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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Kansas City Here We Come

GAME PRELUDE

The human brain is amazing. It shifts gears so quickly. I was perusing the Steelers postgame videos on the Steelers website yesterday. The videos were all labeled at Ravens. I kept saying to myself; “No, the Steelers playing the Kansas City Chiefs, they made a mistake.” Then realize I’d already blanked out the Ravens game, my already worn-thin synapses snapped by the Raiders-Chargers game.

Sunday morning, I lamented my decision not to attend Ben’s final game in Baltimore.

The worry started with the Steelers down and the offense listless. Meanwhile Jacksonville pulling a number on the heavily favored Indianapolis Colts. My stomach churned at the thought of the Jaguars winning and the Steelers failing to seize the moment. Then resolve in the second half. Who wants to win this game?

STEELERS OFFENSE

The Steelers scrapped. Gutsy performances like Najee Harris coming back from a nasty elbow injury to make a couple big plays. Chase Claypool catching, running, and blocking … a complete football player. Diontae Johnson caught seven passes despite a drop or two. Much maligned Ray-Ray McCloud crucial fourth down conversion and another leaping catch. Freiermuth and Gentry rumbling. The offensive line couldn’t open holes and every lineman committed a penalty. But they kept Ben upright. And who would have thought an offense with a starting line of Joe Haeg, John Leglue, JC Hassenauer, Trai Turner and Chuks Okorafor could succeed?

Indeed, the defense gave the offense three takeaways and a fourth down stop at their own 45. The Steelers offense scored three points off those gifts.

Then there is Ben Roethlisberger. He looked washed up for much of the game. Threw an interception following a takeaway. But a fourth quarter touchdown drive to take the lead. Then the 15-play overtime drive.

FOURTH QUARTER TOUCHDOWN DRIVE

The big plays on the touchdown drive. First, Ray-Ray McCloud returns punt 23 yards to midfield. Then, following John Leglue’s false start, Pittsburgh faced third and nine from the 39. Ben connects with McCloud for 20 yards. On third and six, Freiermuth catches a short pass and gains 11 yards. Chuks Okorafor pushes ball back to the nine by false start. But Ben connects with Chase Claypool for a six-yard touchdown to retake the lead.

OVERTIME DRIVE

The defense held the Ravens in overtime. Ray-Ray fair catches the Sam Koch punt at the 17. Ben connects with Najee Harris for 11 yards. The one-handed catch prevents a pick six. Later it’s third and seven at their own 31. Freiermuth goes 14 yards off Ben’s short pass. Another Raven defender goes off the field injured. Still in Pittsburgh territory, Pittsburgh faces a third and nine. Ben throws short left to Diontae Johnson who races for the first down.

Now in Baltimore territory but outside Boswell’s range at the 41. On second and eight, McCloud has the ball on his lap but loses the ball on the ground. On third and eight, Diontae cannot come down with Ben’s pass. On fourth and eight, Ben goes back to McCloud who catches the pass for the crucial first down. The ball is at the 31 which would be a 49-yard field goal attempt. Normally a gimme for Boswell, the freezing rain made it iffy. Najee Harris then runs into the line, keeps looking for a gap as he drifts left then spurts ahead for 15 yards.

All done except for Boswell’s chip shot. Beautiful.

STEELERS DEFENSE

The defense played superbly until the second half when Latavius Murray looked like Jim Brown. T.J. Watt showing why he must be Defensive Player of the Year. Any other vote is a travesty. Cam Heyward getting his own sack. Penalized for hitting too hard. But it was not all Watt and Heyward this time. Minkah Fitzpatrick made a game saving play by punching the ball out of Hollywood Brown’s hands that would have been in Tucker’s range. Cam Sutton intercepting a pass in the end zone. Terrell Edmunds intercepting a pass. Ahkello Witherspoon breaking up passes and Joe Haden making some good tackles. Arthur Maulet sacrificed his body making hard shots.

The defense stopped the Ravens offense on 11 of 14 drives. Plus, it held Baltimore to three points after NFL officials penalized Cam Heyward for hitting the runner too hard. That goal line stand coupled with three take aways, a turnover on downs and seven punts more than made up for the weak rush defense that gave up over 200 second half yards including a 46-yard touchdown run.

KEY FIRST HALF PLAYS

Baltimore’s first drive ends following aborted snap. Watt forces the fumble that Henry Mondeaux recovers. Then Terrell Edmunds intercepted Huntley’s pass intended for Mark Andrew to end their second drive. The Raven’s third drive began ominously with Devonta Freeman running 22 yards. Baltimore tries fake punt that Steelers cover will giving good field position. Their fourth drive stopped when Terrell Edmunds defended pass intended for Mark Andrews. Baltimore punts on a three and out.

On the next drive, Baltimore started to move the ball. But after a second first down, Joe Haden stopped Mark Andrews for no gain on second and eight. Haden weighs 60 less pounds than Andrews making the solo tackle more impressive. Baltimore punts after Huntley throws incomplete to Hollywood on third and eight. On their sixth drive of the half, Baltimore completed a 28-yard pass to Andrews. On second and seven at the 39, Baltimore within Tucker’s field goal range. Chris Wormley sacks Huntley to push them back four yards and Baltimore punts after another incompletion.

HUGE GOAL LINE STAND

The defense finally yields points after a Steelers three and out. The Baltimore scoring drive starts just 40 yards from the goal line after a poor 33-yard Pressley Harvin punt. Tyler Huntley proves elusive and scrambles 18 yards. Several times, I thought the defense bottled him up, but he escaped for positive yardage instead of a sack. The Ravens get a first and goal at the three when Cam Heyward penalized for unnecessary roughness when Huntley clearly running the ball. The NFL now using Pro Bowl tackling rules. On the very next play, T.J. Watt ties Michael Strahan sacks in a season record dropping Huntley for a three-yard loss. On third down, Watt defends a pass intended for Eric Tomlinson. Huge goal line stand since Baltimore starts second half with ball. It’s 3-3.

SECOND HALF DEFENSIVE PLAYS

Baltimore punched Pittsburgh in the mouth to open second half. Huntley escaped a sack to gain a first down on third and six. Latavius Murray ran ten yards to warm-up. Then 46 yards off right guard to take a 10-3 lead over Pittsburgh. Steeler’s offense responds with a field goal to make it 10-6. On Baltimore’s second possession. Wormley tackles Murray for just one yard on first and ten. Huntley completes two straight passes. But Miles Killebrew then Cam Sutton tackle the receivers short of the first down. Baltimore punts. Baltimore went back to the run on their third drive. Seven straight runs including Murray going 22 then 27 yards on the first two plays. On second and seven from the 12, Tyler Huntley throws to Mark Andres in the end zone on the eighth play. Cam Sutton is there to intercept as Huntley grabs his helmet in frustration.

BIG PUNCH KEEPS IT TIED

Baltimore runs the ball again. Murray three straight times. Maulet stopped him after six-yard gain on second down and goes out injured. Then on third and two, Cam Heyward stops Murray for one yard. Koch punts. Pittsburgh takes a 13-10 lead but 2:28 still on clock when Baltimore starts their penultimate drive of second half. Huntley again eludes what I think will be a sack to go 21 yards. That takes them into field goal range. After the two-minute warning, Haden, and Marcus Allen tackle Andrews to prevent a first down. Huntley runs off left guard but Heyward and Watt there to force a fourth down. Tucker ties the game with a 46-yard field goal.

Baltimore gets the ball one more time with 38 seconds left. Minkah Fitzpatrick comes up huge by punching the ball out of Hollywood Browns hands at the sideline. Otherwise, Justin Tucker might be attempting the game winning field goal. Instead, Baltimore punts a couple plays later.

OVERTIME STOP

In overtime, Baltimore went back to the run but eventually had to pass. Murray starts well gaining 15 yards on first two carries. Huntley scrambles for four. Then Murray gets another first down at the Baltimore 46-yard line. Heyward stops Murray for one yard. Huntley passes twice but both incomplete. From the 47, Tucker facing a 65-yard attempt in harsh conditions. Instead, Baltimore punts, and the Steelers go on to win the game off Chris Boswell’s toe.

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 five times. He kicked sort of end zone each time. Devin Duvernay averaged 22.6 yards on five returns. The best coverage on the overtime kickoff when Duvernay held to 18 yards just short of the 25-yard line. Raven’s average starting position was their own 30.5 -yard line.

Justin Tucker kicked off four times. Ray-Ray McCloud returned three of four opening the game with a 32-yard return. McCloud returned a short kick 13 yards to the 26 and another 21 yards to the 28. Tucker’s final kick a touch back. The Steelers average starting position was the 29.

Pittsburgh conservative on kickoffs while Browns gambled. The onside kick plus the Steelers coverage team prevented the Browns from splashing on special teams.

While near even, I give slight edge to Steelers due to the overtime kickoff coverage forcing Baltimore starting behind the 25. A high compliment since Baltimore normally an extraordinarily strong special teams’ unit.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Chris Boswell 5 5 0 0 1 0 BAL 30.5
Justin Tucker 4 3 1 0 0 0 PGH 29

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Ray-Ray McCloud 3 66 22.0 32 0 0
Devin Duvernay 5 113 22.6 27 0 0

 

Advantage Steelers.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted eight times averaging 37.3 yards per boot. While his punts were short. He forced Devin Duvernay to fair catch five including three behind the 20-yard line. Two of his punts fair caught at the 20 after going less than 40 yards. Missed opportunities to pin Baltimore deep. Perhaps Danny Smith instructed Harvin to sacrifice distance for hang time or directionally punt away from Duvernay. But Harvin cost the Steelers with a 33-yard punt that went out of bounds at the Pittsburgh 40 near end of first half. This led to Baltimore tying the game at three. Robert Spillane tackled Duvernay for no gain at the 25 on his only return.

Sam Koch may be approaching the end of his career after punting 16 seasons for the Ravens. Koch punted seven times plus attempted to pass on a fake punt. Ray-Ray McCloud returned his first punt seven yards, but Marcus Allen caught holding bringing the ball back to the 29. Koch’s best punt only 36 yards but downed at the seven. Harvin punted out of bounds on next series leading to three Ravens points. Koch’s shortest punt 23 yards that went out of bounds at the Pittsburgh 35. His longest punt went 50 yards, but McCloud returned it 23 yards to midfield. Steelers exploited the great field position with the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.

HARVIN OR WAITMAN?

I give the edge to the Steelers more for McCloud’s returns, the failed fake punt, and Spillane’s tackle for no gain than Harvin’s punting. I believe that Mike Tomlin gave Harvin the nod over Corliss Waitman because of the personal circumstances, not wanting to a player to lose a spot due to death in the family. But I believe Waitman earned a spot. Will Tomlin make a change in Kansas City?

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 8 37.3 37.3 0 2 3 0 49
Sam Koch 7 38.3 34.1 0 3 3 0 50

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Ray-Ray McCloud 2 29 14.5 2 1 23 0
Devin Duvernay 1 0 0.00 5 0 0 0

*Ravens attempted fake punt that failed.

Advantage Steelers.

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Chris Boswell perfect on a freezing rainy day. His overtime game winner euphoric.

Justin Tucker also perfect, but not given the opportunity to rain on Pittsburgh’s parade.

Boswell’s 12 points on field goals the difference in scoring.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Chris Boswell 1 1 3 3 40 0 0
Justin Tucker 1 1 2 2 46 0 0

 

Advantage Steelers

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

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

  1. Deliver a few explosive plays to Diontae Johnson. Diontae caught seven passes for 51 yards with long of 16 yards. Picked up a first down but overall, not explosive. Mission failure.
  2. Limit Mark Andrews to less than 100 receiving yards and no touchdowns. Andrews targeted 16 times but caught just eight for 85 yards and no TDs. Mission accomplished.
  3. Watt wrecks Ravens defense. Forced fumble for takeaway. Sacked Huntley near goal line to prevent TD. Tipped a pass. Mission accomplished.
  4. Outperform Ravens on third and six or longer. Ravens avoided third and six or longer more than Steelers. But Baltimore only converted one of 8 (12.5%) compared to Pittsburgh converting five of 14 (35.7%). Mission accomplished.
  5. Control Huntley’s scrambling. He ran 12 times for 72 yards. Several times looked bottled up and eluded sacks to gain yards. Mission failure.

The Steelers accomplished three of five keys to victory. Third and long conversions stood out. Steelers faced third and long four times on the fourth quarter touchdown drive and overtime field goal. Converted all four. Watt’s influence on game cannot be overstated. Plus, the secondary limiting Andrews big. Several of his incompletions on third and long preventing him from dominating.

YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME

FIRST HALF READER COMMENTS

Thank you, Ross McCorkle, for keeping us up to date on the game’s first half Live Update and Discussion Thread. Steelers Depot respondents contributed 1245 first half comments. Steelers Depot respondents urging their team on. As for the “best comments” of the half:

Alex Kozora led the way with his greeting, “Appreciate you all being here all season long. Go Steelers! Go Jags!” Chris92021 replied, “And just like casual Fridays at the office: no ties!!”

The GrumpyHighlander not happy with the muffed snap not counting as a sack for T.J. Watt. “For the record…. I’m still pssd (sic) about that sack that didn’t get credited.” He’s not alone. But PwndHearts jagged him with “Keep tuned to Steelers Depot for further updates on how pissed GH is about that TJ Watt non-sack call. We’ll be right here with any updates on the situation… lol.”

Even I got a comment at top of list after Watt leaped to disrupt a Huntley pass. He came down wincing and after observing the replay, I noted, “Watt got hit in the jollies.”

Meanwhile, Nicholas had geopolitics on his mind. “Canada is so bad; the country is applying for a name change.”

SECOND HALF READER COMMENTS

Steelers Depot respondents delivered 2092 second half comments. That’s twice the standard. Impressive job!

Steelers4Eva got the “best comment” for the second half with No penalty for the McCloud head hit?
But their qb gets theirs. F THESE REFS!!!!!!!”
No argument from me.

At times, the game looked like it might slip away. SeventhHeavan assigned blame. “We are witnessing the most pathetic offense in Steeler’s history.”

Nicholas with the question of the day: “The Jags are playing like they want the Steelers in the playoffs.
Question is, do the Steelers want the Steelers in the playoffs?”
The Steelers answered the call.

RyanM explained how, “Ben with two vintage Raven killing drives to end his regular season career. Literally couldn’t script it any better.”

Between the overtime Steelers game and then the Raiders-Chargers game. We were exhausted. Solsunforge summed it up. “I have no idea how I’m gonna get to sleep to go to work in 3 hours. I’m so hyped I’m ready to walk there in the snow right now. GG”

CONCLUSION

The last few weeks, some Steelers fans that I talked to openly advocated for the Steelers not making the playoffs to improve their draft position. Their rationale based on the Steelers being one and done even if they somehow did make the playoffs.

Well, the improbable happened. The Jacksonville Jaguars upset the heavily favored Indianapolis Colts. And the Las Vegas raiders went on to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers even though they planned to run out the clock before a timeout called to extend the game.

The Steelers may go out to Kansas City and lose. They are 13-point underdogs. But even a loss will provide valuable experience for the young Steelers players who have never played in an NFL playoff game. That experience is more valuable to me than gaining a few spots up the draft ladder.

UP NEXT

Kansas City here we come. I will be going along with other Steelers fans. Maybe it will be Ben Roethlisberger’s last game. But maybe it won’t. After all, the Steelers have better odds going into this game than Jacksonville did against Indy. Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. I used this song following the 2016 regular season. But I can’t think of anything more appropriate than, Kansas City, Here I Come by Fats Domino.

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