Following each game in the 2021 Steelers season, I will be highlighting the play or event in the game that is the turning point in the game. These aren’t meant to be anything earth-shattering, but meant to take a deeper look at how we arrived at the outcome of the game that may be hard to see during the first live watch.
The Steelers can never make this article an easy one.
From the moment in early in the second quarter, when Ben Roethlisberger underthrew Chase Claypool on a 37-yard throw, I had it in the back of my mind as the turning point.
Claypool gets as much separation on a deep route as we’ve seen all year for this Pittsburgh team with a wide-release post. Roethlisberger however, isn’t able to step into his throw fully with the interior pressure causing a five-yard underthrow for what should have been an easy touchdown.
Coming off a week against Detroit where the red zone play-calling was increasingly concerning, it gave me one of those, “watch we won’t score now,” feelings as Chase Claypool fell to the turf around the five.
And the next four plays my fears came to life.
After that turnover on downs, the Chargers went on a 20-7 run. Entering the fourth and final quarter, the Steelers were trailing 27-10, open and shut case on the turning point of this game, no doubt about it. I’m ready to leave the bar and go home.
Of course, that’s just when the game got flipped on its head with the Miles Killebrew blocked punt.
The Steelers offense followed with two touchdowns and the game is somehow a one-possession game again 27-34, bad guys.
This is when the game got REALLY interesting and brings us to our turning point of the game.
This play was truly the “oh s***” moment that you realized the Steelers may be able to actually win this game. While it was a great play by Cam Heyward to get his noggin in the way of the throwing lane and Cam Sutton for driving on the ball, it played a large part in sealing the Steelers fate later in the game.
Looking at the play again the Steelers are in a cover-
2 look. The Chargers, top receiver, Keenan Allen, is lined up in the slot to the boundary and is running an out. Sutton is on high alert for this and wanted to jump it even before the ball got doinked into the air.
However, this aggression from Sutton leaves the 2-deep safety, Tre Norwood vulnerable. Leaving the vertical route so soon, with no inside forcing re-route from the corner, creates an extremely hard scenario for any safety to cover from their initial alignment, much less an average athlete like Norwood.
That’s something offenses look at on the sidelines when you see them looking at the Microsoft Tablets on the sidelines.
And after the Steelers took the lead, it was time for the Chargers to test out Minkah Fitzpatrick’s rookie backup.
On their third play of the game-winning drive, the Chargers come out again in a 3×2 formation, except the running back is the quarterback, Justin Herbert’s, sidecar instead of out in a traditional trips look. With a similar offensive look on, the Steelers again deploy a form of cover-2.
Keenan Allen again lines up in the slot, except this time he runs more of a hook rather than an out, likely to not run into the cover-2 corner waiting for him in the flat.
With nickel-corner, Arthur Maulet blitzing from the slot, it was the perfect storm for the Chargers to get the exact look they were looking for. Not only does Sutton again not re-route the vertical receiver [Mike Williams] before jumping the slot route, but Norwood gets caught looking at Allen as well. This would have been an extremely hard play to make regardless for Norwood. His step downhill made it impossible.
Herbert delivers in the face of pressure, and that folks is that.
Herbert confirmed in his post-game press conference they were watching the cover-2 corner jumping the slot and told Mike Williams to be ready before the last drive.
If you want a deeper dive into this play and the Steelers cover 2 defensive look, our own Alex Kozora did a fantastic job getting into the nitty-gritty in his film room. I’ll link it below.
What did you feel was the turning point of the game? Leave your thoughts and comments below!