In a poor showing for the team’s offense a week prior, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Green Bay Packers 27-17 in Week 4. Among the many resolutions to improve before taking the field again was an expressed need to create more “chunk” plays, accumulating large amounts of yardage in a single snap to prevent the need for 15-play drives to reach the end zone.
In Week 5 against the Denver Broncos, the Steelers rediscovered their ability to hit those kind of plays, highlighted best in a 50-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Diontae Johnson on the opening drive of the game. Behind plays such as those, the Steelers built up a 24-6 lead, and held on through a Denver comeback for a 27-19 win. In his postgame press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin noted the improvement in getting those kinds of plays was a factor in the team’s second win of the season.
“It helps us. It eliminates a lot of execution, less third downs you have to convert, for example,” Tomlin said. “Chunk plays when we’re clicking, historically here, it’s a component of our play, and it was today, and we needed it. And we’re appreciative.”
After a season-low nine plays of over 10 yards in the loss to the Packers, Pittsburgh tied a season-high with 11 of them on Sunday. An increase of only two seems small, but those plays were coming early in the game and all throughout the contest, as opposed to largely coming in a comeback scenario as they had been. Three of them came on rushing plays, all by Najee Harris, the most in a game this season for the team, and several went for much longer chunks than just 10 or so yards.
The opening drive also featured a 23-yard pass to Chase Claypool prior to Johnson’s big touchdown. Claypool had another big one, 59 yards, to help set up Pittsburgh’s other touchdown of the first half. Harris had a gain of 18 and Pittsburgh got back-to-back passes of 14 yards on their opening drive of the second half, also ending in a touchdown, and the team’s final drive of the game featured back-to-back passes of 22 and 16 yards that helped lead to a Chris Boswell field goal.
Playing with a lead was a change from the prior weeks for the Steelers, and helped open up the opportunity for some of those big plays to happen. The return of chunk plays is one major factor for the Steelers’ return to winning, and improving to a 2-3 record this season.