The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered another loss to Green Bay Packers on the road and they have now lost three straight games, giving Pittsburgh a 1-3 record to start the season. 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 center Kendrick Green the highest offensive player for the Steelers players at 77.2. Running back Najee Harris and wide receiver James Washington had the only other grades above 70. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ben Roethlisberger and Dan Moore received the worst grades all below 55.
The Steelers offense came out to start the game and right away we saw the short passing game with wide receiver Diontae Johnson on a three-yard gain, also noted center Kendrick Green getting pushed back right out of the gate. On second and seven the offensive line and tight end Zach Gentry did a great job getting good blocks collectively and running back Najee Harris capitalized by providing a successful run on his first attempt for ten yards. Running back Benny Snell came in for Harris the next play and the run to the left went nowhere, with guard Kevin Dotson pulling that direction but unable to seal the defender setting up second and ten. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on the out route just short of the sticks and noted Green getting pancaked to the ground. On third down the offensive line was able to create just enough space for Harris, and it was so refreshing to see a conversion in the running game early on.
Pittsburgh stuck with the running game and got another successful play on the gain of four and noted a high shotgun snap by Green, tackle Dan Moore getting pushed back, and a good block by Gentry. Wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud caught a wide receiver screen on second and six where the safety had a great reaction and stop, getting between Gentry and offensive tackle Joe Haeg who got the start with tackle Chukwuma Okorafor not playing due to injury. This set up a third and four, and not only did we see a conversion, we saw a deep pass connection from Roethlisberger to Johnson for the 45-yard touchdown! This was obviously great to see on the first drive along with five of eight successful plays, two third down conversions, an explosive touchdown, and most importantly seeing a faster start to the game!
On the second drive of the first quarter, I noted Dotson getting a nice pulling block along with tight end Pat Freiemuth who led the way to a five-yard successful run by Harris. Roethlisberger targeted Johnson on second down but the pass was low and incomplete setting up third and five. The Packers brought pressure up the middle between Green and Dotson, and Harris was pushed back on the pass block allowing the hit on Roethlisberger and off target throw to Smith-Schuster. Three and out.
The third drive started with 13:22 left in the second quarter, and Harris got another successful run for four yards by making a good cut between good blocks by Moore and Freiermuth. On second and six Roethlisberger went to Smith-Schuster off of play action, but the throw was behind and fell incomplete. This set up third and six, and offensive lineman Trai Turner got pushed back into Roethlisberger allowing the sack and forced fumble that the Packers recovered. Three and out with a turnover.
The offense got the ball back with 10:55 left in the second quarter down by seven and came out with an eight-yard successful run by Harris out of shotgun with Watt in the backfield and leading the way along with a good push from Green and Turner. On second and two the Steelers went play action and got the first down to Johnson for six yards on the quick out route. Moore then was called for holding, pulling the defender down as he fell off balance, setting up first and twenty. Roethlisberger went back to Johnson on the same out route as earlier but gets more after the catch for a gain of eight. On second and twelve Gentry caught the pass off a stick route gaining ten yards for a successful play and setting up third and manageable. With two yards to gain, Roethlisberger found tight end Eric Ebron on a drag route and able to make the catch and gained just enough for the first down.
Wide receiver James Washington then caught a short out route and made a decisive cut to get additional yards for the 17-yard gain! The Steelers went play action on first and ten, paired with a pump fake from Roethlisberger pulled the defense forward getting Smith-Schuster open but missed a great scoring opportunity due to an overthrow. Then Green allowed penetration on a Harris run that lost two yards, which set up third and twelve. Roethlisberger targeted Washington on another out route short of the sticks setting up fourth down and noted Smith-Schuster uncovered over the middle at the sticks. Steelers down by four points.
With 9:26 left in the third quarter and down ten points, the Packers blitzed and pressured Roethlisberger into a quick throw to Harris who was split out wide and ran a screen going for a successful play of four yards. Harris caught another short pass the next play but showed great determination to fight through tacklers and get the first down with yards after contact. On first down Pittsburgh went with Harris again, but this time on the ground and noted Green and Haeg losing their blocks but Dotson getting a great pancake block on the gain of two. On second and eight Roethlisberger missed the throw to Smith-Schuster on another overthrow. Dotson and Moore got pushed back on third and eight, and Roethlisberger threw it short to Snell, but it went off his fingertips forcing a fourth down, Steelers punt.
The offense returned in the third quarter with 4:40 left and started the drive with a Harris run for three yards where Haeg and Freiermuth allowed their men to converge for the stop. On second and seven the Steelers ran Harris on a toss with Smith-Schuster and Washington getting good blocks on the successful play of 11 yards. Johnson then had his turn to provide a success in the passing game, running another out route and was able to separate and get the yards after catch needed for the first down. Harris ran on the following first down, with Turner getting a good pulling block and Ebron pulling as well but got in Harris’ running path then let up on his effort as Harris is fighting for yards. On second and four Roethlisberger stepped back, and pump faked the short out route to Johnson they ran repetitiously to this point but he double moved to a go but the throw was over his head. This set up third and four where Roethlisberger tried for Johnson who almost got there on a deep target, but the pass was just out of reach again. This led to a fourth and four where Pittsburgh ran Harris on the short route behind the line of scrimmage, but Freiermuth was open for first down yardage. Super frustrating to see similar play calling to the week three fourth down fail, will this change in the future?
The offense got the ball back two plays later after a turnover and started with a short pass to Harris that Roethlisberger threw high and behind. Freiermuth had a nice catch at the sticks on second down and noted Moore getting pushed back on the gain of eleven. Washington provided a reception of the same distance on the following play setting up back-to-back first downs. Harris was unable to find room on the next run and Turner pulling but his man beating him for the tackle. To close out the third quarter the Steelers threw to Johnson over the middle for five yards to set up third down.
The Steelers maintained possession to start the third quarter and on third and six completed a short pass to Johnson over the middle but well short of the sticks and went for no gain and thought Johnson could have run forward instead of outside to gain more yards and a possible first down. Instead, this set up a fourth and four and the Steelers decided to go for it, but Johnson had a crucial false start penalty that led to a decision to punt down by 17 early in the fourth quarter. Did you agree with this decision?
With 12:35 left in the fourth quarter Roethlisberger found Ebron for a gain of four yards over the middle. On second and six Harris had a successful run where the defender got off Moore’s block to make the tackle which set up third and three. Harris was hit short of the first down with Moore getting beat, but Harris kept fighting and Moore helped push him ahead for the first down. On first down, Moore got pushed back into Roethlisberger allowing a sack. This set up second and fifteen where Washington provided a nice eleven-yard gain on the short route and run. Third and four now and Roethlisberger found Smith-Schuster, who didn’t seem to be running full speed and the defender is there to make a play to force the incompletion and fourth down. The Steelers went for it on fourth and five on a pass to Smith-Schuster again, but Roethlisberger was pressured and threw to the line of scrimmage which was stopped for a gain of two and a fourth down fail. Steelers still down 17 points. Dotson was also injured on the play but was able to walk off. Really frustrating seeing so many short of the sticks passes in critical situations again.
The offense got another shot with 6:57 left in the game and started off well with three successful pass plays in a row. The first was to Johnson for ten yards running a nice route just past the sticks. Harris caught the next two successful plays, both short dump offs/screens and while they are successful the Steelers need to be able to push the ball down field further with the deficit they faced. Roethlisberger’s next pass on first down was tipped at the line of scrimmage. On second and ten Washington got a target in the deep middle of the field that went for a healthy gain of 30, setting up first and goal! The Steelers elected to stay with the pass starting with a short completion to Johnson, then an incompletion where Johnson stopped running in his route then the throw was behind him in the end zone. This set up third and goal where the Packers were called for a pass interference penalty on Johnson. This set up another third down and goal opportunity at the one-yard line where Harris was able to leap over the pile and stretch out for the score! Steelers now down by ten.
The final possession of the game (1:51) started with Harris in the short passing game again, getting a gain of three yards. Roethlisberger then took a deep shot to the left for Johnson, but the cornerback had inside position and picked it off.
Overall, some encouraging things early in the game and great to see more successful runs, but more of the same in the short passing game and play calling/decision making that are limiting this team in my opinion.
PFF graded defensive lineman Chris Wormley the highest Steelers defensive player with a 90.3 grade along with Melvin Ingram and Joe Schobert with grades of 70+. Five defensive players also had poor grades below 50 including T.J. Watt who didn’t seem 100% coming off injury.
The Steelers defense came on for their first drive at 9:59 in the first quarter. The Packers started with a quick pass where safety Terrell Edmunds was playing off coverage on the short pass but making the tackle on the gain of five. Green Bay running back Aaron Jones got his first carry on second down and noted defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs taking a poor angle but good job by linebacker Alex Highsmith to make the tackle short of the first down. On third and one the Packers got the conversion on another run from Aaron Jones where I noted defensive lineman Chris Wormley getting pushed back and linebacker Joe Schobert over pursuing allowing the runner to cutback for the first down.
Schobert came back on the next run with a good instinctive play along with Buggs to bring Jones down for a gain of three. Packers wide receiver Davante Adams got his first catch on second and seven, where he got a step on Cameron Sutton in coverage to the outside and quarterback Aaron Rodgers made a great throw to his back shoulder for the 21 yard gain. The Packers went to an empty formation on first down and the Steelers went with a three-man rush providing no pressure, giving Adams plenty of time to cut away from linebacker Devin Bush and make the catch for seven yards. On second and three Highsmith did a great job throwing the tight end off his run block and stopped Jones for no gain. This set up third and three, where Bush exploded into the backfield untouched to get the sack and third down stop! Also noted T.J. Watt in coverage quite a bit on this drive and through the game.
The second drive for the Steelers defense started with 3:13 left in the first quarter and noted Watt unable to make a play in the running game and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick making the tackle but allowing seven yards. Watt provided pressure on the next play forcing a rushed and incomplete short throw setting up third and three. Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward got pushed back just enough allowing Packers running back A.J. Dillon the third down conversion. On first down Rodgers was almost intercepted over the middle by Fitzpatrick off his hands, and a missed opportunity for the defense to provide a splash play. On second down Rodgers threw a short pass to Dillon who easily ran through Steelers cornerback Arthur Maulet’s tackle attempt from zone coverage for a gain of 16 yards.
The Packers ran a screen to Adams with two wide receivers in front getting good blocks on Edmunds and cornerback Joe Haden, but Bush got there for the stop for four yards. Linebacker Melvin Ingram and defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux provided some pressure on the third and six pass, with good pressure in coverage on the receiver for the deep incomplete pass. Third and six and the Steelers defense plays off coverage allowing Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb to get the third down conversion on the gain of eight. Edmunds had a nice coverage play on first down where he reacted on the incomplete out route, and the final play of the first quarter was a six-yard run where Wormley got the hit but Dillon somehow stayed on his feet for additional yards.
To start the second quarter the Packers faced a third and four, but Rodgers found Cobb again for a twelve-yard gain and conversion getting between Sutton and Fitzpatrick who made the tackle. This set up first and goal, running the ball with Jones for a gain of four with Highsmith missing a tackle but Fitzpatrick and Heyward pursuing the ball well on the combined tackle. The Steelers brought Maulet on a blitz on second and goal but he was pushed past the pocket allowing Rodgers to scramble to the end zone for the touchdown. 13 play drive, missed turnover opportunity, game tied at seven.
The Packers started the drive off with a penalty on the first drive of the second quarter, then on first and 14 Wormley got pressure and Ingram came up from his zone drop to make the tackle. On second and eight Maulet made a nice run stop behind the line for a loss of two yards. This set up a third and ten where Rodgers found Cobb again for the catch and run for the 23-yard touchdown where I noted Edmunds getting beat across the middle and a lack of pressure allowing the play to develop. Steelers down seven.
At 5:36 in the second quarter Watt allowed the edge on a Jones run where Haden was also blocked well and Wormley had to chase the play down on a gain of fifteen. Schobert then had a good play in coverage, playing a zone and reading that Rodgers wanted to go to the middle, then reacted and made the tackle. On the following second and three running play, I noted Schobert and Haden for poor angles allowing a nine yard gain. On first down Heyward then had a good run pursuit play, initially getting pushed back but making the tackle on a six-yard gain. The Packers got a first down on the next Jones run with Wormley and Ingram getting sealed opening the running lane.
At the two-minute warning, the Packers went empty formation and threw deep on first and ten but was overthrown and noted Bush in good coverage. On second and ten Schobert dropped into zone from the edge position but slipped when Jones cut inside allowing a 19-yard gain. Rodgers then targeted Adams three times in a row. The first was underthrown and incomplete, followed by a short route with Maulet and Haden blocked out in front on the ten-yard gain and setting Green Bay up in the red zone. The third play to Adams was another incompletion, where Sutton had a great reaction to the stop route and broke up the play. The defense provided two more stops on incompletions, both good plays with Schobert in coverage. This was a great stand by the defense to hold the Packers to a field goal before the half.
The defense came out to start the third quarter and noted Edmunds with a chance to make a play in the backfield but Wormley making the tackle on the run play. On second and seven Rodgers had to throw the ball away on a good play by Schobert and Heyward setting up third and seven. The Packers then got another third down conversion to Cobb and big 25-yard gain with Sutton in coverage. The Packers ran on first down and noted defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk and Schobert being washed out allowing Jones to cutback into the hole for a six-yard gain where Haden and Edmunds reacted well to make the combined tackle. Buggs had an opportunity to stop the next run behind the line, but Jones stiff-armed and bounced to the outside, with Bush and Fitzpatrick combining for the tackle forcing third and one. Heyward came back into the game after briefly going to the sideline and made the tackle on the third and one run play, but it gained just enough for the first down.
The Steelers got good pressure with Bush unblocked up the middle again along with Watt forcing the errand throw to Adams. On second down Jones got the short catch on a drag route from a wide out alignment and ran for 26 yards due to the off coverage from Haden. Watt was also called for roughing the passer which tacked on more yards to the already big play setting up first and goal. Maulet made a good play in the backfield for a loss of three, but Ingram missed an opportunity first for an even bigger loss. Watt then got Rodgers to the ground for the sack, and a flag was thrown but picked up for tripping. Do you think it was the right call? This set up third and goal where cornerback James Pierre had good coverage forcing the incompletion and holding the Packers to a field goal. Steelers down by ten.
Green Bay’s offense came back with 7:01 left in the third quarter with an impressive play by Adams catching the screen and juking Haden for the 11-yard gain. Schobert had a good reaction on the following running play for three yards, but the next run on second and seven went for 25 yards and noted Buggs and Mondeaux unable to get off their blocks with Haden and Fitzpatrick making the tackle at the one-yard line. This only delayed the inevitable, on the next play Rodgers rolled out and had plenty of time to find Cobb for the touchdown, continuing to make crucial plays to hurt the Steelers. Fitzpatrick did have tight coverage but better play by the offense, Steelers down by 17.
The defense came back with 2:33 left in the third quarter and the Packers ran play action that got the defense coming downhill and a wide-open receiver over the middle for 28 yards. The following running play Wormley was able to get the hit and forced fumble with Watt recovering, and a huge play to get the Packers offense off the field without adding points!
The Steelers defense returned with 14:14 left in the fourth quarter and started off with a good run stop by Heyward behind the line for a loss of one. On second and eleven Rodgers completed a short pass for two yards with Haden on the stop forcing third down and nine. Rodgers targeted Adams along the sideline and he was close to getting his toes in but was just out of bounds forcing fourth down, Steelers still down by 17 points and the defense did their job after the Steelers punt decision.
With 10:05 left in the game, the Packers came out running on four straight successful running plays including a third down conversion and all by Dillon. The defense was then able to tighten up forcing three straight incompletions. The first was a Haden breakup, on third down Loudermilk tipped the pass and Ingram almost had the interception, bringing up fourth and four where the Packers decided to go for it. Rodgers was looking for Adams, but Cobb was in the area and the pass went off his hands incomplete, and the Steelers caught a break here. Steelers still down 17.
The last defensive possession began with 4:01 left on the clock, down by ten after the Steelers did not onside kick. The Packers ran the ball on first down with Edmunds and Schobert with the stop for two yards. On second and eight Highsmith missed an opportunity in the backfield, but Buggs made the tackle for no gain. This brought up third and eight, and Rodgers had plenty of time to find Adams for the first down with Pierre in coverage. The Packers continued to run after the first down with Watt getting the tackle after Dillon found room on the edge for a gain of three. Same result on second down, Dillon another gain of three but this time Heyward making the tackle after initially getting pushed back. On third and four Rodgers had all day to throw but decides to slide down and not risk turning the ball over, and Watt gets credit on the sack and forcing the punt at the two-minute warning.
Green Bay ran the clock by kneeling on their final possession, sealing the ten-point win.
It was great to have players that missed last game back healthy, but still noticed a lack of normal impact from the defensive front and thought the Packers really played stronger up front in the run game.
Minkah Fitzpatrick was the highest graded special teamer with a 95.1 grade and Benny Snell the worst grade at 33.8!
On the first kickoff following the Steelers touchdown, fullback Derek Watt was able to dive at the returner’s legs forcing a hurdle and nice effort by linebacker Robert Spillane and safety Miles Killebrew on the combined tackle. McCloud let his first punt return bounce and Green Bay was able to pin the Steelers to the four-yard line. Pressley Harvin had a good 47-yard punt on his first attempt after the three and out on the offenses second possession.
Chris Boswell went out for his first field goal attempt with 5:46 left in the second quarter, and from 52 yards it bounces off the upright but went in and is good, closing the deficit to four! On the following kickoff Killebrew had another good tackle on the short return.
At the end of the first half there was a controversial offsides call that canceled a punt block and touchdown by Fitzpatrick! Do you think they got the call right on a huge moment with only :20 left in the half? Instead, the Packers make the second field goal attempt and close the half with a seven-point lead as opposed to being down by three.
Snell had a holding penalty on a kickoff return early in the third quarter that pinned the offense back further. Harvin was pressured on his second punt that only went 20 yards, setting the Packers up in great field position that would lead to the touchdown that put them up by 17 points. McCloud had a good kickoff return out to the 36-yard line later in the third quarter.
Harvin had a good punt in the fourth quarter getting the punt to the five-yard line to play the field position battle but down by 17 points. Did you agree with the decision to punt? Another confusing decision was not going for the onside kick, what do you think about this decision as well?
STEELERS VS. PACKERS SNAPS AND TOTAL SNAPS FOR 2021:
Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!