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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Never A Doubt About It

GAME PRELUDE

I never had a doubt. We had ‘em all the way. Okay, a moment there at the end of the game. Or more stray negative vibes pulsed in my dome during a Denver drive or a Steeler injury earlier in the game. But once James Pierre intercepted that pass in the end zone. All doubt evaporated. We had ‘em all the way as the late great Bob Prince would say.

BEAUTIFUL DAY FOR STEELERS FOOTBALL

What a beautiful day. I drove back up to the Burgh to join many friends met at games and training camps over the years. Headed over to my favorite Renegade tailgate hosted by Lenny and Cindie. Always meet people from the local area and from all over the country. One couple flew in from New Mexico. Flying home, one will be happy the other sad.

FANS FROM DIFFERENT ERAS

I understand the glee that fans of other teams take in the Steelers woeful start. What I don’t understand are the Steelers fans hoping the Steelers bench Ben Roethlisberger and play Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins. Or worse, hoping that Pittsburgh loses more games to get a higher pick in the 2022 draft. Admittedly, a small percentage of the fanbase but vocal enough for notice. That was the Cleveland Browns model for years of futility until their recent success. Do we really want to emulate that model?

I conducted a twitter poll to see when the current Pittsburgh Steeler fanbase first became Steeler fans. Surprisingly, 35% of respondents became fans after 2003. Meaning Ben Roethlisberger is the only regular Steelers quarterback they have known. And they have never experienced a losing season. Yoi, I’m scared to find out the reaction once the Steelers have a few losing seasons in a row. After all, that’s what the NFL parity scheme is all about.

STEELERS FANS ON CLUBHOUSE

On Monday Nights I get together for a Steelers Town Hall for fans on Clubhouse on Mondays at 8:30PM eastern time. Ken S. and Ted Webb are regular co-hosts and we finally got to meet each other. Come join us sometime. The link is just above.

This was an especially important game just five weeks into the season. Lose it and the Steelers buried at one and four with virtually no playoff shot. Win it and the Steelers just might climb back into view as a viable team. Ryan Shazier there to lead the fans in the Terrible Towel twirl and to hang out with his former teammates. Very cool!

 

STEELERS OFFENSE

SCORING ON OPENING DRIVES TRENDING FOR PITTSBURGH

Another opening drive touchdown! Pittsburgh’s offense got the fans involved in the game early again. Benny Snell’s holding penalty on the kickoff gave a start at the 15-yard line. Najee Harris gains six yards on his first run of the game. We want more of this. Ben hits Chase Claypool on a short pass that goes 23 yards on third and one. Snell can’t catch Ben’s pass on second down making it third and seven from the 50. Ben Roethlisberger answers the critics who say he can’t throw deep anymore. A perfect strike to Diontae Johnson who scores on the Steelers opening drive. And just like that it’s 7-0.

Pittsburgh’s second offensive possession does not go so well. It looked promising. Najee gained 26 yards on five carries. Ben completed two passes to tight ends to convert third downs. The first to Pat Freiermuth. It really sounded like booing when Freiermuth caught the ball. Muuuutthh! The second conversion to Eric Ebron who cradled the ball like it was a baby. The ball just in Denver territory at the 48. Then Chuks Okorafor false starts. First and 15. It unravels two plays later. On second and 13, Malik Reed strip-sacks Ben. Alexander Johnson takes the fumble to the 29-yard line. The defense is stout and hold Denver to a field goal making it 7-3.

OFFENSE ANSWERS DENVER FIELD GOALS WITH SCORES OF THEIR OWN

Pittsburgh goes back to work. First play is a surprise pass to Zach Gentry for 13 yards. Now back to Najee four straight times. One a reception to end the first quarter with a first down. Najee’s fourth play goes 20 yards to the Denver 27. Kevin Ballage spells Najee. First carry is three-yard loss. Then he and Ben don’t connect on a pass. Ben throws to JuJu Smith-Schuster on third down but comes up empty. Chris Boswell calmly kicks a 48-yard field goal to answer Denver’s three. It’s 10-3.

Pittsburgh goes three and out. On third and two, Ben misses Chase Claypool deep along the sideline. Why not a higher percentage play to get the first down? Oh well, Pressley Harvin punts for only time in the half. A 56 yarder but returned 13 yards by Diontae Spencer. Remember him at Steelers training camp? We used to get the Diontae’s mixed up. Denver capitalizes on the short field with another field goal making it 10-6.

JuJu injured his shoulder on the first play following the kickoff. Then Claypool goes 59 yards after a short pass from Ben. Pittsburgh knocking on the door at the 13-yard line. Okorafor false starts a second time in the game. Hey, we’re in Pittsburgh not Denver. On third and 15 still at the 18, Ben throws an incomplete pass to Diontae Johnson. But officials call Kevin Fuller for pass interference. I thought all the calls went against Pittsburgh. A fresh set of downs and Najee takes the ball and leaps into the endzone for a 17-6 lead.

Scott Juba almost had Najee in his lap

PUZZLING TIMEOUT

Pittsburgh got one more possession in the half with 1:31 to play. A short completion negated by referee flagging Kendrick Green for being too far downfield. Most fans disagreed once they saw the replay. But then Najee runs 13 yards and gets out of bounds for a first down and stops the clock. Pittsburgh calls timeout after Ebron makes five-yard reception. 28 seconds to make something happen. Instead, Pittsburgh runs Ballage up the middle to end the half. Why call timeout if you’re going to kill the clock anyway? A few half-hearted boos. Can’t be too salty with the Steelers up 17-6 at halftime.

JUST THREE OFFENSIVE DRIVES IN SECOND HALF

STRONG START TO SECOND HALF

The Steelers offense start their first drive from the 14 after Ray-Ray fair caught a Sam Martin punt. The Steelers average starting position was their own 18 compared to the 31 for the Broncos for the game. Najee gained 31 more yards before Bronco’s defense stuff him for two losses. He ran 18 yards on the second play of the drive. Kevin Dotson caught holding so Ben went to the air on second and 17. First to Najee for 14. Then to Claypool for another 14 on third and three. Cody White in for inured JuJu dropped a pass that might have scored. On third down, Ben hit Freiermuth on a short pass for first down. Ben missed McCloud after Najee could not penetrate the line of scrimmage.

Boswell hits a 51 yarder which has us dancing in the stands. But a flag. Official explains that Denver illegally leveraging on the play so now there is a fresh set of downs. Ball is at the 18 and Najee misses two straight passes. Then the strike down the middle to Chase Claypool who snatches the ball out of the air with authority. It’s now 24-6 instead of 20-6. Heinz Field is rocking as the drive consumed over seven minutes and has the game closing in on the fourth quarter.

Denver scores playing catch up to make it 24-13. The offense cannot keep the ball and kill the clock. Najee runs four yards to open. Then Kendrick Green called for holding as Najee ran around to the left. The replay didn’t look conclusive to me. On second and 16, Benny Snell back in the game. His best effort of the contest is nine yards to the left. Nice. But on third down, Ben checks down to McCloud who only gains one yard forcing a punt from the 22. Harvin booms it 63 yards but a 13-yard return.

OFFENSE JUST ENOUGH

Denver scores again making it 24-19 after missing the two-point conversion. The atmosphere a little uncomfortable. Najee clearly struggling with cramps or something with his legs. Benny Snell is on the field. Ben passes to Diontae Johnson for 22 yards and a first down. He wisely goes to the ground inbounds to keep the clock moving. Ben’s 16-yard pass to Claypool puts Pittsburgh in field goal range at the 35. Three straight Benny Snell runs force Denver to use their last timeouts. His last run just a yard short of a first down. Chris Boswell walks onto the field and kicks a 43-yard field goal. That gives Pittsburgh an eight-point cushion 27-19 with 2:33 to play.

But the last two Pittsburgh drives only spent two and a half minutes each. Too much time left on the clock. But in the end the defense holds, and the offense has contributed to the victory in a big way, answering Denver scores earlier in the game.

STEELERS DEFENSE

FANS STOKED THEN RELIEVED

Heinz Field rocking after the Steelers score on their first possession. Denver starts at their 25 but the stadium is loud enough for the Broncos to take a delay of game penalty. TJ Watt and Arthur Maulet tackle Melvin Gordon for a one-yard gain and it’s a crescendo. Minkah Fitzpatrick stops Tim Patrick four yards short of the sticks. Denver is punting and the Steelers performance stokes the crowd.

Six minutes later the defense is back on the field. Denver sacked Ben forcing him to fumble. The ball is at the Bronco’s 29-yard line. Denver rides Javonte Williams this series. Watt drops him for a four-yard loss on second down. Teddy Bridgewater goes right back to Williams in the air. He gains ten yards before Robert Spillane and Terrell Edmunds prevent the first down. The defense holds Denver to a field goal on a short field. Fans so excited a minute ago relieved the Steelers still lead 7-3.

The offense responds with a Boswell field goal to go up 10-3. Diontae Spencer got to the 22 on the kickoff return. Gordon back in the game and gains eight with Joe Haden on the stop. Bridgewater throws to incompletions including Cam Heyward tipping the ball at the line of scrimmage. Sam Martin punts again at the start of the second quarter.

ANOTHER SHORT FIELD, BUT DEFENSE HOLDS THEM TO THREE AGAIN

Denver gets another short field after holding Pittsburgh to a three and out coupled with Diontae Spencer’s 13-yard punt return. Javonte Williams back. Denver is rotating he and Gordon, so they are always fresh. On third and one at the Denver 49-yard line, Williams runs by Minkah Fitzpatrick who flails an arm at him off balance. Javonte heading for a touchdown until James Pierre tackles him at the two. Williams draws a delay of game penalty for spiking the ball. First and goal from the seven. Devin Bush sacks Bridgewater for a 12-yard loss. Denver must settle for three again. Huge play by Pierre to prevent the touchdown. Dumb play by young Javonte Williams to give the Steelers defense five more yards of grass to defend. Steelers still led 10-6 despite Denver having two short fields and a double explosive 49-yard play.

The offense does their job and answers a field goal with a touchdown. With 2:12 to go in the half, the Denver offense begins to target James Pierre with Courtland Sutton. Two receptions for 26 yards getting by midfield. Arthur Maulet defends two passes. Highsmith pressures Bridgewater but then gets himself caught in the neutral zone on third and 15. Another incomplete pass under pressure from Highsmith with Joe Haden in coverage. Didn’t matter. A declined holding call would have negated any catch. Denver punts again. Pittsburgh leads 17-6 at the half. The defense doing the job forcing punts and when presented with a short field forcing threes instead of touchdowns.

SECOND HALF

DEFENSE RESTS IN THIRD QUARTER

Denver opened the second half with a 12-yard Courtland Sutton reception. A little later, Broncos reach midfield on a Tim Patrick 12-yard reception. But on first down, the Steelers defense string Gordon out until he runs out of room and just gains one yard. On third and seven, Heyward bats another ball at the scrimmage line. Just wish a defender could reach the ball to intercept. Five minutes have gone by. The defense will rest until just 2:41 left in the third quarter.

FADING IN FURIOUS FOURTH QUARTER

Pittsburgh scores again for a commanding 24-6 lead. The defense rested and dominant thus far. Devin Bush left the game with a groin injury and replaced by Robert Spillane. Bridgewater passes to Patrick for 19 yards. Then Henry Mondeaux spins and sacks Bridgewater for an eight-yard loss. On fourth and five, Tre Norwood tackles Patrick right near the first down marker. It looks like he is short. People can’t believe where the officials mark the ball. But the replay shows Patrick extending his arm before his knee hits the ground. A first down by a pig’s snout.

Javonte Williams catches Pittsburgh by surprise with a 10-yard run. Terrell Edmunds tackles Noah Fant short of a first down at the 28. On fourth and two, Bridgewater hits Courtland Sutton with Minkah pushing him out of bounds at the three. Loudermilk sacks Bridgewater before he can cross the line of scrimmage. But the play negated by offensive holding. Joe Haden tackles Bridgewater but not before he gains 11 yards. An incompletion sets up the third fourth down of this drive. Bridgewater hits Hinton for the two-yard touchdown. Now it’s 24-13 but the defense forced Denver to use 7:26 to score.

PUCKER FACTOR

The offense gives the ball back on a 63-yard Harvin punt marred by a 13-yard return. Denver has the ball at the 28 with 7:40 to play. Patrick gets a quick 15-yard first down reception to the 47 with Pierre in defense. A couple plays later, Bridgewater hits Sutton for a 39-yard touchdown pass victimizing Pierre. Denver attempts to get within three with a two-point conversion but fail. It’s 24-19. The pucker factor is squeezing tight. Denver took less than two minutes to score.

INTERCEPTING REDEMPTION

Boswell is ice and gives Pittsburgh an eight-point lead with a 43-yard field goal. Denver has just the two-minute warning to stop the clock as they expended their timeouts on the Pittsburgh’s last possession. Denver reaches midfield before the two-minute warning. Renegade time.

A 23-yard pass to Patrick with Haden in defense. Denver reaches the nine on Bridgewater’s pass to Hinton for 23 yards. He ran out of bounds with 56 seconds to go. Renegade that played just a minute ago seems like a distant memory. Fans are restless and up on their feet, twirling towels and making noise. It comes down to a final fourth down with 17 seconds to play. Bridgewater throws left in the end zone for Courtland Sutton. But it is Sutton’s former victim that redeems his coverage with a strong interception. Heinz Field goes nuts. Players running over to congratulate Pierre. Haden jumping for joy. It’s all over except for Big Ben to kneel in the victory formation

SPECIAL TEAMS

I believe special teams are an underappreciated facet of the game where one big play can shift momentum or even determine the game winner.

I break special teams play into three phases: Kickoffs, punting, and field goals including extra point attempts. Here is an overview of the special teams play during the game:

KICKOFFS

Chris Boswell kicked off six times. Former Steeler prospect Diontae Spencer returned the second kickoff to the twenty-two from the goal line. Boswell opened the second half with a short 58-yard kickoff. Spencer returned the ball to the twenty-five. But a Broncos holding penalty pushed the ball back to the fifteen just like the game opened for the Steelers. Denver’s average starting position after kickoffs was their own 23-yard line.

Brandon McManus kicked off five times. The game’s opening kickoff went to the ten-yard line. Ray-Ray McCloud returned the ball to the 25-yard line. Unfortunately, Benny Snell caught holding bringing the ball to the fifteen to start the game. Ray-Ray McCloud returned another kickoff from two yards deep in the endzone after Denver pulled within eleven points. He only reached the twenty and I wish he just took a knee on that one.

Benny Snell’s second holding penalty in two consecutive games. Steeler’s kickoff coverage unit kept the Broncos starting position behind the twenty-five twice. Both teams covered well. Both teams penalized for holding to open halves.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Start Avg
Chris Boswell 6 2 4 0 2 Den 23
Brandon McManus 5 2 3 0 2 Pgh 22

 

Kickoff Returns KO/R Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Ray-Ray McCloud 2 35 17.5 20 1 0
Diontae Spencer 2 40 20.0 22 1 0

 

Advantage Even.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin III punted twice. But Danny Smith must have told him to uncork the bottle. His first went 56 yards and the second 63 yards. However, Spencer returned both for 13 yards. Either not enough hangtime or the gunners hung up before they can get downfield. Harvin netted a respectable 46.5 yards a punt even though neither backed Denver behind the 20.

Sam Martin punted four times. His first two travelled 52 yards each. Ray-Ray stopped for no gain trying to return the second. Regardless, Justin Layne blocked a Bronco in the back giving Pittsburgh bad field position at the nine-yard line. Martin’s next two kicks only went 39 and 33 yards, respectively. But both forced Steelers to start behind the 20. Ray-Ray forced to fair catch three of four punts.

Pressley Harvin made noteworthy progress this game. He can flip the field. But veteran Sam Martin edges Harvin out. All four of his punts forced Pittsburgh behind the 20-yard line.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB IN20 Long
Pressley Harvin 2 59.5 46.5 0 0 63
Sam Martin 4 44.0 44.0 0 4 52

 

Punt Returns P/R Yds AVG FC OB/D Pen Long TD
Ray-Ray McCloud 1 0 0.00 3 0 1 0 0
Diontae Spencer 2 26 13.0 0 0 0 13 0

 

Advantage Broncos.

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Chris Boswell kicked three field goals including a 51 yarder. But only two counted. His long field goal nullified by a Denver player illegally leveraging resulting in a first down. The Steelers later scored a touchdown so went up 24-6 instead of 20-6. Boswell converted all three points after touchdown attempts.

McManus did Broncos first half scoring with two field goals. Nice work by defense to keep Denver out of the endzone. Denver attempted a two-point conversion on their second touchdown to come within three points. Bridgewater’s pass to Courtland Sutton incomplete so the score remained 24-19.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Chris Boswell 3 3 2 2 48 0 0
Brandon McManus 1 1 2 2 39 0 1

 

Advantage Steelers.

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

Dave Bryan provided five keys for a Steelers victory. Here is how the Steelers performed them:

  1. Steeler offense runs higher rate of run-pass option plays (RPO). Matt Canada used RPOs and mixed in play action and a heavy dose of running. Mission accomplished.
  2. Defense tackles the catch to prevent receivers gaining yards afterwards. Mission accomplished.
  3. Use the tight ends more in the passing game. The tight end group combined for five receptions for thirty yards. On par with earlier games. Many saving them for later games. Mission failure.
  4. Limit tight end Noah Fant. Noah held to three catches for 20 yards. Mission accomplished.
  5. Defense makes at least one takeaway. Last defensive play of game but Pierre’s pick interception huge. Mission accomplished.

Steelers achieved four of five keys. Defenders tackling receivers forced Denver using a lot of time late in the game. Offense looked balanced giving Ben more time in pocket.

YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME

FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS

Steelers Depot readers commented 730 times on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Steelers Depot respondents did not meet the standard. The television coverage map looked sparse. Or everyone too shocked from all the Steelers first half scoring. We need to pick up the pace next week. Thank you, Ross McCorkle, for keeping us up to date with the latest tweets and updates as the game progressed.

James Pierre hustled to tackle Javonte Williams before he could score a touchdown. Matchesmalone posted the “best” comment of the half by noting how important Pierre not giving up on the play was. “In hindsight, what a huge save to tackle Javonte at the 1. I was ready to just give them the TD, but the D came through.”

Greg Payne assigned responsibility for the Broncos strip-sack turnover. “That was on Ben. Just can’t hold it that long.” Fortunately, the defense kept the Steelers in the game by forcing a field goal.

“Despite that disaster of the final drive, this is still the best we have looked in the first half all season.” Chris92021 summed up the Steelers first half performance very well. Many agreed rating his comment in top three of the half.

Steelers up by two scores at end of half 17-6. Now that’s rare earth so far this season.

SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS

The Depot respondents 859 comments failed to meet the standard in consecutive halves during the second half live discussion. I mean, I just wanted to attend the game at Heinz Field. C’mon folks!

DirtDawg1964 made us use our thinking caps to garner the “best” comment of the half: “When people say Boz has a weak leg, do they watch him on kickoffs like this? Or just the ones where Smith tells him to kick it short?”

Tom – Steeler’s All the Way copes with stress in a positive way: “Ok, so as soon as I finish my beer, I am going to go to the ICU to see if I can jump start any patients!! My heartbeat is about 300!!”

Why was Tom stressing? The defense that played so well was bending. Steve explains, “They converted three 4th Downs! That isn’t Championship Defense.” With Najee Harris out with cramps, Monkey’s Uncle added, “If you gave me a list of 100 running backs to run out the clock with, I’d put Snell 101st”

James Pierre taking a pounding from multiple respondents as Denver threatened to steal a victory away. Until the very end when Jason Dock Dudley spoke for many. “Pierre……I take back my disparaging comment. Way to redeem yourself young man!”

The GrumpyHighlander always known for understatement, captured the feelings of Steelers fans everywhere: “I told you all we were the best team in the world.”

CONCLUSION

Last week, I concluded, in part, that the defense gave up touchdowns when field goals needed to stay in the game. I also described Pressley Harvin’s punting as a liability. This week the defense prevented Denver on scoring touchdowns on short fields in the first half. Pressley Harvin also boomed two big punts that gave the defense more breathing space.

The players want this. They know the fans do too.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Both the defense and Harvin have room for improvement. The defense only gave up six points in the first half. Then two touchdowns in the fourth quarter including three converted fourth downs on one drive. Harvin booted two long kicks, but both returned for 13 yards. The Steelers outperformed Denver it many categories. However, average starting position for Pittsburgh was at their 18-yard line. While Denver enjoyed an average starting position of their own 31. Clean-up the special team penalties. Avoid turnovers and Harvin’s continued improvement could give Pittsburgh better field position which is a key factor in close contests.

NEW OFFENSIVE WRINKLES

The Steelers offense did their job by scoring early. Then answering Denver’s scores to maintain and even extend the lead. The offense just needed to play keep away better in the fourth quarter. Ben looked much more comfortable in the pocket. I attribute that to a game plan that mixed play action, RPOs, and plenty of running by Najee Harris. Some pundits say that the Steelers won because they ran the ball more. I see it as more situational. Once you have a lead, run if it remains successful. On Sunday that formula worked. The offense struggled once Najee left the game with cramps. Perfect time for McFarland to come off injured reserve. He could add new wrinkles to Matt Canada’s offensive scheme.

Just week five, and a very important game to win.

ONE MORE GAME THEN REJUVENATE

Deeply sorry to see JuJu Smith-Schuster injured. That’s why the Steelers shouldn’t trade James Washington as some suggested earlier. Positional depth is critically important in the NFL. Especially as the league adds games to the regular season to make more money.

Devin Bush suffered another groin injury. There must be a reason for this sudden spate of specific injuries. Robert Spillane played solidly in his place.

The Steelers play Seattle next week who lost Russell Wilson. Another important game to even up their record and head into the bye week to rejuvenate the team. Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. Coming into this game, the Steelers lost three games in a row. Doubt creeping in. Ben Roethlisberger’s capabilities in question. If you were in doubt about the Steelers chances this season:  Yesterday’s gone. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. The Steelers got another game and can even their record. They are not out of anything yet. Here is Don’t Stop by Fleetwood Mac.

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