What a crazy and nerve-racking game in which the Pittsburgh Steelers defense stepped up throughout, along with special teams coming up big especially late to force overtime and ultimately the 23-20 overtime win! Both facets supported the young offense who left much to be desired overall, an expectation many of us at Steelers Depot had to pull out the win. In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.
Let’s start with the defense who played lights out:
First off, the dot sizes highlight the high amount of snaps the defense had to play, with three players having a whopping 100 snaps including safety Minkah Fitzpatrick’s other-worldly performance with a PFF grade of 90.6! Edge rusher T.J. Watt had the second highest grade (84.6) but unfortunately left the game due to a potentially serious injury (knocks on wood). Several players had grades in the 70 range that I agree with including edge rusher Jamir Jones, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward and Chris Wormley, cornerback Cameron Sutton, and linebacker Myles Jack. I thought a few grades were low, especially edge rusher Alex Highsmith (66.5), defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi (58.6) against his former team, and linebacker Devin Bush (49.2) on an improved performance.
Pittsburgh’s defense came on for the first time with 13:31 on the clock, facing an empty shotgun look with quarterback Joe Burrow looking right, then left despite his out route being open, thankfully allowing enough time for defensive lineman Heyward’s win on the rookie o-lineman to cash in for the sack. Second and fifteen now, with Burrow back to pass again targeting the post route, and Fitzpatrick did a great job reading and reacting to undercut the route for the interception and 31-yard return for the touchdown! Defense with two impactful plays right out of the gate you love to see, Steelers up by seven early (big keys for success in my pregame outlook).
The following drive began with running back Joe Mixon’s first carry, where Watt allowed the edge on the patient run finding space, and though Highsmith was pushed back initially, combined with Fitzpatrick to tackle the five-yard gain. On second and five it was right back to Mixon, where Heyward filled the intended run gap well, but another good display of vision and cutback ability to get around Ogunjobi who was washed inside along with Watt being sealed, and thankfully Fitzpatrick was able to trip him up on his blitz from the edge for the tackle, but a six-yard gain and first down.
The following first down was a good coverage play by Jack, doing a respectable job staying with wide receiver Tyler Boyd on his pivot route, combining for the tackle with cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon who reacted well from off coverage to limit the three-yard gain. On second and seven Pittsburgh showcased strong team run defense against a toss, starting with good initial penetration from Highsmith and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, cornerbacks Sutton and Arthur Maulet engaging the two pulling blockers and setting the edge, and Ogunjobi getting off his block quickly to work down the line along with Bush who diagnosed and took a good angle to combine for the tackle. Third and seven now, Watt was able to get close to Burrow despite being chipped, with the throw going to the tight end who released late on the screen wide open, with linebacker Robert Spillane coming up from his zone drop to wrap him up short of the sticks but allowed him to churn for nine yards and the first down, needing assistance from cornerback Levi Wallace on the combined tackle.
Cincinnati continued their long drive with another successful pass (despite Highsmith impressively pushing the blocker back in Burrow’s face), with the outside corners played off, allowing wide receiver Tee Higgins separation on Sutton on the slant at the sticks with yards after catch due to a poor angle from Fitzpatrick and Sutton running him down to tackle the 18-yard gain. Another pass on another first down, this a screen to Mixon with space and great job by Witherspoon to react quickly off his coverage assignment to make the tackle for no gain. On second and ten, great job by Watt to go airborne for the batted pass preventing a completion to the open out route. Third and ten now, Highsmith provided a great inside spin move to knife through two offensive lineman, flushing Burrow off his spot (and thanks to Heyward setting the edge) tracked him down for the big situational sack. Big stand here to hold them to a field goal despite some conversions, refreshing improvements thus far compared to the blowout loss last season. Steelers lead by four.
The defense returned quickly with 5:47 in the first quarter to a Bengals false start penalty. This set up first and 15, where Mixon was able to pick up five yards with Ogunjobi and fellow defensive tackle Wormley each being double teamed off the snap including a good combo block from the right guard on Spillane, and despite the wide-angle Watt took showed good recognition and pursuit to combine for the tackle with Fitzpatrick who came from deep safety, staying clean from two block attempts. On second and ten, Mixon got another five-yard carry where Highsmith had a strong long arm to set the edge, Bush worked off his initial block well to fill the hole but collided with Wormley who was double teamed again, and good pursuit from Ogunjobi who came from the opposite side unblocked to make the tackle. Third down and five now, and great pass rush from Highsmith on the drop back, and Sutton was penalized for pass interference, negating another would-be pick six, contacting the receiver early. Instead it’s first down, and no need to dwell on the penalty with huge strip sack by Highsmith on an excellent rip move around the edge, along with Heyward getting good interior push, in the right place at the right time to catch the fumble mid-air for the defenses’ second turnover early.
With 2:25 left in the quarter, the defense returned with a seven-point lead. Cincinnati began with a screen to wide receiver Jamar Chase, who was able to provide good yards after catch with Witherspoon coming up from approximately nine yards of cushion, a tough assignment/angle where he got outside on the 12-yard gain. The following first down was good run defense from the Steelers line, with edge rusher Malik Reed setting the edge well, Wormley working to the ball along with Alualu and edge rusher Jamir Jones combining for the tackle for only one yard. On second and nine, back to Mixon but this time on a dump-off pass with Pittsburgh playing a deep zone, with Witherspoon and Jack rallying to tackle him short of the sticks on the seven-yard gain. Third and two now, and Alualu got a good push on his pass rush but Burrow was able to get the pass out, with Witherspoon traveling to cover Chase in the slot but was a tick late off his cut on the five yard out route allowing the completion over his head for the conversion and gain of seven. The following first down was a strong run by Mixon where Ogungobi got into the backfield but set to far outside (Watt had edge contain covered), allowing a cutback crease and avoiding a diving Heyward attempt and running over safety Terrell Edmunds with Sutton and Fitzpatrick making the tackle on the five-yard gain.
The drive continued to start the second quarter. On second and five, a bobbled the shotgun snap affected the timing on the open wide receiver screen call thanks also to a free corner blitz from Maulet, but Burrow was able to elude, and Spillane was at the line of scrimmage waiting, forcing the slide and getting credit for the sack. Third and five now, and Heyward got penetration around the guard, but this allowed a big scrambling lane for Burrow where Spillane reacted well to make contact on his tackle short of the first, but lunges forward for just enough on the five-yard gain. The following first down was a great play by Watt, with impeccable get off speed into the backfield, getting to Mixon right as Burrow handed the ball off for a loss of four. Watt wasn’t satisfied there, going up for another batted pass on second and 14, getting more than he bargained for with an impressive interception. Just wow from the defense, couldn’t have scripted it better.
The defense returned at 8:46 in the second quarter with a 14-point lead, handing off to Mixon on the outside run in which Edmunds blitzed from the slot to seal the edge, Bush came up to take on the block to take away an interior lane, and last but not least Fitzpatrick accelerating quickly from his deep safety spot to meet him near the line for a strong tackle of only two yards. On second and eight, Watt won on his pass rush around the edge prompting Burrow to step up and roll to the right, and with Heyward in pursuit was able to find Higgins, who redirected his route against respectable coverage from Bush on the catch for nine yards, making the tackle quickly.
The following first down was back to Mixon on the ground, a three-yard gain where Watt and defensive tackle Montravius Adams filled the designed run lanes well, with Highsmith filling the gap but missing a tackle attempt on the cutback, and Bush aggressively taking on the block and good hand use to shed it to combine for the tackle with Sutton. On second and seven, the run defense stepped up again, stopping Mixon for only three yards, with Watt and Highsmith setting their edges well, with Adams (made the tackle) and Alualu clogging the interior along with Jack. Very pleased overall with the run defense overall in the game. Third and four now, and Burrow had time with good blocks including Adams on the ground, eventually getting the pass to Chase who found a soft spot in the Steelers’ zone coverage, on top of Witherspoon and in front of Fitzpatrick with the latter making the tackle, but a 15-yard gain and conversion. Another first down pass here, and Burrow targeted Burrow deep down the middle with Sutton showing great anticipation and timing here to get the interception, and another penalty flag, but this interception stands with the personal foul penalty going on Fitzpatrick for the helmet hit on the receiver. Three turnovers in less than two quarters, what a showing by the defense, keeping the lead at 14.
With 4:01 left before halftime, Ogunjobi did get penetration and close to Burrow on the pass to Chase on the intermediate slant, unfortunately letting up a 21-yard explosive play with Sutton in a zone, and largely due to Edmunds accelerating with a good angle but missing the tackle, and Fitzpatrick finally making the tackle. Good run defense again here, stopping Mixon for no gain thanks to good team pursuit on the outside toss (Ogunjobi put a big hit on Burrow), turning him back inside where Bush refreshingly worked off another block along with Reed showing good pursuit down the opposite side of the line to combine for the tackle. Another run from Mixon, this time for four yards where Ogunjobi worked through his block well to make the tackle, good overall run fills again.
The drive continued at the two-minute warning, third and six, Burrow drops back and completes to the receiver on his stick route that created separation just short of the sticks, and great play from Wallace to react and close quickly for a great tackle just shy of the marker for the third down stop. Big fourth and one here with Cincinnati going for it given the situation, but a crucial lapse in the run game allowing the conversion. Alualu got an impressive punch knocking the blocker to his back (who arguably held him on his way down), creating a crease with good seal blocks on the defensive line along with a key block by the pulling tight end on Jack shooting the gap but also blocked well, allowing an untimely explosive Mixon run for 31 yards where Fitzpatrick finally made the tackle.
This set up first and goal from the four, with firm run defense from Pittsburgh and Heyward providing the stop for only one yard. With 25 seconds left, the Bengals were penalized for the false start, pushing them back to the eight-yard line. On second and goal, Burrow overshot the tight end on the end zone target, incomplete with Edmunds in coverage. Third and goal now, and Burrow targeted Chase in the end zone, and great job by Wallace to pressure the catch at the front pylon resulting in his second foot landing out of bounds on the close call. Cincinnati took the points here, kicking the 26-yard field goal and cutting the lead to 11. Unfortunate lapse in an otherwise strong first half, allowing two explosive plays and a long drive, but thankfully limit them to three points. Worried this may become an issue in the second half.
The defense came out first to start the second half to a Mixon run where Ogunjobi was pushed back, Jack missed a tackle opportunity and Watt with good hand use to get free and make the tackle on the five-yard gain. On second and five, Heyward cut off the initial running lane along with Ogunjobi and Jack rebounded from the previous play by attacking the gap and aggressively pursuing Mixon before he could cut, providing a great tackle for a loss of three. Third and seven now, great pass rush from Watt, Heyward, and Highsmith, but Ogunjobi ended up on the ground as Burrow took off for the scramble, with Fitzpatrick and Edmunds corralling to limit his gain short of the sticks with the latter making the tackle. Encouraging three and out to start the second half, lead still 11.
Pittsburgh returned their defense with 10:25 on the clock, opening with a strong edge rush from Watt and Highsmith, with the former’s blocker ending up on the ground, but Burrow able to get the wide-open swing pass to Mixon for yards after catch and an 11-yard gain where Edmunds knocked him out of bounds. First down again, and this time Mixon got the carry for one yard where Wormley and Jack pushed their blockers well to eliminate the hole, with Highsmith working down the line to make the tackle and attempting to strip the ball (like the mentality for more turnovers). On second and nine, Mixon got a breather but still went to the ground for four yards where Watt ripped his man to the ground to make the tackle. Third and five now, and Burrow was able to complete for the easy first down with Chase clearing out and Boyd running the out route under it, compromising the Steelers zone on the six-yard catch running out of bounds.
The following first down had great pass rush provided by Ogunjobi with strong interior push and Watt, with the latter getting another impact play for the defense on the sack for a loss of four. On second and 14, Burrow made a good throw as he stepped up in the pocket, finding Chase short over the middle again who got separation on Wallace in coverage, and Edmunds getting there on a good angle but missing another tackle and Wallace recovering to finally make the tackle but unfortunately another explosive play that I was concerned about going into the game.
This set up first and goal from the four-yard line, a toss left to Mixon where the defensive line flowed well, and great job getting off blocks by Jack and Alualu for the combined run stop no gain. On second and goal, good push from Ogunjobi and Reed on their pass rush but Burrow was able to scramble between Alualu and Highsmith, picking up two yards with the latter recovering for the tackle. Third and goal now, Wormley got a good push on his pass rush along with Fitzpatrick on the blitz, but Reed was pushed to the ground and Burrow was able to complete on the out route to Boyd in the end zone for the score with Sutton diving for the pass breakup but unsuccessful, allowing the catch. The Bengals go for the two-point conversion here, where Witherspoon was beat to the corner/sideline for the easy conversion bringing the lead down to three.
The defense returned with 21 seconds left in the third quarter, a handoff to Mixon left side in which the defense provided sound run fits, including pursuit from the backside from Reed and Wormley eliminating the cut back and the latter displaying a nice long arm to do so, and Highsmith working off his block on the redirect to make the tackle on the three-yard gain.
The drive continued to begin the fourth quarter, Heyward provided a great twisting rush to pressure Burrow’s drop back, but was unable to finish the play, but Highsmith was there soon enough to wrap him to wrap him up for the sack and seven-yard loss. Big play setting up third and a long 14, and the Steelers predictably played deep zone prompting Burrow to dump it off short to the running back, and good reaction by Maulet to react and make the tackle in the open field short of the sticks on the ten-yard gain. Strong three and out stand for Pittsburgh, lead is still three.
Pittsburgh returned with 11:13 in the fourth quarter up by six, and another short dump off to Mixon gaining yards after catch and a seven-yard gain, with Pittsburgh playing deep zone again and keeping the receivers in front to limit long gainers with Fitzpatrick and Spillane making the stop. On second and three, Burrow threw quick to Chase on the out route, making the catch against Witherspoon for four yards where he made the tackle, but first down on the play. The following first down was a Mixon run, where Watt set the edge well and Ogunjobi threw his blocker down to combine for the tackle with Wormley. On second and eight, Highsmith was flagged for offsides giving Burrow a free play to take a shot downfield, finding Boyd for an explosive 22-yard gain, finding a spot in the zone and sliding to make the catch with Edmunds touching him down.
The following first down was back to Mixon on the ground, a four-yard gain with a hole between Spillane and defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal combining for the tackle on the four-yard gain. On second and six, Burrow play actions, pumps on a swing route in the backfield by Chase, then targets Mixon again on the screen, thankfully the pass was wide and fell incomplete. This set up third and six, another drop back and the defense forces another completion, for the failed conversion with Highsmith and Heyward each getting a good push and the latter getting a hit on Burrow. The Bengals decide to go for it down in the fourth quarter, and if the defense hadn’t stepped up enough, where able to get their fourth interception off Burrow with Witherspoon reading and coming off his route to undercut the route hitting his hands, tipping, then making the catch on the third effort and huge play to keep the lead at six. What a crazy game, with one of my pregame takeaways for Pittsburgh’s defense being to capitalize on Burrow’s history of tight window throws with takeaway(s), and Christmas came early this year.
With 6:05 left in regulation, and Pittsburgh’s defense likely gassed with the huge time of possession disparity, hopefully able to step up big again with the offenses inability to do so. Burrow starts the drive off with a short pass despite a good push from Ogunjobi in his face, getting it to Mixon on the Texas route on the one-handed snag with yards after catch due to a poor angle by Bush, also slipping and Fitzpatrick able to chase him down but dragged a few extra yards on the big gain of 18. The following first down Burrow took the shotgun snap a took off with open grass in front, Edmunds unable to get off the block/find the angle in time, with Jack showing good hustle and pursuit speed to eventually make the tackle, but it goes for an explosive scramble of 23 yards. Two big plays right away.
The third first down in a row the defense pushed the pocket well on Burrow’s quick throw to Chase on the slant, thankfully going off his hands with a lot of potential yards after catch if it were completed. Mixon got the carry on second and ten, and Wormley makes another strong play getting off his block, making the tackle behind the line for a loss of one. Big third and 11 now, and Watt displayed a power rush, then skillfully ripped around the edge, but unfortunately negated on an awfully timed holding penalty on Sutton, so instead it’s a fresh set of downs instead. Jack provided great coverage on Mixon as the over the middle target, able to get the pass breakup to force the incompletion. On second and ten, Burrow threw to the middle once again, this time connecting with Chase for 11 yards gaining space from the clear out on his in route and YAC against Maulet, and Bush making the tackle which put them in the red zone.
About three minutes in regulation in this nail biter, Burrow’s first down pass is incomplete on an in route near the goal line, with good tight coverage from Sutton while avoiding any penalty flag. On second and ten, Burrow made a nice throw to Chase on the out route at the front pylon, getting both feet in bounds on what I thought was a touchdown, ruled just short with Sutton in coverage. Heart’s racing on this extreme high and low rollercoaster that is this game.
This set up first and goal at the one, and they handoff to Mixon as expected, with Watt and Highsmith showing great determination and strength from their edge positions to converge on him behind the line for a loss of two. On second and goal, and Sutton provided great coverage on Chase on the fade along the sideline over his head incomplete. Third and goal now, and the Bengals ran the familiar flip pass to the tight end crossing the formation, but again the defense is stout and not fooled, with Fitzpatrick and Edmunds combining to tackle the one-yard gain. Fourth and goal, two-yard line, two-minute warning and Burrow targets Chase from the slot on the post route, getting a step on Witherspoon who stumbled but regained his footing in trail coverage, and fantastic play by Sutton to get his eyes on the quarterback and come off his receiver for the huge pass deflection (and near interception) to force the turnover on downs! Incredible sequence and defensive stand once again, wow. Lead still six.
1:27 left in regulation, can the defense hold strong one last time? On first and ten Burrow found Mixon on the short pass for nine yards, with Pittsburgh playing off given the situation. On second and one, similar play to Mixon over the middle, this time for 11 and keeping the clock running. The following first down went incomplete a deep shot down the left sideline thankfully over the receiver’s head. On second and ten, Burrow looked downfield but took the check down thanks to the quarterback hit from Heyward, and valiant effort by the runner to drag Jack toward the marker and out of bounds and just short, leading to third and one. Chase got the catch here, beating Witherspoon on a slant for 14 yards.
27 seconds left and in the red zone, and I have no nails left to bite, with the following first down being a shot to the end zone from Burrow to Chase, making the with Witherspoon in trail and safety Tre Norwood over the top, but the toe of his second foot was barley on the chalk, just when I think this game can’t get crazier, and after review the call is upheld. On second and ten, Watt was penalized for illegal use of the hands and more concerning is he left the game injured (knocking on wood for the best news possible). This set up first and ten from the 12-yard line, with Burrow’s throw going between two receivers, and incomplete. On second and ten with 13 seconds left, Fitzpatrick was called for a questionable personal foul penalty in the end zone on Boyd, negating the incompletion and instead half the distance and first down.
First and goal, nine seconds, I need a doctor. Burrow targets the end zone again with Edmunds in his face on the release and big hit from Fitzpatrick at the catch point to ensure the incompletion. Second and goal, four seconds, perhaps last chance for the Bengals, Burrow targets Chase on the out route at the front pylon again, this time making the catch and getting his feet in for the touchdown against Witherspoon in coverage. Crushing, heartbreaking, that there wasn’t one last stop in there after everything that’s proceeded.
The one-man wrecking crew that was Fitzpatrick in this game provided a miraculous surprise, with the rare and unlikely field goal block. OVERTIME, incredible!
The defense made their overtime appearance with 8:21 on the clock. Witherspoon was penalized on the first play for pass interference on a deep target in single coverage for 12 yards. The following first down was a Mixon run where Highsmith set the edge well along with Ogunjobi penetrating to combine for the tackle on the loss of one. On second and 11, Wormley got a good push up the middle but Burrow was able to get the dump off pass to the running back and YAC for 14 yards where Jack made the tackle. The following first down was back to the air, with Burrow surveying with ample time and finally targeting the tight end short, with Jack making the tackle but allowing the churn for the first down.
First down again, this time a Mixon run for seven yards with Jamir Jones setting the edge but the left tackle seemingly getting away with a hold, allowing Mixon ample time to cut back to the right, juking Reed for additional yards and Fitzpatrick finally making the tackle. On second and three, Burrow drops back with an incompletion to the running back deep with Bush providing great tight coverage on the sideline. Third and three now, and Burrow has to leave the pocket due to a great push from Highsmith, and finds his tight end wide open on the sideline on the run, making a great leaping catch and skillfully tapping both feet in on the explosive gain of 20 between Witherspoon and Norwood’s zone coverage for the unfortunate conversion.
The following first down in the red zone was a Mixon run for no gain, with Jack and Jones providing good penetration and Edmunds making the tackle. On second and ten, Burrow found the tight end on the short target with Fitzpatrick there quickly to make the solid tackle. The drive ended on third and three with a missed field goal attempt leaving the game tied!
The defense had to return again with 2:22 left after Boswell missed the field goal. On first and ten, Highsmith provided a good push on his pass rush along with Jack providing a great twist rush and getting his hands up, but Burrow somehow escapes the pocket and scramble for a positive gain of nine with Witherspoon touching him down on the slide. Second and one at the two-minute warning, Burrow rushed up the middle on the quarterback sneak, picking up two yards and the first down. The following first down was a short Burrow pass to the tight end with Edmunds able to chase and tackle him out of bounds on the gain of six. On second and four, Burrow’s next pass was incomplete thanks to pressure from Maulet forcing the throwaway. Third and four now, and Maulet come up big for the second play in a row, coming on the corner blitz again with Burrow realizing too late resulting in the strip sack! Cincinnati recovered but Sutton and Jack where the to stop the recovery short of the first down forcing the punt. Craziest game I think I’ve watched, definitely that I’ve covered.
Now for the offense:
PFF only graded three players above 70 (fairly in my opinion), wide receiver Miles Boykin (76.7) on limited snaps, tight end Pat Freiermuth (74.2) with a good day as a deep target but noted struggles as a blocker, and tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (70.1) as the highest graded offensive lineman as we’re accustomed to seeing. Thought tackle Dan Moore did have some improved snaps but thought his 68.7 grade was a bit high, and thought running back Jaylen Warren’s lowest graded game was low (48.9) particularly with some excellent blocking.
Pittsburgh’s offense took the field first to start the game. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky took the shotgun snap and faked the jet sweep (to wide receiver Chase Claypool) then rolled left, with guard James Daniels pulling to the opposite side along with Freiermuth, who got the flip pass for only a gain of three with Daniels missing the block. On second and seven from a pistol look, Trubisky looks to pass again and rolled right sensing pressure from the blind side allowed by Moore, finding Claypool on the out route from the slot despite him being slow of the line of scrimmage for the five-yard gain. Third and a short two now, and the third straight shotgun snap for a pass, where Trubisky found wide receiver Diontae Johnson (Okorafor beat around the edge) who was given ample cushion given the situation and getting good separation on the short pivot route, but his momentum was going backward at the catch point and despite good effort fighting through the tackle attempt was marked just short of the first down. The T.V. angle looked like he might have kept his feet in, so this will be interesting to see on the all-22. Regardless, the offense starts with a three and out.
The offense returned with 7:17 on the clock, starting with Claypool in motion and getting the jet sweep to the right, but the linebackers and slot cornerback corralling the running lanes, and tight end Zach Gentry blocked well initially but would like to see both he and Freiermuth block harder to the whistle, with the formers man making the tackle on the two-yard gain. On second down and eight, running back Najee Harris finally got his first carry behind good blocks from center Mason Cole and Okorafor, but Gentry got beat allowing the tackle on the three-yard gain. Third and five now, and Trubisky has traffic around him on the deep pass attempt with Daniels getting pushed back and Moore beat around the edge, just out of Boykin’s diving reach down the left sideline incomplete. Offense starts with two three and outs, and a lot more shotgun than I expected.
With 4:22 in the first quarter, the offense returned with good field position off the defenses’ second turnover. On first down, the Steelers went with some trickery, handing it off to Harris who pitched it to wide receiver Gunner Olszewski, pitching it himself back to Trubisky on the interesting flea flicker, freezing their great linebacker Logan Wilson enough to free up the open Freiermuth for an encouraging 31-yard explosive pass, providing a needed spark following stale start.
This also set up first and goal from the three, giving to Harris who churned straight ahead for two despite traffic. On second and goal from the one, the goal line formation run behind fullback Derek Watt showcased strong fight from both lines, but Freiermuth was thrown to the ground allowing the tackle on the loss of one. Third and goal now from the two yard line, curiously (in my opinion) another shotgun snap, with Trubisky dropping back and getting hit on the throw due to Cole slipping off the combo block with guard Kevin Dotson, with the latter ending up in no man’s land needing to help Moore who was beat, allowing the hit on Trubisky’s high throw on the out route to Freiermuth against good physical coverage from Bengals safety Vonn Bell, incomplete. Unfortunate to settle for the field goal here, lead is seven now.
The offense returned with 13:08 in the second quarter, with Warren getting his first rushing opportunity gaining three yards behind good collective blocks, but Moore losing his block late allowing the tackle. On second and seven, Claypool got a second get jet sweep for a nice 15-yard gain behind a great lead block from Warren. The following first down was a play action pass where Moore got beat, with Trubisky getting the screen pass to the wide-open Gentry and explosive gain of 32 yards with a great seal block from Daniels, along with Okorafor out in front, contributing to Gentry’s cutback for even more yards.
This set up first and goal from the nine-yard line, going to Harris on the ground for a two-yard gain, behind a good block from Freiermuth, but Daniels ending up on the ground allowing the tackle. On second and goal Trubisky dropped back with Okorafor providing a great pancake block, with a Claypool pass that was behind Claypool, making a great one-handed grab against tight coverage for four yards against former Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton. Third and goal now from the three with inches to go, and Trubisky targeted wide receiver George Pickens in the end zone, who drew the flag on the incompletion setting up first and goal from the one.
Claypool got another jet sweep here, with a slightly bobbled exchange that was secured, but the play call didn’t fool Cincinnati given the frequency through the game thus far, with a sea of defenders there to stop him for no gain and Moore ending up on the ground. Would have rather seen a straight ahead run to Harris given the situation. On second and goal from the one, Harris did get his number called, a swing pass from a power set following play action to Derek Watt, where Trubisky had just enough time to get the pass off due to a free rusher and Freiermuth getting beat for the touchdown. Better drive here with an explosive play, particularly benefiting from the Bengals goal line penalty, Steelers lead by 14.
With 5:24 left until halftime deep in their own territory, Trubisky stepped back on first down where Dotson allowed penetration, rushing the throw to Warren on the swing pass that was low and incomplete. On second and ten Cole, Daniels, and Okorafor blocked well on the handoff but Dotson unable to connect on the second level and Moore allowed two men to converge on the tackle, though Warren did make a nice cut to get past the line for two yards. Third and eight now, and despite good blocking, Trubisky got antsy on the drop back and decided to scramble but tackled short of the first down on the four-yard gain, and noted he seemed to have Johnson open on the right sideline, or Freiermuth crossing over the middle. Really want to see the all-22 here. Another three and out, would like to see more capitalization on the turnovers, score remains 17-3.
The offense came out one more time to kneel it and send it to halftime.
Pittsburgh’s first offensive drive of the second half began at 12:57 pinned close to their end zone, with Trubisky going play action then turning right to a free rusher in his face, and good strength to be able to get rid of the ball to avoid the safety, throwing it away in the direction of Freiermuth. On second and ten, Harris got the carry for a healthy gain of eight yards thanks to good seal blocks from Gentry and Freiermuth, but disappointing to see Claypool’s lack of blocking effort. Third and two now, and Claypool provided a big contested catch over the middle just past the sticks on the three-yard gain and conversion.
The following first down was stuffed on the toss run for a loss of four, with Olszewski losing his run block (poor personnel choice) forcing Harris to slow and cut forward, where Cole and Boykin’s men combined for the tackle. On second and 14, Trubisky targeted Pickens on the left sideline, but underthrew the depth of his route with a valiant diving grab but caught out of bounds along with Daniels getting beat of the line. Third and 14 now, and Dotson and Watt did a poor job communicating/passing things off in pass pro allowing pressure from two defenders on Trubisky’s blind side, able to get the deep pass off in time but unfortunately the same result, an incompletion to Pickens sailing over his head out of bounds. Short six play drive, offense still struggling overall, but lead remains 11.
With 4:41 left in the third quarter, the offense returned with a play action drop back from Trubisky with plenty of time, and seemed to have Pickens open deep on the left side if he would’ve thrown decisively, instead holding on and scrambling to the sideline unable to get back to the line and losing two yards and a sack on the stat sheet. On second and 12, Trubisky found Johnson on his stick route, creating separation and making the catch for seven yards and noted more getting away with debatably a hold. Third and five now, and Gentry lost an unfavorable blocking matchup against edge rusher Trey Hendrickson who chased aggressively, flushing Trubisky out of the pocket for a successful scramble and conversion this time, but would like to see him tuck the ball more securely on what could have been a strip.
The drive continued with a roll and flip pass to Harris behind a good pulling block from Daniels, but Hendrickson came free to limit the gain to two yards. On second and eight, it was another two-yard gain by Harris, this time on the ground where he ran straight ahead, and noted a big hole he could’ve bounced to between good blocks from Moore and Dotson for a likely big gain. Third and six now, and untimely holding penalty from Moore, getting beat after a strong block the previous play setting up third and 16. Gentry provided a great chip block to pancake the rusher (with Moore finishing him to the ground), then released into a short rout, making the catch but tackled well short of the first down seemingly content to punt with only a three-point lead. Personally, would have liked a more aggressive play call despite the off coverage.
Pittsburgh returned with 13:21 in the fourth quarter, beginning with a Harris run for two yards. On second and eight, Trubisky went to Johnson quickly on the stick route, able to gain six yards but fumbled at the end of the play, though he was able to recover (Cole was injured and replaced by center J.C. Hassenauer). Third and two now, Okorafor and Moore were both pushed back in pass pro, but the former got his defender to the ground on the Trubisky back shoulder pass to Johnson on another stick route for a diving catch and seven-yard gain for the conversion. The following first down was a throw into tight coverage to Freiermuth on the out route, broken up incomplete. On second down, Trubisky and Johnson kept it going, this time on the scramble drill, but the throw a low and inside incomplete. Same outcome here on third and ten, an incompletion to Johnson, with Trubisky having to role out from pressure coming free, but unfortunately chose a dangerous through across the deep middle of the field. This held the Steelers to a field goal, lead is six now.
With 8:16 left and a chance to put the game away with the lead still at six, Pittsburgh began with an encouraging Harris run for 11 yards, with a good seal from Okorafor along with good blocks from Dotson and Moore to give Harris his longest run of the day, including a broken tackle on the first down. The Steelers ran the clock with another run, utilizing Claypool at a high rate on jet sweeps in the game, able to get around the linebacker to avoid a six-yard loss behind a good lead block from Harris, then hurdling around a lackluster one from Freiermuth for three yards. On second and seven, Harris provided an incredible pass block on the blindside against Hendrickson, going low and literally body slamming him to the ground (wow), and Trubisky enjoyed this clean pocket to get the pass to Pickens on the short catch on the sideline for three yards. Third and four now, and Harris had an inverse result on this pass block, a tick late getting over to the right side and pushed back into Trubisky’s face rushing his throw to Freiermuth on the out-route sailing over his head. Unfortunately, the offense cannot step up with all the weight and takeaways the defense has provided, score remains 20-14.
The offense return following yet another incredible defensive stand with 1:51 left in regulation, also benefiting from a 15-yard unsportsmanlike frustration penalty on Chase to start the drive. On first down Harris got the carry but was brought down awkwardly and injured on the play, with an edge rusher coming free for a loss of one, with Cole back in the game recognizing this but reacting too late to land a block. On second and 11, Trubisky steps back and targets Johnson, but the pass is batted incomplete. Big third and 11 here, and Pittsburgh curiously goes with the overdone (in my opinion) Claypool jet sweep, only gaining four yards. This did force the Bengals to take a timeout leaving only one, but incredibly frustrating to punt it back with this much time in a one score game.
The offense came out to start overtime with the crazy turn of events on defense and special teams to end regulation. First down was a run to Warren with good blocks and bouncing outside, but the free linebacker was able to make the tackle on the edge for only two yards. On second and eight, Trubisky stepped back and got the pass of with slight pressure allowed by Okorafor to Freiermuth on the out route, getting slight separation and good effort through two defenders to fight forward on the gain of five. Third and three now, and Trubisky steps back behind excel pass pro from Warren but Cole getting beat allowing pressure, able to get the deep target off to Claypool on the slot fade, unable to corral the back shoulder throw that was a low. The offensive theme remains in the overtime period, continuing their struggles with another three and out.
The offense returned with 3:32 and the game still tied. On first down Trubisky targeted Johnson deep left and was ruled out of bounds, but was overturned after review with Johnson somehow able to bring in the insanely difficult one-handed catch and get both feet in as the defender push him out of bounds for an explosive gain of 25, insane. The following first down was a give to Olszewski on the jet sweep, who pitched it to Claypool on the reverse, with Warren providing an excellent block out front to on the nice 12-yard gain. Nice job by the offense finally moving the ball, but Trubisky drops back and gets hit hard by the defensive back on the release, forcing the wobbly throw to fall incomplete. On second and ten, Trubisky rolls left on the snap with the flip pass look that was covered, instead throwing to Claypool on the out route for six yards. Third and four now, Trubisky finds Johnson on the short pivot route but runs backward on the catch and unable to elude the tackle for no gain. Pittsburgh was in field goal range due to a stronger drive, but Boswell missed the long 55-yarder, unbelievably doinking of the left upright (especially considering the Bengals miss as well), crazy.
56 seconds left. Game tied. All the excitement you could want. Can the offense step up? On first and ten, Trubisky drops back and targets Freiermuth deep down the seam but under thrown and broken up, thankfully not intercepted. Second and ten, Johnson caught the stop route near the sticks on the gain of nine. Big third and one now, and Trubisky gets the Bengals offside for the free play, eludes the sack and scrambles left, then targets Freiermuth complete for the explosive 26-yard gain, allowing Pittsburgh to decline the penalty. First and ten with 25 seconds left, Trubisky has to get rid of it quick off the Bengals blitz to Johnson who is hit at the catch point, jarring the ball loose incomplete. On second and ten, Cincinnati blitzes again forcing Trubisky to quick trigger, but is able to hit Freiermuth accurately for huge play on the ten-yard gain and in field goal range. Trubisky then spiked the ball to stop the clock at 8 seconds. Can they do it?! On more offensive play, but the pass is incomplete to Claypool, over his head to seemingly run more time off the clock. The offense did just enough when it mattered the most to set Boswell up for the game winning 53-yard field goal. I can breathe again! Insane and impressive win for the Steelers.
Last let’s look at special teams:
This graph does have some overlapping dots/players, but should clean up as we get more of a sample size, with several players having the same number of snaps and grades one game in. PFF of course graded Fitzpatrick the strongest (93.6) with his crucial field goal block, along with three other players having above 70 grades: Snell (79), Boykin (76.2), and Jones (71.1). The five worst grades came from long snapper Christian Kuntz, Marcus Allen, Derek Watt, Warren, and James Pierre (all below 57), each of which had double digit snaps that will be interesting to monitor moving forward.
Punter Pressley Harvin got his first opportunity early in the game, a high 44-yarder traveling to the 22-yard line, with Boykin racing downfield to force the returner to take the fair catch. Harvin’s second attempt mid-first quarter was a short 41-yard punt with Boykin getting downfield well again but got tangled up with the blocker and ended up on the ground resulting in a return opportunity, but good effort to get back to his feet and combine for the tackle with Connor Heyward, who laid the wood with a big hit popping the returners helmet off. Kicker Chris Boswell connected on his first field goal attempt to close the final drive of the first quarter, a chip shot from 20 yards. Harvin had a much better third attempt late in the second quarter, a 57-yarder all the way to the Bengal 29-yard line, returned for six yards where Benny Snell stayed clean of the blocker for a solid tackle.
Harvin’s first punt of the second half was a poor 40 yarder to the 44-yard line that was returned for ten yards with Jamir Jones, who was recently brought back by the team making the tackle. Harvin’s punt at the end of the third quarter was a beauty, a 53-yard corner punt that pinned the Bengals back, going out of bounds at the nine-yard line. Olszewski’s first punt return with yardage came early in the fourth quarter, fielding it at the 35-yard line a taking it to the right where there was good blocking, showing outside to set up the inside cut, then working to the sideline on the strong return of 20 yards. Boswell made another field goal with 11:13 on the clock from 48 yards out. With six minutes left in regulation, Harvin provided a booming 60-yard punt, but goes all the way to the end zone for the touchback. Harvin had a 45-yard punt with 1:36 left in regulation, traveling to the 36-yard line where Boykin stayed clean downfield to make the solid tackle on the gain of only four yards. Fitzpatrick provided a miraculous surprise with the undoubted special teams play of the game to end regulation, coming through unscathed with the rare and unlikely field goal block! OVERTIME, incredible!
Harvin punted early in overtime, a 48 yarder that went to the 20-yard line, returned for five yards where Snell made the tackle. On third and eight, Cincinnati elected to go ahead and kick the field goal with 3:37 left, and add this to the crazy list of plays in this game, with the attempt going wide left due to a high snap, and somewhere Ray Finkle is yelling “Laces Out!”. Still a tie game. Boswell had a field goal opportunity with 2:27 from 55 yards out, and unbelievable doinks off the left upright no good! Crazy lack of field goal luck for both teams and we’re still playing. The offense set Boswell up with one more try to win the game with five seconds left, and this time he’s his normal consistent self! Pittsburgh wins!
STEELERS VS. BENGALS WEEK 1 SNAP TOTALS:
Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!