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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Late Charge Snuffed Out

GAME PRELUDE

I’ve been rotating jerseys this season. The throwback Kevin Greene jersey went one and three in the first four weeks. I shifted to the bumblebee Johnny Blood that’s been a mainstay for the past few years. The Steelers won four but tied the Lions last week. So, despite my wife’s warning, I changed to a white Rod Woodson jersey. I’ll alternate between the Woodson and a Troy Polamalu jersey for the next few games. Just trying to find the right one to help the Steelers get back on a winning track.

Of course, the big news, Ben Roethlisberger, and the Chargers Joey Bosa both cleared to play.

STEELERS OFFENSE

FIRST HALF OFFENSE

The Steelers edged the Chargers in time of possession if not the score during the first half.

STEELERS SETTLE FOR THREE

The offense marched down the field with assistance by three Charger penalties for 15 yards. Ben Roethlisberger completed two passes on third down to keep the drive alive. Unfortunately, he could not connect with Diontae Johnson on third and five from the 18. So, the Steelers settle for a 36-yard Chris Boswell field goal. Promising start 3-0.

STEELERS END DRIVE AT TWO YARD-LINE

The Chargers respond with a touchdown. Najee Harris runs for 10 yards on two runs. Then Ben completes an eight-yard pass to Ray-Ray McCloud on third and six to end the first quarter near midfield. Najee keeps the drive alive with a two-yard run on third and two. Next, Ben hits Chase Claypool for 37 yards. The ball is short, seems like if he led Chase a likely touchdown. But it’s first and goal at the five.

The Steelers come up empty. After a third down, Ben shakes his head in disgust. Is he unhappy with Matt Canada’s play call? Ben completes a fourth down pass to Pat Freiermuth but Chargers stuff the play for no gain at the two. Score remains 7-3 Chargers.

STEELERS OFFENSE MOVING THE BALL

The defense gives up another touchdown drive. The Chargers kickoff short and Ray-Ray returns the kick 30 yards to the 36. Najee runs 12 yards on the first play. Then on second and ten, Ben connects with Diontae Johnson for 22 yards. A beauty.

After the two-minute warning, Najee takes a hand off four yards on second and three. It’s a first down and gets the clock moving. Two plays later, Ben to Diontae for the touchdown. 14-10.

The Steelers left a minute on the clock and the Chargers exploit it for three more points. Half ends 17-10. The Steelers moving the ball and a chance if the defense can hold.

SECOND HALF OFFENSE

Steelers score 27 fourth quarter points, but a final drive stopped in its tracks.

STEELERS PLAY CATCH-UP

The Chargers score to open second half. Down 24-10, the Steelers offense goes three and out on their first possession. The Chargers extend their lead to 27-10. The Steelers finally get the ball back with 3:40 to go in third quarter. Ben throws on eight of nine plays using the no huddle offense. He picks up first downs on two third down passes. One to Claypool for 28 yards. The other to Najee Harris for seven. But on third and four from the 18, he cannot connect with Freiermuth. Down three scores early in the fourth quarter, Boswell kicks another field goal. 27-13.

BLOCKED PUNT LEADS TO SEVEN

The defense forces the Chargers to punt. Offsetting penalties force the Chargers to punt a second time. Miles Killebrew blocks the punt and nearly recovers the loose ball. The Steelers have first down at the three. The Chargers intercept in the end zone but Tevaughn Campbell called for pass interference. Derek Watt comes in at fullback. He helps push the pile back as Najee leaps for the touchdown. It’s 27-20.

OFFENSE GIVES HOPE, BUT WISHFUL THINKING NOT ENOUGH

Defense let’s down again, and Chargers go ahead 34-20. The Steelers drive starts badly as Ben is strip sacked on the first play. Thankfully, he recovers his own fumble. Now second and 19, Ben passes to Claypool for 16 yards. Then Ben finds underappreciated Ray-Ray McCloud for the first down. Najee knocked out of game. If the NFL watching a fine for targeting the head coming in future but no penalty on the play.

Later, Ben throws short to Diontae Johnson on third down, who gains 32 yards mostly after the catch. Eric Ebron catches an 18-yard pass. Then a short pass and makes his way into the end zone. It’s 34-27.

Cam Heyward gives the Steelers a chance by knocking a pass in the air that Cam Sutton intercepts. The Steelers offense ties it up with Freiermuth catching the touchdown pass.

The defense comes up big again stopping the Chargers on fourth and one at the Los Angeles 34-yard line. Ben completes one pass to James Washington for seven. But cannot complete on third down as Joie Bosa defends the pass. Steelers settle for a 45-yard Boswell field goal. But Chargers answer with a touchdown.

Down 41-37, the Steelers have one last opportunity. With one timeout and the two-minute warning, Steelers start at the 25. Joey Bosa moved inside as JC Hassenauer left game in first half with should injury. Tackle Joe Haeg in at guard. Ben sacked twice in a row. He misses Diontae Johnson on third and 29. Diontae looked hobbled on the play. A delay of game and a final fourth and 32 pass incomplete to James Washington. The Steelers offense gave us hope, but wishful thinking not enough.

STEELERS DEFENSE

FIRST HALF DEFENSE

The defense gives up scores on all three Los Angeles first half possessions.

DEFENSE GIVES UP TWO TOUCHDOWNS

The Steelers defense enters the game with a 3-0 lead. Following offensive holding, the Chargers faced a third and 14. Justin Herbert completed a 22-yard pass to Mike Williams with Ahkello Witherspoon in defense. You’ll hear William’s game more. The defense had two more third downs but could not hold. Cam Heyward and Isiah Buggs tackled Austin Ekeler but not before he gained the three yards needed for a first down. Then on third and three from the 21, Mike Williams caught a 17-yard pass. Austin Ekeler finished the drive with a six-yard run. The Steelers brief lead erased.

The defense came back on the field with the score still 7-3 after the offense failed to convert a fourth and two play. Ekeler runs ten yards on first down. The Steelers defense forced a third and six, but Justin Herbert easily scrambles 18 yards. Daniel Archibong called up from practice squad made two tackles during this drive. Herbert scrambled for another 18 then completed an 18-yard pass to Keenan Allen. Alex Highsmith sacked Herbert at the ten to give temporary hope of holding the Chargers to three points. Unfortunately, Ekeler scores again. This time in the air.

DEFENSIVE PENALTIES NEGATE SACKS

The Steelers answer with a touchdown but leave 1:09 on the clock. Highsmith and Cam Heyward combined to sack Herbert. But the play negated because Karl Joseph called for holding a receiver. Spillane sacks Herbert. But for the second time, a penalty negates a good defensive play. This time Cam Heyward called offside. Jalen Guyon catches a short pass for 18. Now at the 13, Herbert takes a couple of shots. Joseph defends a third down pass intended for Ekeler. So, a field goal makes it 17-10 halftime score.

SECOND HALF DEFENSE

Defense forces a punt that’s blocked, intercepts a pass, and takes the ball away on downs. But defense also gives up 24 second half points.

DEFENSE GIVING UP YARDS IN CHUNKS

The Chargers went from a third and 13 to gaining yards in chunks for three straight first downs and a touchdown. Herbert found Keenan Allen for 30 yards on third and 13. Then a short pass to Allen for 14. Ekeler runs 12 yards. And finally, Ekeler catches a 17-yard touchdown pass. His third score of the game. Second half starts out 24-10.

The Steelers punt on their first second half possession. Joe Schobert made one tackle during this drive. All the other tackles made by defensive backs. The Chargers attempt a 46-yard field goal that is wide left. But Cam Sutton flagged for offsides. The Chargers make the second attempt. It’s 27-10 a three score lead late in the third quarter.

DEFENSE BLOCKS PUNT BUT THEN FALLS FLAT

The Steelers offense begins its 27-point fourth quarter with a field goal. The defense responds by forcing the Chargers to punt. Tee Norwood tackled Ekeler after just two yards gained. Then Herbert misses Williams deep right. The Steelers score after the blocked punt and it’s a one score game 27-10.

But then the Steelers fall flat. Literally. On third and five from the 47, Herbert avoids the rush and scrambles 36 yards. Cam Heyward chugs past two Steelers defenders flat on the ground after running into each other. He tackles Herbert at the 11 but officials flag him for unnecessary roughness. Incredibly sad watching a defensive lineman running past defensive backs flat on the ground to make the play 34 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Ekeler runs in for the score on the next play. The Chargers running right at an exhausted Heyward. 34-20 Chargers.

DEFENSE CREATES HOPE THEN FALLS IN LAST STAND

The Steelers offense scores again. Chargers at their 25 on second down. Herbert passes for Keenan Allen. However, none other than Cam Heyward deflects the pass into the air with Cam Sutton diving for the interception.

Again, the Steelers offense scores and it’s tied 34-34. The defense starting to click. On second down, Highsmith and Taco Charlton combine to sack Herbert. Then Herbert throws a pass that gains 13 of 14 needed yards. James Pierre tackles the receiver short of the sticks. On fourth and one at their own 34, Chargers choose to go for it. Schobert and Chris Wormley combine to stop Ekeler for no gain.

The Steelers go ahead 37-34 with 3:29 to go.

There’s hope. The defense just needs one more stand. The Chargers reach the 47 on a 17-yard pass to Ekeler. Then Herbert throws deep to Mike Williams for a 53-yard touchdown. Looks like Maulet isolated as his help went inside. That’s it. The offense has no more magic and the game ends with the defense facing the Chargers victory formation.

SPECIAL TEAMS

I believe special teams are an underappreciated facet of the game where one big play can shift momentum or even decide 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 eight times. Andre Roberts returned two. He reached the 27 on Boswell’s first kick. He only reached the 25 to open the second half but Marcus Allen called for illegal formation, so officials placed ball at the 30-yard line. Charger’s average starting position was their own 26-yard line.

Dustin Hopkins kicked off eight times. Ray-Ray McCloud returned two. His first went 30 yards to the 36. Hopkins started kicking to the end zone after that return. Ray-Ray’s second return gained 33 yards but last play of first half. The Steelers average starting position after kickoffs was their own 27-yard line.

Pittsburgh’s coverage and return team except for Marcus Allen in an illegal formation. Still a slight edge to the Steelers.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Start Avg
Chris Boswell 8 2 6 0 0 LAC 26
Dustin Hopkins 8 2 6 0 0 PGH 27

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Ray-Ray McCloud 2 63 31.5 33 0 0
Andre Roberts 2 45 22.5 23 0 0

 

Advantage Steelers.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin III punted once for 46 yards. Andre Robert attempted to return the third quarter punt, but Robert Spillane tackled him for a one-yard loss.

The Chargers were in punt formation twice in the game. Ty Long punted 50 yards in the fourth quarter with Ray-Ray McCloud returning the ball 14 yards to the 32-yard line. But offsetting penalties negated the play. Ty Long went to punt again. But Miles Killebrew raced by the right guard to block the punt and almost recover the ball. The ball went out at the three with the Steelers scored during their fourth quarter comeback attempt.

Blocking the punt helped put Pittsburgh back into the game.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB IN20 Long
Pressley Harvin 1 46.0 47.0 0 0 46
Ty Long 0 0.00 0 0 0 0

*Ty Long punt blocked

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC OB/D Pen Long TD
Ray-Ray McCloud 0 0 0.0 0 0 0 0 0
Andre Roberts 1 -1 -1.0 0 0 0 -1 0

 

Advantage Steelers.

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Chris Boswell perfect converting all four points after touchdown and three field goal attempts.

Dustin Hopkins five for five on PATs and made both field goal attempts. However, Hopkins missed a 46-yard attempt. But Cam Sutton penalized for offsides. Hopkins then made the 41 yarder. I give a slight edge to the Chargers due to the penalty that negated a missed field goal.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Chris Boswell 4 4 3 3 45 0 0
Dustin Hopkins 5 5 2 2 41 0 0

 

Advantage Chargers

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

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

  1. Run successfully early and often. The Steelers ran seven times for 24 yards in the first quarter. Just three successful runs for a 42.9% success rate. Mission failure.
  2. Increase blitz packages against the Chargers. Defense registered five QB hits and two sacks. But Herbert unfazed running for 90 yards and throwing three touchdown passes. Mission failure.
  3. Complete a few explosive pass plays. Ben completed four passes gaining 20 or more yards including two to Chase Claypool. Mission accomplished.
  4. Limit Herbert on passes outside the pocket. Herbert hurt Steelers with both his arms and legs. Mission failure.
  5. Win the turnover battle. The Steelers intercepted one pass and even blocked a punt with no giveaways of their own. Mission accomplished.

The Steelers accomplished two of five keys to victory. The turnover and blocked punt kept them in the game. But failing to limit Herbert doomed a valiant comeback.

YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME

FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS

Yet another slow start for Steelers Thank you, Ross McCorkle, for keeping us up to date on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Steelers Depot respondents met the standard with 1184 first half comments.

Steelburg contributed the top comment of the half. “Ben looks good tonight outside of that deep ball to Claypool which should have been a TD.” A nice 37-yard gain. But ultimately, the Steelers failed to convert a fourth down at the two-yard line.

Jake is the Ace worried about run blocking early in the game. “Feels like OL must be addressed early and often in next year’s draft. Najee’s talents will be wasted behind this OL.”

Bornloser saw some gas left in Ben’s tank: “That was a dime!!! There are still flashes of Ben left.” But Jim Foles put it in perspective; “Like when you have to shake your Bic lighter real hard.”

Steelers hanging in there at 17-10.

SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS

Steelers Depot respondents delivered 1601 comments during the second half live discussion.

Sgrill20 delivered the “best” comment of the game. “#7 is balling out!” Ben came up short on the last drive. But not much to do when wearing Bosa.

Zarbor highlights the defender keeping the Steelers in the game. “Cam is a man no matter the circumstances he never quit.” Butoful30 added “God Bless Hayward. Will sure miss him when he’s done.”

Near end of game, Zarbor shared many of our concerns on the Steelers last scoring drive. “Stop passing. Use up the clock.”

Michael Cunningham singled out two defenders he wanted more from. “Man, the Edmunds and Bush picks have hurt us bad.”

Steely McBeam warned, “Don’t you do it, don’t give me hope.”

Whatever hope Boswell’s go-ahead field gave soon extinguished. The Steelers failed to stop the Chargers on a final scoring drive.

CONCLUSION

OFFENSE

Ben passed efficiently and helped keep Pittsburgh in the game. He appeared frustrated early including giving up the ball at the two-yard line in the first half. But once he started the no huddle in the second half, the offense started gaining yards. 27 fourth quarter points very encouraging. However, the Chargers made a timely adjustment lining up Bosa against the guards after JC Hassenauer lost to injury. That paid off with the two consecutive sacks on the last drive to dash any hope of a come from behind victory.

DEFENSE

The defense gave up 27 points on the Chargers first five possessions. Then in the fourth quarter, a blocked punt, an interception, and a takeaway on downs gave Pittsburgh hope for a comeback victory. Just one more defensive stand needed. But with so many reserves playing. Two of the best defensive backs in Minkah Fitzpatrick and Joe Haden out along with defensive player of the year candidate TJ Watt. Cam Heyward almost won the game for the Steelers, but he was not enough. Keith Butler unable to produce a scheme to shield the weaknesses of reserve players.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Miles Killebrew blocking a punt that led to a Steelers score huge. Chris Boswell perfect. The coverage and return teams accomplished their job.

Pittsburgh slugged it out. The team appeared out of it then scored 27 fourth quarter points. Just too many defensive regulars unavailable to play with their back-ups unable to stop Justin Herbert. Chargers late defensive adjustment lining up Bosa inside iced it.

UP NEXT

The schedule gets no easier. The rest of the AFC North won their matchups. Steelers travel to Cincinnati in a few days. Plus, the team lost another offensive lineman to injury and Eric Ebron hurt his knee. Najee Harris took a forearm to the head. The Steelers need to get some healthy players back in uniform or this season could go into a death spiral.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. The Steelers have “lots of work to be done.”  They “got to rock down” and “then we’ll take it higher.” Here’s Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant.

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