When you don’t give up any turnovers on offense, nor allow any big plays on special teams, then it goes without saying you’re going to have a laundry list of failures on defense if you give up 41 points during a game. The Pittsburgh Steelers certainly accumulated an unenviable list of failures last night in their four-point loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
One—just one—of their many failings was their inability to keep Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert bottled up in the pocket, which was a theme throughout the game. He scrambled nine times over the course of the night, putting up 90 yards on the ground while also nearly throwing for 400.
“I think he identified what we were in early on, and as soon as he saw a lane, he was sprinting out of it”, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward said of the scrambles they allowed. “We’ve got to clean that up today. Obviously it wasn’t what we need to be in, and we gave up a bunch of yards and paid the price”.
Herbert scrambled twice for big plays—18 yards apiece, including one on 3rd and 6—on the Chargers’ second touchdown drive of the game, which gave them a 14-3 lead. He picked up another third-down conversion with his legs on 3rd and 5 in the third quarter, adding another one on the same drive, going for 13 and then 15, on what ultimately led to a field goal. That’s 10 points off of drive-sustaining scrambles right there—twice each.
And then he picked up 36 yards in the fourth quarter on yet another scramble on 3rd and 5 from the Steelers’ 47. Heyward himself had to chase Herbert down on that one, and he was clearly in no mood. But it didn’t amount to much—Austin Ekeler ran in untouched the next play from five yards out, his fourth touchdown of the game.
The thing is, the defense came into the game knowing that this was something they had to watch for with Herbert, as they talked about it during the week. It’s on record, Heyward knew they had to prepare for both “his arm and his legs”, he said.
“He’s a really strong quarterback who can throw the ball all over the field”, he added. “There wasn’t a pass that didn’t look like it should be caught, because that dude throws it on the money. And then when he sees open lanes because you’re worried about the pass, he knows how to make a defense pay”.
The defense paid, over and over again, giving up the most points they’ve allowed in a (regular season) game in years, allowing 42 to the Kansas City Chiefs early in 2018.
Meanwhile, the offense had their third-best fourth quarter since at least 1940, scoring 27 points, a figure they’d only bettered by one point twice before in their history, going back to the aforementioned date, via Stathead. It was enough to take a three-point lead, but they couldn’t hold it—or get it back—despite having chances to do both.