strengths. This set up third and five where Freiermuth ran a nice out cut and got more than enough to convert. Thank goodness Ben got it off when he did since Maxx Crosby swiped Chuks’ hands and was bearing down on Roethlisberger. Crosby did make the next play tracking down Najee Harris’ short run where Pat Freiermuth whiffed on his block. Ben then was looking to go down the field, but the Raiders had good coverage but thought JuJu was open. Instead he held the ball and took another sack, and the hits on the Steelers quarterback are starting to pile up. This also set up third and long where Diontae ran the short drag route and that was tackled well short of the sticks.
The Steelers got the ball back with 4:55 left in the third quarter, I noted good overall blocking and Harris losing his footing trying to make a cut on the unblocked linebacker coming downhill but still able to gain four yards. Pat Freiermuth made a catch and great effort to fight for the first down, but the Steelers accepted the roughing the passer by Solomon Thomas who beat Turner, and that’s another hit on Ben that was hard to watch. Speaking of hard things to watch, Diontae had a silly false start, continuing to add to the penalty count. The Steelers then got a nice catch and route by Claypool stopping just shy of the sticks then converting the first and fifteen. Gentry got beat on his run block allowing his man to make the tackle on a Snell run for no gain, and Green had an aggressive block playing to the whistle and pancaking his man on the play. The Raiders buckled down in coverage with a nice pass breakup on Claypool, then Ben and Diontae had another miscommunication on the route/throw forcing a punt. Steelers down nine points and nearing the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Harris had a nice run churning his feet to get yards after contact albeit on a three-yard gain. Ben then went deep to Claypool again, but this time they were able to connect for the long gain of 52-yards! The next shotgun snap bounced off of Roethlisberger’s hands but he recovered it in time to throw the ball away to avoid the sack but not the hit by Crosby, this was a result of Okorafor setting too far inside and giving him the free path to make the play. Roethlisberger then went to Diontae in the end zone but was double covered along with good coverage overall. This brought up a third down at the 25-yardline, where Ben threw it short to Najee on an out route from the backfield and he forced a missed tackle and darted up field to dive for the touchdown! What a huge play in what cut the lead to two, but this was also the play where Turner was ejected for spitting on a player (that supposedly did it first).
The Steelers got the ball back down by nine, with B.J. Finney coming in for Turner. The offense came out passing but faced a third and seven that Freiermuth caught but was stopped short of the sticks and the Steelers decided to punt here on fourth and one. Do you agree with the decision to punt and go for the defensive stop considering the Raiders had just scored the long touchdown and the injuries on that side of the ball?
The defense was able to get a stop, and the Steelers proceeded with four successful passes in a row to Freiermuth, Harris, and Johnson for the longest 12-yard gain of the bunch and it looked like there might be a shot to put together a long touchdown drive. Unfortunately, the momentum came to a halt when Crosby knocked Okorafor on his back and forcing Ben to take another hit but was able to flip it to Najee for a short Harris catch. The following two plays were targets to JuJu that was batted at the line of scrimmage, and Claypool taking a big hit that jarred the ball loose. The Steelers decided to go for the 56-yard field goal with 3:47 left in the game, Boswell did a great job here nailing the longest field goal in the history of Heinz Field and cut the deficit to six.
The Steelers got the ball back with only 20 seconds left and down by nine points. Ben went short to Diontae who was injured on the play, and here’s to hoping it’s not too serious. What an odd way to see the game end. What were some of your offensive takeaways?
T.J. Watt led the team with a 94.9 grade but was injured along with Tyson Alualu, who I thought had a good start but only played four snaps. Cameron Heyward was the only other player with an 80+ grade, and Minkah Fitzpatrick had another extremely low 29.1 grade but was more warranted than the low mark he received from week one in my opinion. Now for some of my takeaways:
The Steelers came out on the first play getting pressure like we saw last week from Tyson Alualu and good physical coverage and pass break up from Schobert. After the Raiders ran a quarterback sneak to convert on third and one, T.J. Watt and Alualu were both pursuing the running back and Watt unfortunately landed on Tyson’s lower leg. The Steelers were already without Devin Bush and Joe Haden going into the game, and it was so unfortunate to see on the fourth defensive play of the game. Watt had a zone drop and tackle along with the third down stop, getting nice burst off the edge to make the tackle on Kenyan Drake.
The Raiders came out passing on the second drive off the Roethlisberger interception, with Kenyan Drake split out wide against Cameron Sutton who dropped to a deep zone allowing a big gain on a screen play. Then T.J. Watt had a great dip and rip move on the rookie Alex Leatherwood to get the strip sack, and Melvin Ingram had a great opportunity to recover but unfortunately couldn’t make the play. The Raiders then had a botched snap and false start penalty that forced them into third down and long, so the Steelers played off coverage to stop the offense short of the sticks. Holding the Raiders to a field goal here was big off the turnover.
Early in the second quarter Loudermilk got pushed back on the first play of the third drive but showed good effort along with Joe Schobert to get off their blocks to make the tackle. Chris Wormley then got pressure on Carr who scrambled and chose to stay on his feet and duck instead of sliding down, and Robert Spillane made the hit but was penalized for a roughing penalty. In my opinion it appeared he hit him more on his shoulder and was a 50/50 type call, what is your opinion? Ingram was able to get into the backfield on the next play and make the runner cut into Terrell Edmunds who also had good penetration and made the tackle for a loss. James Pierre then had a missed tackle off a short pass to Hunter Renfrow, who also made Minkah Fitzpatrick miss and picking up a nice gain but good hustle chasing down the play by Cameron Heyward downfield. Alex Highsmith then had an offsides penalty, which was the fourth penalty for the Steelers to this point in the game. Considering the offense went punt, interception, and fourth down fail these were all detrimental to the lack of getting established early. The defense was able to hold the Raiders to a couple short runs and an incompletion to Darren Waller with Spillane in coverage and holding Las Vegas to a field goal.
The Raiders then went on a long drive starting at 6:25 that lasted the rest of the quarter, starting with a short route by Henry Ruggs where Minkah made the decision to go with the deeper route giving him too much room to run after the catch and pick up the first down. Watt and Heyward then provoked Derek Carr to roll out of the pocket but found Renfrow over the middle. Watt came off the field on this drive and ended up not coming back in the game, another loss on the defensive side of ball that the team could not overcome. The next coverage was interesting having Schobert on him at the snap, then he ended up rushing with Ingram dropping to cover him and getting faked out on the route. Spillane did have a good tackle, but it went for a first down. The Raiders then got their third first down in a row here, showing a 3TE 1WR set then running all go routes and getting a big 25-yard gain on the back shoulder throw to Foster Moreau with Schobert in coverage. Joe then made a better play in coverage breaking up the pass down the field and noted Ingram pushing Alex Leatherwood back and getting Carr out of the pocket again. Ingram provided pressure again, but Carr was able to elude and have enough time to find the receiver to set up third and manageable. With four yards to go, Renfrow got the target again and did a good job of getting the first down on Justin Layne’s tackle where he was a bit slow to click and close. Heyward then got a good push into the backfield and made a great tackle for a loss with Edmunds tracking the play as well.
Two plays later the Raiders were in a third and nine situation at the two minute warning, and went to Waller on an out route but Schobert made a sound tackle short of the sticks. Las Vegas went for it on fourth and one and converted on the quarterback sneak and noted Wormley at defensive tackle and getting pushed back on the conversion. Schobert missed a tackle on the next run for three yards, but Heyward and Spillane were there to make the play. With 24 seconds left in the half the Raiders had a false start, a touchdown on James Pierre that was negated by holding, incomplete to Waller out of bounds with Norwood in coverage, then another penalty taking away a catch. With six seconds left, Las Vegas made the field goal and the Steelers defense caught a huge break on this long drive and going into halftime only down by two points. Also noticed the defense double covering Waller in the first half and limiting him to only three targets in the second quarter and only one catch.
To start the second half, they went to Waller right away and noted Ingram with a good push on the backup right tackle in for the injured Leatherwood. Spillane was in single coverage here, and Carr took advantage. Robert came back with an excellent run recognition and wrapped up the back along with Wormley for loss on the following play forcing a third and three. Willie Snead then caught the slant for a first down on Norwood who missed the tackle and Minkah makes the tackle after the long 14-yard gain. Ingram provided pressure again, and Chris Wormley did a great job batting the pass at the line of scrimmage. Isaiah Buggs got washed out on the next rush but Spillane and Sutton both reacted well to bottle it to a short gain to force third down. Pittsburgh’s coverage unit was great to end the drive here, with Carr trying to extend the play to no avail forcing the punt!
Mid- third quarter Heyward got outstanding penetration on the left guard but Carr just got it away, with Sutton in coverage and quick tackle but allowed an 18-yard gain over the middle. The Raiders then got the ball to Drake again in front of the Steelers zone coverage. Ingram came up huge on second and one with a spin move and acceleration for the sack, noted Carr looking for Waller off motion and getting vertical on the play. This set up a big third and nine with the Steelers still down by two points. The receivers ran vertical then ran a stop (hesitation at the sticks) and go which froze the Steelers coverage and allowed Renfow to convert against Norwood. Jamir Jones made a nice run stop from the left edge position throwing the blocker aside to make the play. Unfortunately Pierre got beat by Ruggs’ speed over the middle deep and YAC due to Sutton not getting a good angle and missing a tackle, allowing a 30-yard gain and setting up the Moreau touchdown in the corner of the endzone on the following play against Schobert.
The Raiders got the ball back at the end of the third quarter and noted Ingram covering a slot receiver. Carr threw to Drake in the backfield and Ingram could not get the angle to stop him on the edge, allowing a big gain and first down. Norwood had a good reaction on a screen to Ruggs, occupying the blockers and space to run and Spillane was free to make the tackle. The final play of the quarter Ingram dropped into zone again and lost his footing reacting to Wallers’ route allowing the first down. The fourth quarter began with a Sutton missed tackle, allowing a first down out of the gate. Pierre made a good tackle which set up second and three, where Highsmith made a great play in the backfield to stop the run, followed by Heyward getting a batted pass for a big third down stop. The defense gave the team an opportunity here down by two possessions and time to work with.
Early in the fourth quarter Carr went at Sutton on back-to-back plays, both were complete and the latter went to Waller for the first down. Renfrow got open on the next play since Norwood and Witherspoon collided, but Carr wasn’t on the same page on the route and the Steelers lucked out here. Pittsburgh got another batted pass forcing a third down, but Carr went deep down field to Ruggs, who won the footrace with Witherspoon and Minkah. This touchdown put the Raiders up by nine points and was really deflating in the moment.
The Raiders got the ball back and ran all running plays to milk the clock, noting Spillane and Wormley missing tackles on back-to-back plays. Then the run defense tightened, highlighted by the third down stop by Heyward and Edmunds getting through the line of scrimmage for a loss of five forcing the punt on a short drive.
With 3:37 left in the game, the Raiders ran the ball to get the clock moving again, then got a deep pass to Waller who beat Schobert in coverage. Las Vegas then had a 13-yard run to bring the clock down to the two-minute warning. They proceeded to run on the next play to force Pittsburgh to take their final timeout, then running the clock down to 24 seconds and making a 45-yard field goal attempt and putting the lead at nine again, where it would stay. What are some of your defensive takeaways?
This graph does have some unlabeled players, but wanted to filter down to a minimum of five snaps to highlight Buddy Johnson’s team leading special teams grade along with Jamir Jones and Robert Spillane with 70+ grades. Ray-Ray McCloud was by far the lowest graded special teamer. He had a decent opening kickoff return, getting to the left sideline despite Marcus Allen and Benny Snell missing their blocks. On McCloud’s first punt return he was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, penalties that were detrimental to the team that they could not overcome. He did have a good punt return to set up the last offensive drive though.
On the first punt of the second half, Harvin had a booming punt inside the ten-yard line for 59-yards. He also had another great punt that rolled and was downed at the three-yard line at the end of the third quarter. His last punt of the game was a long one that went inside the ten as well but missed tackle opportunities by Maulet and Spillane allowed a good return. Wanted to shout out Harvin’s good performance in a game that lacked a ton of bright spots. The Raiders seemed to bring the hustle on special teams, winning against blockers in kick and punt coverage. What are some of your special teams takeaways?
STEELERS VS. RAIDERS SNAPS AND TOTAL SNAPS FOR 2021:
Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!