What a great and needed home win for the Pittsburgh Steelers to end a three-game losing streak! In this article I would like to provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.
Let’s start with the offense:
PFF graded wide receiver Chase Claypool the highest Steelers offensive player at 87.4 and great to see several players above a 70 grade unlike the Steelers losing streak, especially quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and agree with the grades above the tread line. I thought the PFF grades were low for the rest of the offensive line though, especially guard Trai Turner and center Kendrick Green.
The Steelers offense took the field first and started the game with a 6-yard successful run by running back Najee Harris, with good collective blocking from the offensive line along with wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster leading the way through the hole. On second and four Pittsburgh went to the run game again with Harris picking up three yards on another successful run, but Green was pushed back nearly allowing a tackle for loss. Harris was able to make a move for a positive gain thanks to good blocks by tackle Dan Moore, guard Kevin Dotson, and pulling block by Turner and noted fullback Derek Watt pulling as well but not sticking his block which allowed the tackle. This set up a third and one, where Roethlisberger attempted his first pass of the game from a clean pocket finding wide receiver Chase Claypool on an out route where the defensive back dove for the pass breakup but missed allowing Claypool the catch and tight roped the sideline for additional yards on the 23-yard gain and third down conversion!
On the following first down play Pittsburgh sent Smith-Schuster in motion and handed him the ball on the jet sweep, faking out a Broncos defensive lineman and thanks to blocks on the outside by tight end Zach Gentry and Watt aiding in a positive gain of three yards. Second and eight now, Roethlisberger back to pass and feels pressure allowed by Moore but dumped the ball off in time to running back Benny Snell who he was eager to run after the catch and dropped the pass setting up the second third down of the drive. On third and eight Moore, Turner, and tackle Chukwuma Okofafor got pushed back, but Roethlisberger went deep down the right side to wide receiver Diontae Johnson who faked outside just enough at the line to run past the defensive back who attempted to make a diving play at the catch point to no avail, which allowed another Johnson early touchdown as we saw last week against the Packers! Very encouraging to see Pittsburgh get the early score, 4/6 successful plays, and two 20+ yard pass plays including the touchdown. Steelers up by seven.
Pittsburgh’s offense came out for their second drive with 9:55 in the first quarter still up by seven with Harris on the ground for a gain of three yards, where Green and Turner allowed penetration on the tackle. On second and seven they went right back to Harris on the ground, this time for a successful five-yard gain where I noted good push by the offensive line except for Okorafor who allowed his man to push toward Harris who fought for yards after contact. This set up a third and two going shotgun with three receivers to the left after tight end Pat Freiermuth went in motion then had space created by the two receivers in front and Roethlisberger made a good pass to his outside shoulder and just getting it by the defender attempting the pass breakup. That’s three straight third down conversions for Pittsburgh to start the game!
The Steelers went to the pass on first down, setting up a screen to wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud that was covered well causing a Roethlisberger pump fake and Dotson’s man got a tip in the air but McCloud did a good job putting the hit on the defender who nearly intercepted the tipped ball. The Steelers went back to Harris on the ground for another successful run from a two back shotgun look on second and ten, where the entire offensive line got a good push with Turner pulling and Watt leading the way from the backfield with great blocks. Third down and three and Roethlisberger drops back in another clean pocket and finds tight end Eric Ebron on the out route for another third down conversion on the five-yard diving catch.
Pittsburgh continued the drive with two Harris runs, the first going for six yards with Turner and Gentry getting good blocks and Dotson getting pushed back. The second run on second and four was a five-yard gain where Green had a high shotgun snap but blocked well along with Dotson to create space but Turner allowing a late shed by the tackler. Six of seven Harris runs to this point were successful! The drive fizzled out here though, starting with an Okorafor false start, a two-yard rush by running back Kalen Ballage after Turner lost his block falling to the ground, and a coverage sack fumble on Roethlisberger where Moore pushed his man past the pocket but he looped back to make the play. Big turnover here and Roethlisberger got up slow after the hit, which put an end very encouraging second drive overall.
The third drive began with 1:43 left in the first quarter, and Pittsburgh used play action setting up a screen to Gentry that went for a nice gain of 13 yards with Moore out on the second level with a nice block for the first down. Harris kept the successful runs going where Dotson got beat initially but loved his second effort keeping the defender away as Harris who churned for additional yards on the gain of four. To close out the first quarter, Harris caught his first pass of the game on second and six and picked up just enough for the first down on the out route where Johnson created room on the slant from the same side.
The Steelers retained possession to start the second quarter and loved them staying with the running game early and often. The first was a five-yard gain by Harris where Dotson and Moore got good seal blocks but Green slipped off his block which allowed the tackle. On second and five Harris provided an explosive run of 21 yards where Moore aligned on the right side of the line next to Okorafor and both created the lane with Turner allowing his man free but Harris made a great cut for the huge gain! On first down Pittsburgh stuck with the run, this time with Ballage where Okorafor created a lane, but Ballage decided to bounce it outside with nowhere to go and losing three yards setting up second and 13. Roethlisberger dropped back to pass and decided to throw short to Ballage but there were two defenders in the area and noted Johnson being open. This set up a third and 13 where Roethlisberger wanted Smith-Schuster at the sticks, but Denver had tight coverage and the throw/route was a bit off and incomplete. This was the first failed third down conversion, but the Steelers get a field goal out of the drive for a seven point lead.
Pittsburgh’s offense returned with 11:44 in the second quarter and stuck with the running game with a 3-yard run by Harris with a good battle up front with Green and Dotson getting a decent push. Harris then provided another run, this time a successful 5-yard gain on second and seven where the entire offensive line got good collective blocks setting up third down and two. Roethlisberger goes for the deep shot to Claypool but couldn’t make the catch against good coverage for the second missed third down conversion in a row and a three and out. Still a seven point lead.
The Steelers got the ball back with 5:47 left in the half with a four point lead. On first and ten Smith-Schuster went in motion then a return and handoff on the jet sweep with good blocks from Ebron and Freiermuth but could not elude the fast reaction and solid hit from the safety on the gain of three. Smith-Schuster was injured on the play and would not return to the game. The good news is on second and seven Roethlisberger found Claypool over the middle on the quick slant wide open with great yards after catch and a stiff arm for a huge 59-yard gain and setting the offense up in the red zone! Harris got the handoff on first down where he could have run forward but decided to bounce outside for no gain. Okorafor followed this up with his second false start penalty of the game setting up second and long. Roethlisberger dropped back and noted Johnson open on the in route but held on and instead the pass went to Harris who was well covered and almost intercepted. On third and 15 Roethlisberger wants Johnson deep to the right and draws the defensive pass interference setting up first and goal! Harris tried to punch it in but the Broncos got a good push on Okofafor, Watt as the fullback, and Ebron to keep the Steelers out of the endzone. The following try Harris would not be denied though, leaping into the end zone for the one-yard score and giving Pittsburgh the 11-point lead!
Pittsburgh got one more first half possession with 1:31 left and ran with Harris for three yards with Green slipping off his block allowing the tackle. The following play Green was called for an ineligible man downfield penalty erasing a Johnson catch on a quick out setting up second and 12. The Steelers ran the ball with :54 seconds left where the offensive line did a great job collectively creating space for Harris who shook a defender then churned for additional yards and the first down. Roethlisberger dropped back on first down and found Ebron short over the middle for a 5-yard gain. The Steelers decided to run on the last play of the half with Ballage for a loss of two and let the clock run, content with the 11-point lead going into halftime.
The first possession of the second half for Pittsburgh started with the run game again, with Harris churning to get another success for 5 yards. On second and five Dotson, Moore, Freiermuth, and wide receiver Cody White (pancake) all did a great job blocking and springing Harris for the 18-yard run which gave him his first 100-yard rushing game of the season! Pittsburgh stayed on the ground for the third consecutive play, but with Ballage this time for a gain of three where Freiermuth lost his block on Denver linebacker Von Miller. Dotson had a holding penalty digging a second and 17 hole. Roethlisberger was able to find Harris open over the middle and yards after catch to get the offense into third and three, where the team had been successful most of the day so far. The success didn’t end here, with Roethlisberger finding Claypool on a nice slant route for the first down. The offensive line did a good job on the next running play where Harris had a one-on-one matchup where he made a nice cut inside faking the defender and getting seven yards. On second and three sent White in motion then Roethlisberger threw to him on a deep crossing route but floated the pass a bit where White had to wait on it and had a chance but couldn’t make the catch. Third and two and the Steelers get another conversion to Freiermuth for three yards, this time running an out route behind two receivers creating space similar to his first third down conversion.
The Steelers continued this long drive with Harris, but Denver was able to plug it up for a loss of one with Turner getting pushed back. The following run went for no gain where a defender split Turner and Green along with Moore allowing penetration. This set up third and 11 where Roethlisberger was pressured after Green was knocked to the ground on an overthrow to McCloud setting up fourth down. Kicker Chris Boswell made the field goal, but Denver suffered a personal foul penalty that gave Pittsburgh a fresh set of downs! On first down Roethlisberger threw for Harris who was well covered and noted Claypool wide open on the slant over the middle. Roethlisberger went back to Harris who slipped on his cut to the middle causing the pass to nearly be intercepted. Third and ten, Roethlisberger made a nice throw to Claypool from the slot down the seam and splitting the safeties for the leaping catch and touchdown! This was the second touchdown that came on third down, great long drive with help from the Broncos penalty and an 18-point lead!
The Pittsburgh offense returned with 10:09 left in the game and ran with Harris for a gain of four yards where the offensive line and Freiermuth got good blocks and the Denver linebacker also making a good play on the tackle. Green was called for a holding penalty on Harris’ next run where he fought for yards but had to leave the game. On second and 16 the Steelers ran Snell on a toss where Dotson moves his man, McCloud provides a block, and Green getting to the second level aiding the nine-yard gain. Third and seven now, where Dotson got beat allowing pressure and forcing the quick pass to McCloud short for only a one-yard gain making the Steelers to punt.
With 5:46 left in the game and a five-point lead, the Steelers ran the ball with Snell on first down for two yards where Moore was pushed back forcing Snell to change course but gets positive yards. On second and eight Roethlisberger found Johnson on the slant where he avoided tackles and provided good yards after catch for the 22-yard gain! On first down Roethlisberger play actions, pumps, then pass to Claypool on the opposite side on a quick out and makes a cut inside for yards after catch on the 16-yard gain and another first down. Pittsburgh then ran the ball three consecutive plays all with Snell forcing Denver to take their final timeouts. The drive ended with a field goal giving the Steelers an eight-point lead with 2:33 left.
The offense came out on last time to kneel and run the clock out after the defense provided the interception and the Steelers win!
Very happy overall with the Steelers offense today checking many boxes I was hoping for: mainly running the ball more and successfully, conversions/early points, and offensive line trending upward for the last two games in my opinion.
Now let’s look at the defense:
PFF graded linebacker T.J. Watt the highest Steelers defender at 90.1 and agreed with most of their grades for the game. Great to see a healthy number above a 70+ grade similar to the offense and unlike the grades during Pittsburgh’s losing streak. Linebacker Alex Highsmith had a quiet game and was PFF’s lowest graded defender in week five.
Pittsburgh’s defense came out for their first drive at 12:02 in the first quarter. Denver hurt themselves right away with a delay of game penalty where Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater audibled but unaware of the play clock running down setting up first and 15. Denver then went to running back Melvin Gordon and Watt ripped his hands through the blocker to get around the edge along with cornerback Arthur Maulet coming from the opposite edge to converge on the run stop of one yard. The Broncos elected to run again with Gordon on second and fourteen who gained five yards this time and noted Highsmith getting pushed back but Watt pursued to the opposite side along with cornerback James Pierre staying patient and reacting for the combined tackle. This set up third and nine and enjoyed seeing an odd front with Watt, Highsmith, and a third outside linebacker Melvin Ingram all on the field. Pittsburgh’s secondary left the short middle open where the receiver made the catch but short of the first down thanks to the quick reaction by safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Good three and out stop by the defense keeping the lead at seven.
The Steelers second defensive drive started with 3:57 left in the first quarter and a short field off the Roethlisberger fumble. The Broncos ran twice with rookie Javonte Williams, the first down run was almost stopped by Watt but had his legs taken out from under him, then linebacker Joe Schobert missed a tackle opportunity but forced the run back inside for two yards and a great play on the edge by Fitzpatrick along with defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs in on the play. The next run on second and eight was stopped behind the line on a great move inside by Watt causing the blocker to whiff and make the tackle for a loss of four. This set up third and 12 for the Broncos, and the Steelers played off coverage again forcing the short completion and tackle short of the sticks by linebacker Robert Spillane and safety Terrell Edmunds. Great job by the defense holding Denver to a field goal after the turnover, Steelers lead by four.
With 12:38 left in the second quarter, the Pittsburgh defense provided another three and out! The first play was a Gordon cutback run that gained eight yards, where defensive lineman Chris Wormley and Schobert got pushed back with cornerback Joe Haden making the tackle. This set up second and two where defensive lineman Cameron Heyward made a great play to tip the pass falling incomplete. The Broncos tried going to wide receiver Courtland Sutton again on third and two, but the pass was dropped with Edmunds trailing in coverage. Another short drive and defensive stop for the Steelers still leading by seven.
The Steelers defense returned with 10:04 on the clock and provided a nice run stop for no gain by Schobert and Edmunds. On second down Haden was playing way off Courtland Sutton who stopped at the sticks along the sideline but was marked just short of the marker setting up third and one. Denver broke a huge run on a toss to Williams for 49-yards where Highsmith went inside away from the play, Edmunds got blocked, and Fitzpatrick missed the angle/tackle with Pierre able to chase the play down just in time to save the touchdown. This was the first third down conversion for Denver to this point, and Williams was called for a delay of game for spiking the ball. This pushed Denver back on first and goal where they ran with Williams again but a nice play by Heyward along with Fitzpatrick to stop the play for two yards. The Steelers brought pressure with linebacker Devin Bush inside the right tackle who was also accounting for Watt which allowed Bush the path to make the sack on the backpedaling Bridgewater. Third and goal the Broncos threw to Williams split out wide on the screen but stopped well short by Pierre. Huge stop again holding Denver to a field goal after the long run, Steelers up by four.
The last defensive drive of the first half began with 2:12 left, and Courtland Sutton provided 14 and 12-yard catches back-to-back with Pierre in off coverage hitting the two-minute warning. The Broncos then had a false start penalty, then two incomplete attempts with Maulet in coverage setting up third and 15. The Steelers suffered a penalty of their own here with an offsides on Highsmith. On third and ten the pass fell incomplete, and Pittsburgh declined the holding penalty on Denver to set up fourth down forcing the punt. Great job by the defense making another stop and no touchdowns in the first half, Steelers up by eleven.
The defense came out to start the third quarter with a good interior push from Heyward and Wormley along with Maulet off the edge, but Bridgewater found Courtland Sutton on the sideline against Haden for 12 yards. The following first down was a good run by Gordon where Wormley got blocked aside and Watt hesitated before chasing him down after the seven-yard gain. Denver went to Gordon again, this time through the air and gets just enough for the first down over the middle with the tackle by Highsmith who dropped into zone coverage. On first down Buggs and defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux did a nice job plugging the middle on the run play with Schobert staying clean and making a good tackle for a gain of only one. The Steelers brought a blitz on second and nine with both Schobert and Bush, the later getting the quarterback hit but the pass was complete for 12 yards and a first down. Denver rushed Gordon on the next two plays, both for short gains. The first was a toss play where linebacker Derreck Tuszka did a good job pushing the blocker to the sideline along with Fitzpatrick to run him out of bounds for only one yard. The second was a nice play by Heyward to use his hands and get off the block for the tackle on the two-yard gain. This set up third down and seven and Heyward makes another great play tipping the pass, his second of the game. Another great stop by the defense, the lead still at eleven.
The last defensive possession of the third quarter began with 2:41 and a big chunk pass play of 19 yards right out of the gate where Haden kept running and the receiver ran a stop route allowing the first down. The following pass play Mondeaux had a great spin move to the inside and able to dive and get Bridgewater down for the sack! This set up second and 18 where they ran with Williams for three yards with Schobert reacting well on the tackle for only three yards. This set up third and 15 where the defense was able to play off again begging Bridgewater to throw short with Edmunds and Fitzpatrick rallying to make the tackle.
The defense returned to start the fourth quarter needing to stop Denver on fourth and five. Bridgewater’s pass was completed despite Watt’s quick get off with cornerback Tre Norwood made the tackle but allowed the fourth down conversion by inches. The Broncos ran for another first down on the next play with Williams, where Maulet took a poor angle inside and Haden missed a tackle, with Spillane and Fitzpatrick making the tackle after a ten-yard gain. The run defense responded with a stop behind the line of scrimmage on a reverse toss to the running back where Fitzpatrick ran all the way from his deep safety spot! Second and 11 the Broncos targeted tight end Noah Fant but Schobert was able to hit him on the incomplete pass. Third and 11 now, and the same off coverage forcing a short throw and tackle by Edmunds bringing up fourth and two. Denver was able to get their second conversion on fourth down here, where Pierre and Schobert covered the same receiver short on a broken coverage which left Courtland Sutton wide open, also setting up first and goal.
Watt was able to provide good pressure and the receiver slipped on the pass attempt where Pierre was covering. On second and goal the defensive line did a great job collectively, Watt, Wormley, Highsmith, and Buggs all getting good push flushing Bridgewater forward into defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk for the sack and Denver also had a holding penalty for more lost yards! Bridgewater had no one open on the next pass attempt so he scrambled eluding Wormley and spinning away from Maulet and Haden on the 11-yard gain where Spillane touched him down. Third and goal from the two where Watt does not bite on the play action and gets close to a sack chasing Bridgewater out of the pocket forcing a throwaway and another fourth down. The Broncos ran play action with the slot receiver running across the formation and no one picks him up in coverage allowing 3/3 on fourth down conversions and the touchdown for the Broncos, cutting their deficit to 11 points.
The defense returned quickly with 7:40 left in the game. Denver ran with Gordon on first down getting four yards with Heyward and Ingram converging for the tackle. On second down they ran a slant route against Pierre who had close trail coverage, but the pass was completed for 15 yards. The Broncos got another successful pass play off a Bridgewater pump fake to freeze the defense and help open space for Courtland Sutton on the nine-yard gain. The Broncos ran Gordon for the five-yard gain and first down, with Wormley getting pushed back but also making the tackle. Another first down here, and Bridgewater drops back and Courtland Sutton hesitates then bursts back into his go route which gave him the step to beat Pierre down the sideline for the 39-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion failed off a play action and throw to Courtland Sutton again, but Haden had good coverage on the play. Steelers lead by five.
Pittsburgh’s last defensive drive with 2:29 left and leading by eight started with Bridgewater antsy in the pocket, feeling Watt and Heyward approaching and throws it away. The second down pass Haden was beat on a slant route and yards after catch for a big 23 yard gain. The final play before the two-minute warning was a pass to Fant for a gain of six but was overall quiet in the game, with Fitzpatrick in coverage and Heyward providing pressure. Second and four at the two-minute mark, Watt got edge pressure, but Bridgewater stepped up and found the receiver with Maulet making the tackle on the nine-yard gain. First and ten and the Broncos keep it going in the pass game to Fant again, who ran a stick route and Norwood is right there for the tackle on the five-yard gain. Pierre made a nice play on the next pass almost picking the underthrow to Courtland Sutton forcing third and five. The Broncos converted on a 23-yard connection on the sideline where Maulet was late in coverage and Fitzpatrick ran him out of bounds. This set up first and goal with 56 seconds left where Haden had great coverage and a pass break up in the end zone. Gordon caught the next pass on an out route against Schobert with Edmunds coming down to help with the tackle. Third and goal now, and great coverage play by Edmunds forcing the incompletion and fourth down. :17 seconds left, the fourth time Denver is going for a fourth down conversion, game on the line and Watt applies some pressure and the pass is intercepted by Pierre! What a huge play to hold on to the victory!
Great game for the defense overall, keeping Denver out of the endzone until the fourth quarter and though the three fourth down conversions they allowed were painful, they made the last fourth down stop when they needed it the most! Also thought the secondary played well without cornerback Cam Sutton who was out due to injury.
PFF graded long snapper Christian Kuntz and Tuszka the highest on special teams and lowest grades were Layne and safety Karl Joseph who was just promoted to the 53-man roster for this game.
On the opening kickoff return for the Steelers, Benny Snell was beat on his block losing his footing and pulled his man down warranting a holding penalty. Kicker Chris Boswell made a 48-yard field goal early in the second quarter that gave the Steelers a seven point lead. On the following kickoff, linebacker Ulysees Gilbert made a good play getting to the returner for the tackle with Derek Watt on the play as well. McCloud returned a punt on the following drive, but cornerback Justin Layne had an illegal block in the back penalty, the second on the special teams unit early in the game. Pressley Harvin provided a 56-yard punt on his first attempt in the second quarter but was returned for 13 yards after some missed diving tackle attempts forced him out of bounds. McCloud had a kick return from the endzone early in the fourth quarter for 17 yards and noted Ballage getting pancaked to the ground and his man making the tackle. Harvin’s second punt came in the fourth quarter and went for a whopping 63-yards to the 15-yard line where the tackle was made by Tuszka after long snapper Christian Kuntz fell which also tripped linebacker Marcus Allen. Boswell made his second field goal with 2:33 left in the game giving the Steelers the eight-point lead that they closed the game out with!
STEELERS VS. BRONCOS SNAPS AND TOTAL SNAPS FOR 2021:
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