I watched the game at a sports bar in Frederick, Maryland among about 25 fellow Steelers fans. Ben Roethlisberger’s scratch Saturday evening the biggest question mark coming into this game. Could Mason Rudolph manage a Steelers victory?
FIRST HALF OFFENSE
The Steelers scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game. But settle for a field goal just two yards from the end zone near the end of the half. An interception in Detroit territory killed a potential scoring drive.
STEELERS OPEN WITH A SCORE
The game could not start much better. The Lions win the coin toss choosing to kickoff to the Steelers. Mason Rudolph leads a ten play 83-yard drive capped by a touchdown.
Najee Harris ran five yards to convert the initial first down of the game. Then, Rudolph connected with Ray-Ray McCloud for 11 yards for another Steelers first down. On third and three, James Washington drew a defensive pass interference, and the referees marched the ball to the 22. Najee runs 11 yards. Then from the nine-yard line, Rudolph finds James Washington for a touchdown. Steelers up 7-0.
The Steelers offense squanders good field position at the Detroit 40 following Ray-Rays 13-yard punt return. Derek Watt gains nine yards on the first play. Then a screen to McCloud blown up in the backfield. Rudolph throws incompletion targeting Diontae Johnson. Steeler’s punt.
STEELERS PROMISING START INTERCEPTED
The Steelers third drive had a promising start. Najee runs for five yards on first down. Diontae Johnson gets the first down on a seven-yard reception. Then Rudolph to McCloud for 17 yards. And the Steelers in Detroit territory. On third and 12, Rudolph passes high to Kalen Ballage who can’t reach the ball. And the Lions intercept ending the drive.
Following a touchback, the Steelers start on their 20. The last play of the first quarter, Najee runs five yards to start the drive. On third and five, Rudolph passes short to McCloud who can only gain one yard. And another Harvin punt that the Lions return 48 yards. Two plays later it’s 7-7.
OFFICIALS NULLIFY TOUCHDOWN, STEELERS SETTLE FOR THREE
Diontae Johnson false starts to begin the Steelers next drive. On third and eight, Diontae reddens his earlier miscue with a 20-yard reception. The Steelers enter Detroit territory when Lions caught with too many players on the field. Pittsburgh gets a first down from second and nine when Rudolph connects with McCloud for 14. Then Najee takes them to the 22 on a nine-yard run. Najee again this time for 12 to set up first and goal at the seven. NFL officials nullify Najee’s scoring run by calling Dan Moore for holding. The replay shows no holding from my perspective. So, on third and eight, Rudolph hits Freiermuth but he’s stopped at the two-yard line. Mike Tomlin settles for a 20-yard Chris Boswell field goal.
The Lions match the Steelers field goal, and the half ends 10-10.
SECOND HALF OFFENSE
Steelers score six second half points including missing another red zone opportunity.
NO NAJEE ON GOAL LINE
The Steelers offense gets the ball down 16-10 after the Lions shredded the Steelers defense. Mason Rudolph scrambles around the left end for 26 yards on the first play of the drive. Improbably, the Steelers longest play of the game. Jalen Reeves-Maybin hit Najee Harris out of bounds drawing a 15-yard personal foul. A few plays later, Rudolph completes a short pass to Najee on third and three for a first down. Rudolph converts another third down on 11 yards and it’s first and goal from the five. Rudolph throws three straight incompletions. Very frustrating that Najee not involved in the goal line offense. Boswell hits for three and now score is 16-13.
On the Steelers next possession, McCloud gets one first down on a 14-yard reception. But the Steelers gain only six more yards on a Najee carry. Harvin punts again.
The Steelers do not get the ball back until the start of the fourth quarter. Najee runs the first four plays for 17 yards. He gains one first down, but the Steelers face third and five from the Detroit 33. Rudolph throws to James Washington who a referee flags for offensive pass interference. Now its third and 15 from the 43. Rudolph dumps off to Najee who regains the penalty yards but not the five additional yards needed for first down. Chris Boswell ties it up with a 51-yard field goal. 16-16.
THREE MORE TIMES BUT NO SCORE
Pittsburgh gets the ball three more times in the fourth quarter but cannot score. First, Rudolph and Diontae do not connect on third and three just shy of midfield. With 4:34 to play, Harvin punts. Next, Pittsburgh gets ball back with 3:22 to play at the Detroit 48. Rudolph and James Washington fail to connect on third down. Harvin punts on a short field with 2:30 remaining. Mason Rudolph kneels with Pittsburgh at the 22. Pittsburgh had one time out and 19 seconds on the clock. Why not take one long shot downfield for a Boswell game winning field goal attempt? Is anyone living in their fears? I don’t have the answers. To overtime we go.
Pittsburgh possessed the ball three times on offense during the overtime period. On the second play of the first possession, Rudolph finds Diontae Johnson on the right sideline. Diontae cuts in to gain more yards and reaches the Detroit 42-yard line. Former Steeler training camp player, Mark Gilbert knocks the ball free, and Detroit recovers the ball at the 45. Diontae had reached within less than five yards of Chris Boswell’s range when he lost the ball.
MORE OVERTIME MISCUES
Pittsburgh’s defense holds and the Lions field goal attempt misses. On second and six, Kendrick Green snaps the ball over Mason Rudolph’s head. The muffed snap creates a third and 25 that Pittsburgh fails to convert. Harvin punts.
The Steelers start their final possession at the 11-yard line due to Ulysees Gilbert caught holding on the punt return. Rudolph completes to Freiermuth for ten yards back to the original line of scrimmage for a first down. On third and four another first down pass to Freiermuth. Then Eric Ebron catches one for nine yards. Rudolph passes seven yards to Najee Harris for another first down. But Pittsburgh uses their final timeout. Diontae Johnson gets out of bounds after catching a short pass. The ball is at the 39-yard line with 15 seconds left. Rudolph passes to Freiermuth who loses the ball after one yard gained. Without getting out of bounds it is doubtful enough time remained to spike the ball. The ball was on the outer limits of Chris Boswell’s range, but he did not get the opportunity to win it with a 56- or 57-yard field goal.
Two giveaways, a muffed snap and special team penalty. Four critical errors in three overtime drives. Simply unacceptable.
FIRST HALF DEFENSE
The defense forced Detroit to punt on their first three possessions. Joe Haden broke up a deep Jared Goff pass during the third Detroit drive. Joe Haden hurt his foot and was out of the game after playing just nine defensive snaps.
IT’S NOT FLAG FOOTBALL
With the Steelers holding a 7-0 lead, Detroit got the ball at the Pittsburgh 39 following a 48-yard punt return. Jermar Jefferson enters the game at running back. On his fifth NFL career rushing attempt, Jefferson runs through the middle of the Pittsburgh defense for a 28-yard touchdown. He dragged Minkah Fitzpatrick into the end zone but hurt on the play. Suddenly its 7-7 after terrible punt coverage and a Pittsburgh defense that could not tackle a reserve running back.
Pittsburgh goes ahead 10-7. The kick coverage team allows a 29-yard kick return to the 31-yard line. Detroit converts a fourth and one with a tackle eligible jumbo package that gains ten yards on the ground. Then D’Andre runs 21 yards to put Detroit within easy field goal range. On second down, Jared Goff targeted T.J. Hockenson for the first and only time of the game. Cam Sutton almost intercepted the pass. In between that play, T.J. Watt tackled Swift for a loss and Cam Heyward prevented Swift from scoring on third down. The Lions tie the game 10-10 on a 20-yard field goal.
SECOND HALF DEFENSE
RESERVE RUNNING BACK EMBARRASSES DEFENSE
The Detroit Lions embarrassed the Steelers defense to start the second half. The Lions returned the kickoff to the 45 but a holding call brought the ball back to the 15. A turning point in the drive came on third and nine. Swift runs 12 yards before Minkah Fitzpatrick finally tackles him. Godwin Igwebuike enters the game at running back. He runs 14 yards. Then on his fifth career NFL carry, Igwebuike runs off right tackle for a 42-yard touchdown with multi defenders missing tackles. Devin Bush missed a chance to bring the reserve down at the 20-yard line. Detroit misses the extra point, so the lead is 16-10.
Jared Goff obviously hurt and not passing. Instead, the Lions just running over the Pittsburgh defense.
Pittsburgh forces two punts in the third quarter. But the most significant play occurred when T.J. Watt sacked Goff. A teammate fell on Watt, and he left the game near the end of the third quarter not to return.
DEFENSE KEEPS PITTSBURGH IN GAME
The Steelers tie the game 16-16 with 11:36 to play. The Steelers force a three and out. But Miles Killebrew runs into the punter. Detroit converts the subsequent fourth and one. Taco Charlton in for the injured Watt in on the tackle with Isaiah Buggs. James Pierre playing well. Alex Highsmith dumps Swift for a five-yard loss and the defense holds forcing another punt.
On the next possession, Highsmith tackles Swift for another loss. Then Heyward sacks Goff on third down. Almost a safety but initial contact at the two-yard line. Steelers gets great field position off the punt but cannot exploit.
The defense prevents Detroit from crossing midfield on their final possession in regulation time. Tre Norwood broke up one pass. Jared Goff clearly hurting.
Detroit opens overtime with the ball. On first down, Goff completes a 30-yard pass with Devin Bush in coverage. But on third down, Cam Heyward sacks Goff making a long field goal attempt impossible.
The defense only off the field for two plays since Diontae coughed the ball up. Lions at their own 45-yard line. Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepts the ball on the first play. Huge play that officials nullify due to defensive holding by Devin Bush. Officials flag Heyward for roughing the passer. The Lions reach the 28 on an eight-yard pitch to Swift. Then Hockenson flagged for holding. That ten yards important as replacement kicker Ryan Santoso misses the 48-yard attempt.
Terrell Edmunds sacks Goff on first play of next possession. Tre Norwood defends another pass on third and 23. Jack Fox punts for the tenth time in this game. The Lions run one final desperation play with eight seconds left. Then the referee mercifully blows the whistle to end this mess of a game.
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:
Chris Boswell kicked off six times. Godwin Igwebuike returned five including two from inside the end zone. A big 38 return negated by holding call. So, two of Boswell’s kicks gave Lions starting position behind the 25. But the coverage team allowed three returns of 28 or more yards. Detroit’s average starting position was their own 24-yard line.
Ryan Santoso kicked off three times. Santoso a reserve kicker but his fourth game this season. Ray-Ray McCloud returned two. He fielded the game opening kickoff at the three and just reached the 17 on a weak 14-yard return. Ray-Ray’s second return gained 21 yards to the 26. The Steelers average starting position after kickoffs was just short of their own 23-yard line.
Pittsburgh’s coverage team looked good on the first kick. Derek Watt made a big tackle limiting Igwebuike to 18 yards and a start on their 16. But after that, the Lions got returns well over 25 yards. A Lions holding penalty saving the coverage unit from giving up a 38-yard return. Teams kicking short to Pittsburgh and the return team cannot exploit it. McCloud’s kick return average is dipping.
|Chris Boswell||6||5||1||0||2||DET 24|
|Ryan Santoso||3||2||1||0||1||PGH 23|
Pressley Harvin III punted six times averaging 46.7 yards per attempt. Half of Harvin’s punts gave Detroit starting position behind the 20. However, the punt coverage team allowed a 48-yard return forcing Harvin to make the tackle. Detroit scored the tying touchdown with the great field position. The return unit also allowed an 18-yard return in overtime. Overall Harvin netted just 31.5 yards a punt.
Jack Fox punted ten times averaging 46.4 yards per punt. Ray-Ray returned six punts. Three went 13 yards each. However, in overtime, Ray-Ray stopped for a one-yard return plus Ulysees Gilbert caught holding pushing the ball back to the 11-yard line. Miles Killebrew drew a penalty for running into the punter that briefly extended a Lions drive. Fox netted 37.0 yards per punt.
The coverage team hurt the teams field position.
*Miles Killebrew ran into Jack Fox negating an 11th punt.
FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS
Chris Boswell three for three on a very cold wet day. Pat Freiermuth failed to get out of bounds, turning up field and fumbling the ball away at the end of overtime. The miscue robbed Boswell of a chance to make some magic with a 56-yard attempt to win the game.
Santoso subbed for injured Austin Seibert. He missed an extra point and a 48-yard field goal attempt in overtime.
|FGs and PATs||XPM||XPA||FGM||FGA||Long||2PTM||2PTA|
DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST
Dave Bryan provided five keys for a Steelers victory. Here is how the Steelers performed them:
- Limit T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson targeted with one incomplete pass. Mission accomplished.
- Give up no more than four explosive plays especially in second half. Lions ran five plays that gained 20 or more yards. Including a 42-yard TD run in third quarter and a 30-yard pass in overtime. Mission failure.
- Exploit Lions patched up offensive line. Steelers sacked Goff four times but patched up offensive line helped Lions gain 229 yards on the ground. Mission failure.
- Produce six explosive offensive plays. The Steelers produced two plays gaining 20 or more yards. Diontae Johnson fumbled a third away in overtime. Mission failure.
- McCloud with big punt or kick return. McCloud’s longest punt return 13 and longest kick return 21 yards. Lions returned a punt 48 yards exploited for a Detroit touchdown. Mission failure.
These keys published prior to Ben Roethlisberger deactivated for testing positive for Covid-19. But the Steelers likely to win if most keys accomplished. Instead, the Steelers fail four of five and end in a tie.
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 did not meet the standard. Only 873 first half comments.
Joshwa contributed the top comment of the half. “I can’t stand getting pushed around on defense. Just infuriates me.”
Matt Manzo offered a solution for the defensive woes. “Paging Stephon Tuitt!!! Please come back!” Chris92021 looking at addition through subtraction. “We better not pick up Bush’s option.”
Jake is the Ace warned us early. “The Lions almost beat the Rams and have come close in other games. Taking them lightly is dangerous.”
After the offense stalled near the goal line. SDKeller72 outlined the only logical course. “Take the points, don’t listen to the fans.”
Steelers 10-10 at the half with the lowly Detroit Lions.
SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS
The second half plus the overtime led to 2041 comments during the second half live discussion.
Chris92021 delivered the “best” comment of the game. “I am OK with Bush never playing for us again.”
Not too many compliments on the Steelers play or the coaches play calling. Rob S. not happy with play calls. “Holy f****** s*** run the ball inside the 10! Don’t put it in the hands of the guy playing his first game of the season!” Jason Dock Dudley added, “This is on coaches. All game the snaps were high. However, they kept shotgun snapping the ball.”
Matt Manzo did not like play calls or execution. “I still think that’s bad play calling in the redzone! Mason needs to make that throw but we should have been able to score before then.”
Many comments focused on Mason Rudolph. Kingribel conceded, “I have officially sided with the majority. Mason is NOT the answer.” FranchisePunter said, “And that’s why Ben (Broken down, washed Ben) is the starter.” DLeds concluded “If you’re caliber NFL QB that throw should be freaking automatic. The guy was wide open.”
Greg Payne targeted the other side of the football. “Bush accidently got in the way of the Lions running back.”
Jimbo noted. “Tomlin looks pissed, but no answers …seems like he observes mostly.”
TheBus36 ask us to “Imagine a world where Najee has running lanes” But Alevin16 got his thrill in the end. “Damn at this point I would be THRILLED with a tie.”
The Steelers did not lose but it sure felt like a loss.
Pittsburgh lost four starters to injury during the game. But it was miscues that prevented a Steelers victory.
Many folks highlighting Mason Rudolph performing poorly during this game. I believe he did enough to win this game. Yes, he threw an early interception. And yes, he missed an open Ray-Ray McCloud in the end zone causing a four-point swing. But In overtime, Rudolph completed passes to Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth in Detroit territory. Either may have led to a Boswell field goal to win it. But both fumbled the ball away. I still do not understand giving Najee Harris at least one shot from a first and goal series. Instead, Matt Canada called for three straight passes though at least one was a run-pass-option. The offensive line played ok despite losing both Kevin Dotson and Trai Turner.
Losing T.J. Watt at the end of the third quarter hurt. But Cam Heyward responded with big sacks. Terrell Edmunds, Alex Highsmith, James Pierre, and Tre Norwood also made big plays. But Devin Bush really let me down. He cost Minkah Fitzpatrick an interception by holding a receiver. Also, Devin missed a tackle at the 20-yard line during the Lions 42-yard run. He needs to get the confidence back from before his knee injury. Right now, he is underperforming. I’d rather go with Robert Spillane at this point. But Bush was not the sole defensive problem. Touchdown runs of 28 and 42 yards by reserve running backs exposed a lackluster defense that depend on stars like Watt or Heyward to make splash plays. Time for the entire defense to put on their big boy pants.
Chris Boswell robbed of a chance to win it in overtime by offensive giveaways and dumb decision not to get out of bounds. Pressley Harvin’s punting would look much better if not for the coverage team giving up a huge 48-yard return that the Lions exploited for a score. Then allowing an 18-yard return in overtime. Miles Killebrew ran into the punter. And Ulysses Gilbert held during a punt return in overtime.
The Steelers players need to dig deep. The rest of the schedule just gets more difficult. Players like Devin Bush need to dominate not just run around on the field waiting for others to make the big splash play. Not sure how to fix the tackling. That may take a defensive team meeting led by Cam Heyward for an attitude adjustment. There was not a single point of failure that cost this win. Multiple miscues by players and play calling by coaches combined for a putrid result.
Mason Rudolph is the quarterback if Ben Roethlisberger cannot play against the Los Angeles Chargers. Taco Charlton must be able to step up if Watt cannot play. Mike Tomlin needs to sit down with Matt Canada. Perhaps produce a game plan based on what the Steelers can do well rather than try to take advantage of another team’s weaknesses. I’m not happy. I’m hoping the Steelers players are angrier than me and take it out on their opponents over the next few games. Here we go.
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to offer a music selection. The Steelers have me asking the question. Who are you? Can this team surprise many and come back from a mistake filled game to beat the Chargers on the road? And on defense I’m singling out Devin Bush. I know he has the talent. Here is Who Are You by the Who.