Following each game in the 2021 Steelers season, I will be highlighting the play or event in the game that is the turning point in the game. These aren’t meant to be anything earth-shattering but meant to take a deeper look at how we arrived at the outcome of the game that may be hard to see during the first live watch.
Al Davis would have been smiling yesterday afternoon. Davis, was the owner and general manager of the Oakland (now Las Vegas) Raiders for 39 years, from 1972 until his death in 2011. He was known for his addiction to players that lit stopwatches on fire. Other than his “just win, baby” line his second-most notorious quote maybe “They say stopwatches never lie. Speed kills, but absolute speed kills absolutely.”
And kill it did, Sunday.
The Steelers were able to bring the game within two points after an electric catch and run by rookie running back, Najee Harris, who was able to dive into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown.
With 11:15 left on the clock, it was time for the first Renegade with a full-capacity crowd at Heinz Field since December 15, 2019.
And for those couple of minutes, the Pittsburgh fans could feel they were about to claw to another narrow fourth quarter come-from-behind victory behind their vaunted defense.
There are, however, two key similarities that stick out to me between that cold December game against the Buffalo Bills and this Sunday’s. The first pertains to having an offense that is seemingly incapable of scoring more than 20 points (this time without a quarterback named ‘Duck’).
The other? Renegade isn’t going to work.
After the kickoff and surrendering a first down, the Steelers defense was able to hold the Raiders to a 3rd-and-10 at their own 39-yard line. Heinz Field was ROCKING and the Terrible Towels were out in full force.
That is until Jon Gruden drew up the perfect play, sprinkled with Derek Carr’s aggressiveness.
Let’s take a look at the play setup.
The Steelers are about to blitz six with Cover 1 behind it. Which is man-to-man with a single-high safety.
At the bottom of the screen, you’re able to see an “arches” concept out of a bunch that involves #89, Bryan Edwards, running a drag route, and #13, Hunter Renfrow, running an angle-slant behind it.
Against man coverage, it’s especially effective due to it stressing the defense’s communication with the closeness of the receivers in bunch. Usually, the angle route is able to slip open after the drag clears the middle of the field.
If you watch the play, you’ll see Renfrow burns Terrell Edmunds across the middle of the field with ease.
But Carr had different plans in mind. He wanted to go deep this whole play. That’s why he toys with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from the snap of the ball
You can see Carr looking at Waller and gives him a tiny pump-fake before launching it deep towards Ruggs who’s really just a clearout for the underneath arches concept.
Fitzpatrick sits just enough on Waller for this ball, and Carr delivers an absolute dime with pressure in his face to the player made in Al Davis’ secret lab, Henry Ruggs III. Ruggs’ 4.27 speed does the rest.
It’s a shame that Ruggs, who has struggled with some concentration drops early in his NFL career, couldn’t dial up another one here as it almost slips through his hands a la Stevie Johnson in 2010.
This play truly personifies that football is a game of inches. From Fitzpatrick’s slight hesitation to Carr’s absolutely perfect throw.
Another overlooked part of this is Tre Norwood’s blitz from the slot.
With the Steelers blitzing six and the Raiders’ running back staying to the left, Norwood is able to come free.
If he doesn’t get held up by running directly into Edwards and trip turning the corner, does Carr have enough time to uncork this? Plays like this were why long-time Steelers nickel-corner, Mike Hilton, was so valuable. He was so good at timing his blitzes as well as staying clean. I think he may have been able to get home on this one or been close enough to affect Carr’s throw.
Both Carr and Ruggs did things in one play they’ve almost never done in their careers, with Carr’s 55.4 air-yard throw and Ruggs running fast enough to be pulled over in a school zone, they completely sucked the life out of Heinz Field.
The next drive is when the Steelers coaching staff waived the proverbial white flag by not going for it on 4th-and-1.
Pittsburgh did still have a chance to win after the Chris Boswell record-setting 56-yard field goal, but after those two drives back to back it felt like it simply wasn’t Pittsburgh’s game to win. And it wasn’t, as Las Vegas was able to effectively close out the game with a seven-play, 46-yard drive capped up off with a field goal to make it a two-score game with only 20 seconds left to play.
What did you feel was the turning point of the game? Leave your thoughts and comments below!