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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Times Are A-Changin’

GAME PRELUDE

Back in the USA and attended the Steelers game with Rich “Sugar Bear” Frankenfield. The day before the game we caught a rugby match at the Pittsburgh Harlequins Founders Field in Cheswick. Our alma mater California University now part of the Penn West conglomerate played Saint Vincent’s College. If your ever out by Cheswick, check out the Harlequins events schedule and catch a rugby match. A different kind of game.

On to football. Sugar Bear and I checked out the Renegade tailgate before heading into Acrisure Stadium. Got to see many regulars before the game including Lenny & Cyndy, Dee, Carol, and Scott Juba and his mom. The consensus among this group before the game was an apprehensive feeling. The Steelers needed to win this game. But could they do it?

There was a fair sized crowd inside. The team reports 66,578 attendees which is 97.3% of full capacity. There were many former Steelers in Pittsburgh for the alumni dinner. It was cool to meet Tim Worley, Steelers running back from 1989 to 1993, making his first visit to a Steelers game since 1999. So, it was his first time in the stadium.

STEELERS OFFENSE

Mitch Trubisky led seven Steelers drives in the first half. The team netted just six points. The opening drive looked promising. Najee Harris ran three times for 15 yards. Trubisky launched a deep pass to George Pickens that just had a little too much air, so it floated giving the defender a chance to make a play. But Pat Freiermuth converted the first third down attempt a with a six yard catch. Trubisky completed a 14 yard pass to Pickens, but the play negated by James Daniels too far down the field. That put the Steelers in a hole they could not climb out of resulting in a punt.

Then Mitch Trubisky passed to Diontae Johnson and the ball skimmed off his fingers and the Jets intercept. Frankly, my opinion is that if the ball contacts a receiver’s hands they must catch it. I attribute responsibility for that pick on Diontae and not Trubisky. What say you?

The Steelers went three and out on their next possession. Fans in the stadium initially cheered when Jaylen Warren caught the ball on third down. But quickly shifted to boos when officials marked the ball a yard short of the first down marker. Were the boos directed at Mitch Trubisky or the offense in general? Or were they upset with the where the ball was marked? I don’t know but the fans clearly unhappy with another punt. A punt that travelled 36 yards to the Jets 30 when Pressley Harvin had plenty of field to boom one.

The Jets score and the Steelers offense responds. Trubisky completed a 26 yard pass to Pickens after Kevin Dotson’s holding call put the team behind the 20. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren ran six times for 35 yards during this drive including a 13 yarder by Najee and a 14 yard run by Jaylen. Then Trubisky connected with Diontae Johnson at the edge of the endzone. As an average Pittsburgh Steelers fan, I know that NFL officials would have awarded a touchdown to 31 other NFL teams. Mike Tomlin challenges and during the replay fans cheer and hold their hands up as their view of the replay shows Diontae dragging his left foot with his front foot just in bounds. But the call is upheld, and lusty booing descends on the officials ears. My question is whether the replay would have been upheld if the initial call was a touchdown. Regardless, the Steelers settle for a 51 yard Boswell field goal to make it 10-3.

 

The Offense Goes Dormant

The Steelers offense goes dormant the next two drives. The Jets sack Trubisky twice and Diontae Johnson and Dan Moore commit penalties. I did not see Diontae move on his illegal shift; you have to have an IQ of 150 to decipher the NFL’s rulebook.

Trubisky and the offense get the ball one more time with 20 seconds left in the half when Cam Sutton intercepts a Zach Wilson pass. Trubisky to Freiermuth for 14 yards. An incompletion. Then Trubisky throws deep down the middle for the end zone. Former Pitt player Jordan Whitehead intercepts and is running down the field. The play negated by a roughing the passer call. But what drove me nuts about this play seeing Diontae Johnson walking off the field while the other 21 players were still playing to the whistle.

Chris Boswell then calmly drills a 59 yard field goal a new stadium record. The score is 10-6 Jets at the half.

The Pickett Era Begins

Mike Tomlin brought Kenny Pickett in to spark the team in the second half. The Pickett Era begins. I got to see Ben Roethlisberger’s last game as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Now I saw his heir-presumptive in his first game.

Five drives resulting in two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Kenny Pickett handed off his first several plays. After picking up a first down on a keeper and then a 15 yard defensive penalty added to Diontae Johnson’s three yard run, Kenny threw his first pass. Chase Claypool lost the grip as Lamarcus Joyner who is eight inches shorter than Claypool leaped and knocked the ball loose. Jordan Whitehead, who had an earlier interception negated by penalty, was their to scarf up the ball. Pickett intercepted on his first career pass. Ben Roethlisberger intercepted on his second career pass.

But then, Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted a Zac Jones pass. He stepped out at the four. Three plays later, Kenny Pickett takes it for his first career touchdown and a 13-10 lead. The defense held the Jets to a punt on the next possession giving the Steelers the ball at their own 18.

Kenny had the offense energized. Pickett to Freiermuth for 14 on the first play. Then Najee rumbles for 16 on the ground. Pickett scrambles for a first down on third and six. Then two completions to George Pickens including a 13 yarder on third and four. On another third down, Pickett hits Freiermuth who is brought down two yards short of the goal line after an 18 yard gain. Kenny Pickett takes it in for the score. Suddenly, it’s a 20 to 10 lead early in the fourth quarter.

The Jets score to come within three. From the 25, Pickett completes two passes to Diontae for 11 yards. On third and three he hits Pickens for 26. Jaylen Samuels recovered an aborted snap setting up a second and 15. But Kenny Pickett threw his second interception. The consensus of most pundits and Pickett himself is that he should have thrown the ball away. But I’m not an expert, just an average Steelers fan. The ball was in Freiermuth’s hands. This is another interception caused by the receiver not the quarterback’s throw.

However, the Jets capitalized off the turnover and took a 24-20 lead and leaving the Steelers offense just 16 seconds on the clock and one timeout due to two taken away due to injured players. Pickett completed a 27 yarder to Pickens. Then heaved a hail Mary that the Jets intercepted at the end zone.

STEELERS DEFENSE

The defense intercepted Wilson twice leading to ten Steelers points off the turnovers. But the defense failed to stop the Jets in the fourth quarter who score touchdowns after two long drives.

Jets Trick Play Embarrasses Defense

The defense held the Jets to a punt of their first possession. But following the interception that clanked off Diontae’s hands, the Jets had the ball just 36 yards from the goal line. Alex Highsmith sacked Jones on the first play. The Jets did get a first on a nine yard scramble by Jones and five yard run by Breece Hall. But on the next third down, Minkah Fitzpatrick tackled the receiver well short of the sticks. Greg Zuerlein kicked a 38 yard field goal which is a good result considering where the drive began.

The Jets then go the ball at their own 30 after Harvin hit a paltry 36 yard punt. Highsmith almost sacked Jones on second down but no one there to clean it up and ball thrown out of bounds. On third and seven, Jones completes a 20 yard pass to Elijah Moore with Levi Wallace in coverage. Another Moore reception brought the ball into the red zone. Eventually on second goal, the Jets embarrass the Steelers with  trick play and Zac Wilson catches the touchdown pass from wide receiver Braxton Berrios. No one within yards of Jones.

The defense forced the Jets to punt on the next two possessions. On the first, Boswell kicked off out of bounds giving the Jets the ball at the 40. But held to a three and out. On next drive, they start on nine after a nice 51 yard punt by Harvin. DeMarvin Leal and Cam Heyward tackled Michael Carter for a four yard loss. And the Jets couldn’t get out of that hole.

Harvin kicked another very short 35 yard punt from his own 19. The Jets went from their 46 to the Pittsburgh 29. 16 yards on a Breece Hall run over right guard. On third down Zach Wilson threw deep. But Cam Sutton intercepted the ball at the four returning it to the 30 saving a score.

Defensive High and Low Tides

The defense high tide came in the third quarter. Jets held to a three and out to open the half. After Kenny Pickett threw his first interception the defense stepped up. On third down Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepted Zach Wilson’s pass intended for Tyler Conklin. Minkah returned the ball and we thought he scored a pick six. But the camera showed him stepping out at the four yard line for a 34 yard interception return. That takeaway set up Pittsburgh’s go-ahead touchdown. 13-10.

 

The defense held the Jets to a punt near midfield. So, they held New York scoreless in the third quarter. Following another Pittsburgh touchdown, the defense enjoyed a ten point lead with 13:36 to play.

That’s when the defensive tide began to ebb.

The Jets responded with an 11-play 81 yard drive that brought them within three. 20-17. The drive ate 6:05 of clock. The defense gave up first downs with a 35 yard pass to Garrett Wilson on third and six. Then the Jets overcame a fourth and seven short pass that turned into a 22 yard gain. Then Breeze Hall took the ball to the one with a 16 yard run. The Jets score on third and five.

The Jets get the ball at their 35 after the interception that bounced off Freiermuth’s hands. Terrell Edmunds out of game. Just after the two minute warning the Jets converted a third and six. Minkah Fitzpatrick injured causing a loss of timeout. Another timeout lost when Cam Heyward hurt his elbow and ankle a couple plays later. Wilson completed a 17 yard pass for a first down. On second and five, Malik Reed and Alex Highsmith stop Michael Carter for one yard gain. But Tyson Alualu penalized for defensive holding. I wonder if the replay shows the hold and whether it would have impacted the play. Tough call but instead of third and four it’s now first down. On second down it appears Minkah Fitzpatrick forced a fumble recovered by the Jets. However, the replay “shows” that the runner crossed the plane of the goal line. But did the ball? Regardless, it’s 24-20 and just 16 seconds left.

The defense had two opportunities to either stop the Jets or at least hold them to field goals. Instead, the Jets conduct an  81 and 65  yard touchdown drives to leave the Steelers high and dry.

SPECIAL TEAMS

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 four times. His first went out of bounds giving the Jets the ball at the 40. The defense bailed him out by holding New York to a three and out. His next two touched back. The final line drive kick in the fourth quarter returned 14 yards to the 19.

Grew Zuerlein kicked off five times. Four were touchbacks. His second kicked off from the 50 following a leveraging penalty on DeMarvin Leal during the point after kick. Benny Snell returned the ball seven yards to the 25.

The Jets gain an edge here due to Boswell’s kick out of bounds giving them good field position.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Chris Boswell 4 1 2 1 1 1 NYJ 27
Greg Zuerlein 5 1 4 0 0 0 PGH 25

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Benny Snell 1 7 7.0 7 0 0
Ty Johnson 1 14 14.0 14 0 0

 

Advantage Jets.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted four times averaging 39.5 yards. The Jets fair caught all four. Harvin’s first punt went 36 yards to the nine. His third punt went 51 yards to the 18 and the jets committed a penalty to push their start to the nine-yard line. However, Harvin had two punts with a wide open field that only 36 yards. The first was kicked from his 34 to the Jets 30. Had he punted 46 yards the extra ten yards may have made a difference. The Jets scored a touchdown on the subsequent drive. His last punt from his 19 went 35 yards to the Jets 46. New York was driving for a score from the short field. Cam Sutton intercepted a pass at the four yard line preventing the Jets from extending their lead. Harvin’s inconsistent punting particularly with an open field are a liability

Braden Mann punted five times. Gunner Olszewski inexplicably avoided a fair catch on the first adding an extra ten yards before the ball was downed at the 23 yard line for a 59 yard effort. His second punt fair caught at the 15. Gunner returned the next three. On one he allowed the ball to bounce off the ground giving the defenders extra time to reach him. He fumbled another for just a one yard gain. Luckily, James Pierre recovered the ball at the 22.

Inconsistent punting and a fumbled return give the edge to the Jets.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 4 39.5 39.5 0 0 2 0 51
Braden Mann 5 47.0 43.8 0 1 2 1 59

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Gunner Olszewski 3 16 5.3 1 0 10 0
Braxton Berrios 0 0 0.0 4 0 0 0

 

Advantage Jets.

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Chris Boswell kicked a 51 and a stadium record 59 yard field goal to close out the first half. He added two extra points.

Greg Zuerlein converted a 38 yard field goal and all three extra-point attempts.

The Steelers gain an edge with Boswell’s record setter.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Chris Boswell 2 2 2 2 59 0 0
Greg Zuerlein 3 3 1 1 38 0 0

 

Advantage Steelers

<h2>DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST</h2>

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

  1. Significantly improve on the 33.3% third down conversion rate. After a slow start, the Steelers converted six of 12 third downs. Mission Accomplished.
  2. Heyward must make impact plays. Cam had three tackles. But none for a loss. And no sacks nor quarterback pressures. Mission Failure.
  3. Limit the Jets running backs receiving passes. Hall and Carter combined for four receptions for 26 yards. The reception wasn’t too far off their average but the receiving yardage about half the share they normally get. Mission Accomplished.
  4. Wide receivers rack up yards after catch (YAC) yardage. George Pickens and Diontae Johnson combined for 37 YAC which almost doubles the 19 wide receivers racked up in first three games. Pat Freiermuth added 22 more YAC. Mission Accomplished.
  5. Limit the Jets converting on third and five or more yards. Including a fourth and seven, the Jets converted eight of 17 third downs with five or more yards to go. Although the Steelers intercepted twice in these situations they allowed New York to score and convert 47% of these long third downs. Mission Failure.

The Steelers accomplished three of five keys to victory. But that was not enough.

YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME

Thank you, Ross McCorkle, for keeping us up to date on the game’s first and second half Live Update and Discussion Threads. Steelers Depot respondents contributed 1023 first half comments. Respondents added  1154 more second half comments.  Here are the “best comments” of the game. I don’t know the algorithm used by Disqus but here is how they stacked it up:

The top three first half comments dealt with the quarterback situation.

Sweet Lee Walnuts had the best of the first half comment with “I want Kenny. Not because I think he’s going to save the season, but because at least I’ll have a reason to watch. A bad team is one thing, but they’re bad AND boring.”

Ijustdontknowanymore proved his name correct by observing, “Trubisky will need to be injured before Tomlin makes the move.”

Nunya bluntly stated “It’s time to face the facts. We are just a bad team. We aren’t average, we are bad. This team reminds me of the mid 80’s with Noll.” After losing the conference final in following the 1984 season,, the Steelers went four straight years without making the playoffs including losing seasons in three of four of the seasons.

Clearly respondents frustrated after the Steelers had just six points to show for the first half. In the second half, Chad Weiss had the top comment of the game by observing “Three dropped passes for interceptions today.”

TheBus36 cautiously optimistic liked the change. “I have no idea how well Pickett will play long-term, but doesn’t it feel different when you think there is at least SOME hope your offense can get a few yards?”

Others commented on the change. Tummy observed with a smiled that “The Rooney’s called Tomlin at the Half :)” CoachCot liked the looks of things: “Just look at the body language man. Just galvanized the team. Some guys just have that infectious moxie.” Sweet Lee Walnuts noted the contrast. “Kenny throwing that dart while getting smacked in the teeth is what the offense was missing. Mitch would have taken a sack there.”

CONCLUSION

Almost a quarter of the season is in the books. The Steelers have one win and a three game losing streak. The next four games are brutal. A trip to powerhouse Buffalo. Hosting Timeless Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs. Then on the road to Miami and Philadelphia before finally a bye in week nine. Oddsmakers will heavily favor those four opponents.

Mitch Trubisky seems like a nice guy. But the offense just not producing under his leadership. Time for a change. The players noticeably more enthusiastic with Pickett behind center. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren ran well. I’m just a bit concerned about Najee’s vision. I thought on one run at the goal line he cut left instead of to the hole on the right that would have scored. Frisman Jackson needs to straighten out the wide receiver group. No more quitting before the officials blows the play dead. And if that ball hits their hands they have to maintain possession. Including Freiermuth,, three interceptions went off the hands of a receiver. Finally, the offensive line must limit the penalties. Maybe, the run-pass-option plays take too long to develop causing the linemen to drift downfield. But those are momentum killers.

One Player from Being Elite Defense?

It’s hard to believe that one player, even of TJ Watt’s caliber is what separates a defense from being elite to mediocre. But the team is 0-7 in games he has missed. Minkah Fitzpatrick is playing lights out. Alex Highsmith almost had a multi-sack day. But where were the rest of the defensive line and edge rushers to cleanup once Wilson spun out of his grasp? Then in the second half, seemed like the no more pressure applied to the quarterback. The time of possession almost evenly split. The defense gave up two long fourth quarter drives for touchdowns. Unacceptable.

As for special teams. I’ve seen enough inconsistent punting and fumbled punts. Time to rip the band aid off. If Harvin is struggling with is hip, that’s what injured reserve is for. Gunner is a downgrade from Ray-Ray McCloud. I’m ready to see both Jordan Berry and Steven Sims promoted from the practice squads.

Can the Steelers somehow win one or two of the next four. And will it be with Kenny Pickett at the helm? Here We Go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. Mike Tomlin made a big call at half time. “Come writers and critics, who prophesize with your pen. And keep your eyes open. The chance won’t come again and don’t speak too soon. For the wheel’s still in spin and there’s no telling who that  it’s naming. For the loser now, will be later to win. For the times they are a-changin’.” Here is The Times are a-Changin’ by Bob Dylan.

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