What a nail biter and high scoring game against the Los Angeles Chargers, with an exciting fourth quarter, back and forth ending, but unfortunately the Pittsburgh Steelers fall short and now sit at 5-4-1. In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.
Let’s start with the offense:
Steelers wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud leads the PFF grades at 81.1 along with 70+ grades from tight end Zach Gentry, wide receiver Diontae Johnson (a bit low IMO) and tackle Dan Moore (a bit high IMO). The lowest grades below 50 include guard Trai Turner (low IMO), wide receiver James Washington, and tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. Also felt quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s grade was a bit low.
The Steelers offense started things off with running back Najee Harris on the ground for one yard, with center Kendrick Green slipping off his block along with J.C. Hassenauer (filling in at left guard for Kevin Dotson) allowing penetration on the tackle. On second and nine, Harris got another carry fighting hard for four yards with good collective blocking from the offensive line and Gentry. Third and five now, Roethlisberger (back after missing last game) found wide receiver Chase Claypool who ran a short drag route and good yards after catch and hurdle on the gain of eight, with space cleared by tight end Eric Ebron’s route on the first down.
On first and ten Roethlisberger play actioned, then rolled out and targeted tight end Pat Freiermuth but Chargers safety Derwin James had good tight coverage and caught the combative catch but thankfully his second foot went out of bounds resulting in the incompletion. The Chargers were then called for an offsides penalty on Los Angeles linebacker Joey Bosa setting up second and five. Green had a nice block on the Harris run here for two yards. Third and three now and Roethlisberger takes the shotgun snap with trips to the right and gets the pass off (despite tackles Okorafor missing the inside twist rusher and Moore getting pushed back) to the inside receiver Freiermuth for the four-yard gain and just enough for the first down!
The opening drive continued with running back Benny Snell on the ground for a successful gain of four yards, with good blocks from Okorafor and Gentry but Green ending up on the ground. On second down and six Roethlisberger looks to his left then found wide receiver Diontae Johnson open in the zone, and noting Claypool being open deeper downfield but gained 16 yards regardless! Snell got his second carry on the following first down making a good cut on the successful gain of four yards, where Turner got pushed back off the line and his man shed the block for the tackle. L.A. suffered a defensive holding penalty at the end of the play that tacked on five yards and a first down.
Roethlisberger play actioned to the motioning Washington, then threw to Harris in the flat where he was brought down by multiple defenders awkwardly bending his leg and resulting in no gain. The Chargers were then called for their third penalty of the game already, another offsides setting up second and five in the red zone. Roethlisberger then seemed to urge a quick snap from Green who was then aggressively pushed back, then threw a catchable ball to Freiermuth on the out cut but off his hands and incomplete. Third and five now, and Roethlisberger targeted Johnson in the back of the end zone but was just out of his reach incomplete in double coverage along with Moore getting pushed back. On fourth down kicker Chris Boswell made the field goal on a long drive that sputtered in the red zone, but Steelers on the board first 3-0.
The offense returned with 2:09 left in the first quarter down by four and benefited from a Chargers offsides penalty. First and five this time, Harris got the carry and did a great job fighting for yards on the successful six-yard gain and first down behind good collective blocks from the offensive line. Harris then got a toss on first and ten where neither Freiermuth or Moore connected on their blocks along with Hassenauer initially sealing but losing late allowing the combined tackle on another successful run. This set up second and six where Roethlisberger play actioned then threw deep for Claypool who was unable to get past the defense and was double covered. Third and six now, and Roethlisberger found McCloud on an out route near the sticks and did a great job fighting through the tackler for the eight-yard gain and first down to close the first quarter!
The drive continued to begin the second quarter and the first and ten play was a three-yard carry by running back Kalen Ballage, who tried to cut around Gentry who was pushed inside on his block. On second and seven McCloud got the reverse and did a great job eluding a tackle behind the line for a huge loss, instead getting to the sideline behind a decent block from Moore for a successful five-yard gain. Third and two now, and despite a lack of running lanes Harris made a nice cut to slight daylight to gain just enough for the first down! Roethlisberger went deep downfield but underthrew Claypool here, who ran a great route to get past the defender and had enough separation to still make the catch for 37 yards (but could’ve been a touchdown)!
This did set the Steelers up in the red zone on the five-yard line where Claypool got another touch, this time on the jet sweep with Freiermuth and McCloud blocking out in front on the gain of three. Harris got the second and goal carry but Green was beat immediately off the line along with Hassenauer getting blocked to the ground resulting in no gain. Third and goal now, and Roethlisberger saw Claypool one-on-one to the outside and threw a jump ball, but good tight coverage resulted in the incompletion and fourth down. Pittsburgh elected to go for it here, but the play call was a flip pass to Freiermuth that did not fool the Chargers defense with Okorafor unable to create space along with the pulling Hassenauer not landing a block resulting in no gain and a turnover on downs. Another red zone fail, no points, Steelers trail by four.
With 3:35 left in the first half Harris started the drive off with a nice 12-yard run fighting for extra yards on the first down despite a high snap from Green, with good blocks from Turner, Gentry, and guard Joe Haeg who came in for the injured Hassenauer. The following first down was a high pass from Roethlisberger to Johnson and if he didn’t get his hand on it could’ve been costly. On second and ten they remedied the connection deep on the right sideline where Johnson made an incredible over the shoulder catch despite the defensive pass interference call that was declined on the gain of 22! Johnson got his third target in a row on first and ten, this time a quick slant for the seven-yard catch.
At the two-minute warning, the Steelers faced second and three going with Harris on the ground with a good seal block from Turner and spinning for the four-yard gain and first down. This set Pittsburgh up in the red zone, where Roethlisberger went back to Johnson through the air on a good out route at the sticks for the nine-yard gain. On second and one Roethlisberger threw a dime to Johnson on a double move to the corner of the end zone displaying great focus and another brilliant catch getting a foot and knee down for the touchdown. Impressive drive with 6/7 successful plays all to Johnson and Harris, Steelers down by four.
The first offensive drive of the second half began with 11:50 after Pittsburgh’s defense allowed a touchdown, starting with a screen to Freiermuth where Bosa and James were waiting on the tackle for a gain of two. On second and eight Green got beat off the line on the Harris run, allowing the tackle for no gain. Third and eight now, Haeg and Turner both got beat but Roethlisberger made a good throw to Claypool on the out route where he had a chance for the catch with his hands on the ball but good coverage and hit forcing the incompletion. Three and out, first punt for either team in the game, Steelers down by 14.
The Steelers offense returned with 3:40 left in the third quarter down by 17, beginning with a short pass to Harris over the middle for a gain of two. Harris got the next short target as well, this time bobbling it around the line of scrimmage but fighting for six yards. Third and two now, and the offensive line buys Roethlisberger just enough time to find Claypool on his short drag route over the middle and huge yards after catch where the defensive back lost his footing resulting in a 28-yard gain! Johnson got the short catch over the middle on first down setting up second and five. Harris got the touch here on the ground, having good blocks from Turner, Green, and Ebron but elected to bounce it outside on the gain of three instead of driving forward for possibly more. Third and two now with Harris in the pass game this time, benefiting from the crossing routes and picking up seven yards and the first down! Ebron caught the next pass for a short gain of one, which brought the third quarter to an end.
The drive continued to start the fourth quarter, with Roethlisberger targeting wide receiver James Washington on the out route and gain of five yards setting Pittsburgh up in the red zone. Third and four now with Roethlisberger in an empty set, looks downfield and launches but the pass is batted at the line, setting up fourth down where Boswell made the field goal. Really needed a touchdown here, Steelers down by 14.
Killebrew’s punt block set the offense up with great field position in the red zone on the three-yard line with 12:33 left in the game, Roethlisberger threw to Harris on a quick out from an empty set but fell incomplete with tight coverage. On second and goal Claypool got the jet sweep but a Chargers defensive back shot into the backfield unblocked and made the tackle for a loss of two. Third and goal now, Roethlisberger targeted Johnson but the pass was batted at the line of scrimmage again setting up fourth and goal. Pittsburgh went for it here with Roethlisberger targeting Claypool over the middle to the end zone and was double covered, tipped in the air and intercepted, but L.A. was penalized for pass interference wiping out the play and setting up first and goal at the one. This proved to be a big break with Harris taking the following handoff with fullback Derek Watt leading the way in for the leaping score! Huge penalty break on fourth and goal, the second fourth down attempt, and cutting the deficit to seven!
With 8:48 left in the game, the offense returned with a pass play but Okorafor was beat around the edge allowing the strip sack on Roethlisberger who was fortunately able to recover it. On second and 19 Claypool got the wide-open target deep to the right but had to jump to make the catch for 16 yards but no yards after. Third and three now, and Roethlisberger found McCloud on the out route just past the sticks and third down conversion on the four-yard gain!
On first down Harris caught the pass for five yards but was hit hard in the head and shaken up on the play and left the game. Second and five now, Green got pushed back allowing the hit on Roethlisberger who was able to target Johnson but tight coverage and incomplete. Third and five now, and better result to Johnson this time off a short in route over the middle for the catch and great yards after catch for 32 yards and big conversion! On first and ten Roethlisberger had an impressive throw to Ebron deep middle for 18 yards, setting the offense up in the red zone! First and goal Claypool got the short catch on the sideline for four yards. On second and goal, Roethlisberger found Ebron on the short route and great job fighting through tacklers for the 5-yard touchdown! Back and forth touchdowns, Steelers deficit back to seven!
The offense came back quickly after the defensive takeaway (Sutton interception) with 4:36 left in the game and the Chargers were penalized for unnecessary roughness from the Bosa hit that Okorafor allowed setting up first and goal. Roethlisberger pumps then targets Ballage but is lucky it isn’t picked off with two defenders in the area. On second and goal, Freiermuth was split out wide and got great pulling blocks out front from Okorafor and Green on the screen pass and run in for the touchdown! What a quick turnaround off the takeaway and great comeback to tie the game at 34!
With 3:43 left in the game, the Pittsburgh offense came back with great field position thanks to the fourth down stop by the defense and game still tied. The first down pass was thrown behind Claypool incomplete. On second down Turner allowed late pressure on the Roethlisberger throw to Washington for seven yards. Third and three now, Moore got beat by Bosa and Haeg couldn’t help either allowing the hit on Roethlisberger and forcing the underthrow to Johnson. Huge three and out for the offense here, but Boswell put the Steelers up by three with his third field goal on the night!
Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense came back with 2:09 left and trailing again by four after the huge coverage mistake allowing the Chargers touchdown. Harris came back to the field for the drive, and on first down Roethlisberger surveys but Haeg allows the penetration and sack! The following second and 18 play was unfortunately a similar result, with Haeg getting beat again allowing the sack on the second consecutive play! Third and a long 29 now, and Johnson was the deep target but the pass was behind and fell incomplete. Then another big mistake on a delay of game on fourth and 29. No choice but to go for it here on fourth and 32, but the target was to Washington well short of the sticks and thrown behind falling incomplete and turnover on downs. What a disappointing end to a great comeback for the Steelers, late game mistakes on both sides of the ball leading to the close defeat.
Now let’s look at the defense:
The defensive players with 70+ PFF grades include linebacker Delontae Scott at 74.2 along with linebacker Robert Spillane and linebacker Alex Highsmith on a higher snap count. The players with below 50 grades include linebacker Taco Charlton and below 35 grades for safety Tre Norwood and linebacker Devin Bush below a 30 grade.
The Steelers defense came on for the first time with 8:24 on the clock with Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert in a shotgun empty set, and defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs was blocked to the ground allowing the scramble and successful four-yard gain with Highsmith touching him down on the slide. Los Angeles then were penalized again, for the fourth time of the game on a holding penalty setting up second and 16. Herbert got out a quick pass off play action and cornerback Cam Sutton made a great read and react play to tackle the catch on the gain of two! Third and 14 now, and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was beat on an in route at the sticks allowing the catch for 22 yards and first down!
Los Angeles kept passing on the following first down, this time a short route by the tight end for five yards were Charlton made the tackle. On second and five Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen got his first catch on second down, a gain of 11 with Sutton in coverage but making the tackle right away. Herbert got the next first down pass out quickly behind the line of scrimmage to running back Austin Ekeler who was able to run for additional yards and stiff-arm on Bush who made the tackle on the gain of six yards. On second and four the Chargers ran a toss then reverse, where cornerback Arthur Maulet did a good job not over pursuing the initial toss and reacting well to make the tackle short of the sticks. Third and two now, and Ekeler got the handoff straight ahead with Buggs getting sealed just enough but combining for the tackle with defensive lineman Cameron Heyward for the three-yard gain and first down.
Pittsburgh brought a blitz on the following first down and were lucky the on target pass downfield was dropped, with the receiver looking away from the ball as safety Terrell Edmunds was ready to make the hit. On second and ten Ekeler got the carry for seven yards behind two pulling blockers, including former Steeler Matt Feiler, both getting good blocks on Bush and fellow linebacker Joe Schobert with Edmunds and Highsmith combining on the tackle. Third and three now, and Witherspoon got beat over the middle on a short crossing route and allowed big yards after catch on the gain of 17 yards setting up first and goal.
On the following first down Pittsburgh suffered their first penalty, a pass interference on cornerback James Pierre setting the Chargers up on the two-yard line. L.A. returned the favor with a penalty of their own on an illegal formation that negated an Ekeler rushing touchdown, but it didn’t matter because he ran it in again on the following play from six yards out where Heyward and Bush were washed out along with Maulet unable to get around his block at the goal line. The Steelers defense gives up a long drive right away, feeling the absence of key players right away as well (LB T.J. Watt, S Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB Joe Haden). Steelers down by four.
The defense returned with 10:36 in the second quarter, giving up a ten-yard run to Ekeler backed up on their own two-yard line with good collective blocking on Heyward, Highsmith, Bush, and defensive tackle Henry Mondeaux with Sutton combining for the tackle with Norwood. Herbert got a quick screen pass to Allen on first and ten with Pierre making the tackle on the gain of six. On second and four Herbert had plenty of time to wait for his tight end to chip then release for the catch and cut inside of Schobert for yards after catch on the gain of six and first down with defensive tackle Chris Wormley on the tackle.
On first down and ten, Highsmith got pressure around the edge, but Herbert was able to scramble between Heyward and Buggs then sliding down on the four-yard gain. Highsmith did a great job on second and six ripping around the tackle and stopping the toss run for no gain. Third and six now and the Steelers bring a four-man rush and after seemingly good coverage Herbert pump fakes to the running back to hold off Schobert and scrambles again, this time for an 18-yard gain and third down conversion.
The drive continued with a two-yard run where Bush stayed clean to make the tackle along with defensive lineman Daniel Archibong. On second and eight Herbert play actioned then threw a tight end screen the other way where Norwood missed a tackle early allowing yards after catch and a gain of ten where Sutton and Archibong combined for the tackle. On first and ten Pittsburgh got pressure with Bush and Scott inside, but Herbert got outside and provided another scramble for 18 yards with Pierre running him out of bounds. Speaking of 18-yard gains, the following pass went for the same amount of yards to Allen along the sideline with Sutton in coverage and the tackle.
This set L.A. up in the red zone, where Highsmith displayed good hand usage to get around the tackle and get the sack! Second and goal now, and Highsmith had another good play pushing the tackle on his back, but Herbert had time to get the pass to Ekeler who beat Bush on the out cut and run for his second touchdown! 98-yard drive, several chunk plays, Herbert scrambles, Steelers down by 11.
With 1:09 left in the half, the Steelers defense returned after the Johnson touchdown down by four, allowing a long completion right away to Allen for 14 yards despite a great push from Heyward in Herbert’s face with safety Karl Joseph barely making the tackle. Joseph was then called for a holding penalty, negating a Highsmith/Heyward sack and a replay of the down. Highsmith bent the edge well on the first down pass, where Herbert found Ekeler for the gain of nine with Joseph and Schobert combining for the tackle from zone coverage. On second and one Heyward was penalized for offsides, taking another sack off the board, this time by Spillane. L.A. got another completion despite Heyward getting his hand up, this time for ten yards with Pierre in tight trail coverage and the tackle. With 27 seconds left Herbert found a wide-open drag route that Schobert passed off in the zone but no one was in the area, allowing yards after catch on the 18-yard gain!
First and ten from the red zone, and Herbert threw high over the receivers’ head incomplete with Pierre in coverage. On second and ten Charlton had a nice inside spin along with Wormley in the backfield, but Herbert found Ekeler on a similar out cut to his touchdown for six yards where Spillane was covering and tackled him out of bounds. Third and four now, Herbert targets Ekeler on a double move back inside but Joseph read and reacted well for the pass break up! Big stop at the end of the half holding the Chargers to a field goal after another long drive, Steelers down by seven.
The defense came on first to start the second half, where Maulet had a nice run stop off the edge on Ekeler’s gain of two. On second and eight, the Chargers were penalized for a false start setting up second and 13. Buggs had a great bat at the line of scrimmage on the pass attempt to Allen. Third and 13 now, and despite being behind the chains Herbert connected with Allen this time on a great throw over Sutton and between Edmunds and Norwood for the explosive 30-yard gain!
On first down Mondeaux got late pressure, but Herbert was able to find Allen again for the 14-yard gain with Pierre in coverage and making the tackle. Ekeler got the carry on the next first down behind two pulling blockers that washed Schobert out and Bush made a bad read shooting a gap on the opposite side of the play resulting in a 12-yard gain! This set L.A. up in the red zone where Ekeler got the touch again, this time another quick pass behind the line making Pierre and Edmunds miss along with dragging Charlton across the goal line for his second receiving touchdown! Third total touchdown for Ekeler, four big plays allowed to end the drive, Steelers down by 14.
The Chargers came out passing from an empty set with 10:08 in the third quarter, Allen getting the first catch for eight yards with the Steelers playing deep coverage and Norwood pushing him out of bounds and Wormley getting a good push. On second and two Herbert went right back to Allen from empty set again on a stick route just past the sticks with Sutton in off coverage and the tackle. Another pass here on first and ten with Heyward impressively getting to Herbert for the near sack off play action, but Herbert made a heads up play to flip the ball to the receiver getting yards after catch and eventually tackled by Schobert on the gain of six. On second and four L.A. passed again, getting the ball to Allen on the quick slot screen making Sutton miss and pushed out of bounds by Norwood after the yards after catch and gain of seven. The Chargers were then penalized for holding when they finally ran the ball, thankfully negating a big run.
This set up first and 20, where Herbert got most of the yards back on the pass despite Scott in his face for a 17-yard gain with Bush in coverage on a wide receiver and Maulet making the tackle. On second and three Sutton made a great play in the backfield for a loss of two on an Ekeler run setting up third and five. Highsmith got around the edge here, but Herbert scrambled to the opposite side where Charlton and Heyward lost contain due to a twist rush allowing the scramble and gain of 13 and third down conversion, where Sutton was also called for holding adding another five yards!
L.A. ran a jet sweep for four yards on first and ten where the Steelers defensive line all worked upfield allowing the edge with Edmunds pushing him out of bounds. On second and six, Herbert threw a screen where Edmunds missed a tackle opportunity, but Sutton made an impressive hit/tackle on the gain of three and reaching the red zone. Los Angeles was penalized for holding on third down and three, negating a long Herbert scramble and setting up third and a long 13. The pass was a short attempt to the running back who was open but dropped. Another long drive but luckily stays out of the end zone, but the field goal put the Steelers deficit to 17.
The defense came back early in the fourth quarter to an Ekeler first down run for five yards with Heyward getting washed out and Highsmith and Sutton combining for the tackle. On second and five Ekeler got his second consecutive carry but only a gain of two due to Norwood getting off the block and good run fill on the tackle. This set up third and three where Herbert overthrew the receiver in good double coverage by Pierre and Edmunds for the three and out! First punt for L.A. and first drive without points, Steelers down by 14.
With 11:35 left in the game Pittsburgh’s defense came back to a Herbert play action rollout and short toss to the wide-open tight end with room to run and Schobert making the play on the gain of 11. The following first down was another pass, with good push from Highsmith, over the middle and off the hands of the receiver with good tight coverage from Pierre on the incompletion. On second and ten, Bush came off his zone drop to make the tackle on the receiver but allowed him to fight for extra yards and the first down on the gain of 12 with Edmunds combining to finish the play.
Heyward was doubled on the next run play on first down for five yards, where linebacker Derrek Tuszka made the tackle. On second and five, Herbert targeted Allen but was high and behind him that he tipped with Edmunds nearly making the pick and Norwood in coverage with the hit. Third and five now, noting Heyward and Mondeaux pass rushing in the same lane and Tuszka a wide edge rush that allowed another big Herbert scramble, this one a huge 36-yard gain where no one was on the second level and Edmunds missing a tackle before Heyward tracked the play down all the way from the line of scrimmage! This set up first and goal where Ekeler got the handoff between Tuszka and Heyward getting double teamed for the five-yard touchdown and his fourth touchdown of the game! Huge negative plays for the Steelers defense to close the drive, Pittsburgh trails by 14.
The Pittsburgh defense returned with 4:49 left in the game down by seven, on first down the pass to an open Allen was off target and incomplete. The following pass was batted by Heyward up in the air and Sutton (also hit in the head on the play and shaken up) was able to track it and run under it for the huge interception! What a quick takeaway for the defense and great field position for the offense down by seven!
With 4:23 left and the offense capitalizing on the interception to tie the game, the Chargers came out passing but it was bobbled and dropped with Schobert in coverage. On second and ten Highsmith provided an impressive spin move and Charleton provided great push to combine for the sack! Huge play setting up third and 14, and Herbert found the tight end, but Pierre was able to push him out just before the first down. Fourth and inches now, and Ekeler gets the handoff and Schobert made a fantastic play to hit him behind the line and combine for the tackle with Wormley! Incredible job by the defense, game still tied!
The defense came back with 3:24 on the clock and up by three thanks to the Boswell field goal. Herbert was waiting on the tight end screen on the first and ten pass and was hit by Highsmith, but it was caught for five yards with Wormley on the tackle. On second and five, Bush was beat in coverage but made the tackle on Ekeler for the 17-yard gain and a lack of pass rush. First down now, and Sutton made a big mistake jumping the short route allowing his man off the line free for the wide-open catch on the left sideline along with huge yards after catch and missed tackle by Norwood allowing the back breaking touchdown! Huge and costly coverage bust putting the Chargers back on top. Steelers down by four.
With 1:15 left the Chargers offense came back out to kneel and run the clock out for the four-point victory after the Steelers offense was shutout and could only move backward the final drive. What a disappointing end to a great comeback for the Steelers, late game mistakes on both sides of the ball leading to the close defeat.
Last let’s look at special teams:
Boswell made his first 36-yard to put the first points on the board and cap off Pittsburgh’s opening drive. The following kickoff was returned from the four-yard line for 23 yards where Marcus Allen and Spillane joined on the tackle. McCloud got his first kickoff return with 3:42 left in the first half, fielding it from the six-yard line and breaking a tackle for additional yards along the sideline on the 30-yard return! With two seconds before halftime, McCloud returned the kickoff from the end zone using good blocks from Ballage and Gentry for a 33-yard return to end the half.
Boswell kicked off to begin the second half to the three-yard line and Miles Killebrew made the tackle after a gain of 22 yards and Snell was penalized for illegal formation adding five yards to the end of the play. Pressley Harvin punted for the first time at 10:16 in the third quarter for 46 yards to the 27-yard line and Spillane pushing him out for a loss of one! With 3:49 left in the third quarter Sutton was penalized for offside on the Chargers missed field goal attempt, which gave them a second opportunity that was made from 41-yards out. Steelers down by 17. Boswell made his second field goal early in the fourth quarter from 36 yards, deficit cut to 14. The Steelers defense forced the first Chargers punt with 12:52 left in the game, but offsetting penalties forced a second attempt with Justin Layne being the Pittsburgh culprit with an illegal block. The second attempt was a huge block by Killebrew that went out of bounds at the Chargers three-yard line! Boswell made his third field goal from 45 yards out to put the Steelers up by three with 3:29 left in the game!
Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!