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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Pittsburgh Comes Together

GAME PRELUDE

Pittsburgh came together and surprised many pundits and fans this past Sunday. I spent the weekend in Montreal with a couple Burghers. Richard and I predicted a thrashing after learning of all the defensive backs declared out including Minkah Fitzpatrick. Steve predicted a 24-21 Steelers victory.

What a game. Steelers looked good at the start. But we kept expecting Tom Brady to throw a magic pass or the referees to flag the Steelers defense for touching him. Neither happened. Mitch Trubisky led a scoring drive and the Steelers offense managed to hold onto the ball for the final 4:38 to seal the deal.

Had a fun time in Montreal even with the Penguins overtime loss to the Canadiens.

Steelers Offense

Pickett Leads Opening Touchdown Drive

Kenny Pickett led the Steelers to a touchdown on their opening drive of the game. The offense had another scoring drive that lasted 12 plays but settled for a 55-yard field goal. The other three Pickett led first half drives ended with three and outs. Particularly frustrating was the clock management. Worse, Kenny Pickett knocked out of the game with a concussion.

The Steelers started their first drive at the 34 yard line following a Tampa punt. Pickett completed his first three passes to George Pickens, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool in turn. They gained eight, five and 14 yards, respectively. Then Najee Harris dropped for a four yard loss running  out wide. Claypool picked up eight on the wide receiver rush. On third and six, Pickett threw incomplete to George Pickens. But officials flagged Devin White for roughing the passer. Later, Kevin Dotson false starts on third down setting up a third and 11. Pickett scrambled for ten yards. Jaylen Warren converted the fourth and one by barreling up the middle. Pickett polished off the drive with a short pass to Najee for a six yard touchdown. The first of his career. Pittsburgh out in front 7-0!

Steelers Add Another Score

The Steelers second drive ended by Antoine Pickett sacking Pickett on third and seven. Pressley Harvin punted from the back of the end zone. Tampa started near midfield and scored another field goal to tighten the game to 7-6. The offense responded with a scoring drive of their own. Najee Harris gained 14 yards to the 39, his longest of the game. On third and four, Claypool grabbed a six-yard pass out of the air for a first down. On another third and six, Pickett completed a nine yard pass to Diontae Johnson. Kevin Dotson’s holding penalty put the Steelers at first and 20 from the Tampa 46. On third and 15, Zach Gentry gained four yards which put the ball just within Chris Boswell’s range. His kick doinked off and over the crossbar to give the Steelers a 10-6 lead.

 

The final two Pickett drives came near the end of the half. With 2:42 left, Matt Canada dialed up a Najee run that gained two. But then two incomplete passes leaves Tampa Bay with the two minute warning and two timeouts. The defense forced Tampa to punt. But then with 46 seconds left, Pickett passes incomplete on first down. Then two Najee runs that milk Tampa’s last two timeouts. But Tom Brady had 23 seconds left and Tampa scores a field goal to close the first half at 10-9.

Offense Gets a Special Team Spark

The Offense got a huge spark from Stephen Sims 89 yard kickoff return. But could only score three despite starting at the Tampa 12. Diontae picked up six on first down. But Pickett threw one ball away then tried for Pickens but missed. Boswell connects for three. Then Tampa scores a field goal so its 13-12.

Kenny throws deep to Diontae. But he’s hit by Carlton Davis. Dotson tried to grab him in desperation drawing a holding call. Kenny Pickett leaves the game with a concussion. Mitch Trubisky comes in with first and 20 from the Pittsburgh 15. On third and 15, Trubisky connects with Claypool who makes a very important first down catch. Pittsburgh can’t convert the next third down, but the extra yardage helps. Tampa starts at their own 15 after a 44-yard Harvin punt.

Can They Pull This Out?

Pittsburgh performs a three and out to end the third quarter. Can they pull this out? The Steelers get the ball at the 29 with 13:38 to play. On third and 13, Trubisky finds Pickens for 14 yards. Then on third and six from their own 44, Trubisky hits Conor Heyward who goes 45 yards. Two plays later, Trubisky hits Claypool for the first touchdown pass to a wide receiver for much too long a time. It’s 20-12.

Tampa Bay scores a touchdown. But failed to tie the score when the two-point conversion pass is incomplete. The Steelers get the ball with 4:38 to play. Najee Harris runs for eight yards. But then Mason Cole snaps a worm burner that Trubisky falls on to recover. On third and 15, Trubisky connects with Claypool for 17. Three plays later, Trubisky targets Claypool on third and 11. And gains 26. With 2:06 to play, Trubisky runs for nine yards. Then another three for a final first down. Then two kneel downs in the victory formation. An improbable 20-18 victory.

Steelers Defense

Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers possessed the ball 10 times in this game. They reached the red zone four times. But settled for three field goals before scoring a fourth quarter touchdown.

The defense forced  three and out to start the game. But after Pittsburgh scored Tampa Bay drove 60 yards in 12 plays to the Pittsburgh 12. Leonard Fournette ran four times for 27 yards in this drive. But once they reached the red zone, Brady threw three straight incompletions. Myles Jack got his fingers on the first pass that prevented a likely touchdown. Steelers still led 7-3.

Tampa Bay starts at their 46 after pinning the Pittsburgh offense near the goal line. Harvin punts 52 yards but very good field position for Tampa. Fournette runs four times on this drive. But only gains four yards. Brady had brought the Buccaneers downfield with a 22 yard completion to Chris Godwin. Brady got to the 15 on a ten yard pass to Mike Evans. An 11 yard pass to Russell Gage made it first and goal at the three. Cam Heyward tackles Fournette after a two yard gain. Then Larry Ogunjobi and Terrell Edmunds combined to tackle Fournette for a three yard loss. Then Heyward sacks Brady to set up fourth and nine. And no flag! It’s now 7-6 but easily could have been a Tampa lead.

Two Punts and a Field Goal

The Steelers then force two punts before giving up a field goal to end the first half. Ogunjobi and Edmunds stop the runner for no gain on first down. Mike Evans gains eight but James Pierre tackles him two yards short of the sticks. Then Brady throws an incompletion on third down. Punt. Steelers offense flounders giving ball back to Tampa with 2:02 left. The most significant play of the drive is Alex Highsmith strip sacking Tom Brady. Unfortunately, Chris Godwin recovered the fumble, but the drive stalled and Bucs punt.

Lousy clock management and a poor Harvin punt gives Tampa the ball with 23 seconds left at midfield. Brady to Godwin for 15. Spike to stop the clock. One incomplete pass then former Ryan Succop drills a 54 yard field goal. It’s 10-9. A tight game.

Tampa Held to Nine on Three Red Zone Trips

The Steelers extend their lead to 13-9 to open the second half. Brady to Godwin for nine early in the drive. Then a deep pass to Godwin for 28 yards. Terrell Edmunds in coverage but just looked like a great throw and catch. Tyson Alualu called for defensive holding on a running play. Fournette runs eight yards entering the red zone with Robert Spillane and Myles Jack finally bringing him down. Spillane defends a pass intended for tight end Cade Otton. Then Josh Jackson tackles Russell Gage after a nine yard gain. Penalty on James Pierre makes it first and goal from the four. But then Tampa has ineligible player downfield so ball back at nine. Edmunds stops Fournette for a two-yard loss. Then two Brady incompletions. Tampa’s third time in red zone and just nine points. Steelers still up 13-12.

Pittsburgh defense forces two consecutive Tampa punts. Myles Jack tackled two receivers short of the sticks to force the first punt. At the start of the fourth quarter, Chris Wormley and Terrell Edmunds combined to stop Fournette for a loss on third and one. That play forced the second punt.

Bush Makes Huge Play

The Steelers score to go up 20-12. Tampa’s final drive started with 9:48 to play at their own 27. Brady gets first down on 11 yard pass to Godwin. Myles Jack hurt leg on play. Later on, third and four, Brady completes 17 yard pass to Otton with Edmunds in coverage. On third and one, Alualu and Bush stop Brady for no gain. But on fourth down, Fournette rumbles for seven. Malik Reed almost intercepts Brady pass but just one hand on ball. James Pierre hurt earlier. So, practice squad Elijah Riley checks into game. Brady targets a receiver Riley is covering but he stops them for just a two yard gain. Brady then throws to Fournette who scores. On the two-point conversion, Brady throws to Chris Godwin. But Devin Bush there to knock pass down. Huge! Steelers hang on 20-18 after offense plays keep away for final 4:38.

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 five times. Rachaad White returned two for 27 yards each. Jaylen Warren made the tackle on first return and Derek Watt the second. Tampa’s average starting position after kickoffs at their own 26.

Punter Jake Camarda kicked off five times. Steven Sims returned the first three. Sims was stopped short of the 20 on the first two. But then he opened the second half with an 89 yard return to the 12 yard line leading to a Steelers field goal. My only quibble is that Tampa came close to punching the ball loose near the end of the return.

A kick return into the red zone and three points gives the edge to Pittsburgh.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Chris Boswell 5 2 3 0 0 0 TB 26
Jake Camarda 5 3 2 0 2 0 PGH 34

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Steven Sims 3 112 37.3 89 0 0
Rachaad White 2 54 27.0 27 0 0

 

Advantage Steelers.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted five times averaging 44.2 yards. His first went 52 yards but he punted from the back edge of the end zone. Miles Boykin pushed Jaelon Darden out of bounds after just a two yard return. His second went 53 yards to the 19. Darden got six yards before Marcus Allen and Miles Killebrew tackled him. Then with 46 seconds left in first half, Harvin punts 42 yards to the Tampa 43. Darden again gained six yards when Gunner Olszewski tackled him. Had he kicked a 50-plus yarder like earlier in the game, Tampa may not have had the time to kick the field goal. Harvin’s final two on a shorter field put Tampa behind the 20. A 44-yarder downed at the Tampa 15. And finally, a 30 yarder that went out of bounds at the 17.

Jake Camarda also punted five times. His first punt went out of bounds at the Pittsburgh 34 after going just 40 yards. Pittsburgh would score on the resulting drive. His next two came near the end of first half. Steve Sims returned a 47 yard punt six yards to the Pittsburgh 26. Sims fair caught the second at the 14. In the third quarter he boomed a 52 yard punt that Sims returned 24 yards to the Pittsburgh 48. But offense could not exploit the favorable field position. His last punt early in fourth quarter only travelled 39 yards but Sims caught moving backwards lost seven yards.

Sims had a great return. But also caught for seven yard loss. Harvin also had a poor punt that Tampa turned into points. I’m giving the edge to Tampa.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 5 44.2 41.4 0 2 2 0 53
Jake Camarda 5 46.0 41.4 0 1 1 0 52

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Steven Sims 3 23 7.7 1 0 24 0
Jaelon Darden 3 14 4.7 0 0 6 0

 

Advantage Buccaneers.

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Chris Boswell doinked a 55 yard field goal and did not miss a kick in a game that every point needed.

Ryan Succop kicked four field goals including a 54 yarder. Tampa Bay attempted a two point conversion that Devin Bush batted away. That was the game winning play. Steelers encroached twice but the penalties by Tre Norwood and James Pierre did not result in forst downs and Tampa just rekicked.

Preventing points to protect a narrow lead is money.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Chris Boswell 2 2 2 2 55 0 0
Ryan Succop 0 0 4 4 54 0 1

 

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. Force turnovers. Alex Highsmith strip-sacked Brady but Tampa recovered. Malik Reed almost had an interception. But no takeaways. Mission Failure.
  2. Offense has one 40-yard play and at least one 20-yard run. Mitch Trubisky connected with Connor Heyward for a 45 yard play. But the longest run gained 14 yards early in the game. Mission Partially Accomplished.
  3. Keep Tampa under 20 points and limit red zone success. Defense forces field goals on three of four red zone trips. No touchdowns outside the 20. And we kept them under 20. Mission Accomplished.
  4. Rush for more than 150 yards. Pittsburgh ran 29 times for 77 yards. Mission Failure.
  5. Hit Tampa with a trick play. I did not note anything extraordinary other than some outstanding secondary play and Sims long kick return. Mission Failure.

The Steelers accomplished 1.5 of the five keys to victory. But they manage to win on some solid team-play.

YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME

Thank you, Ross McCorkle, for keeping us posted on the game’s first and second half Live Update and Discussion Threads. Steelers Depot respondents contributed just  779 first half comments. Respondents likely too shocked to type with the Steelers leading the score. Respondents added  1132 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:

Torsteel had the top first half comment. It came at the end when inexplicable play calling gave Tampa Bay a chance to score before the whistle ended the half. “This was another dumb set of plays by OC ……just run 3 straight times and go into the half.”

“Please shock the world and fire Canada before kickoff and draw plays in the dirt.” Chris92021 made one of the first comments on the board that drew a lot of favorable attention.

Steel Squirrel liked seeing Tom Brady take some shots, “That’s what I like to see. Brady on his ass.” PaeperCup had to read that a second time. “Quick read, I thought you said Brady’s ass.”

Second half

Yours truly got the “best” comment of the game with, “Defense playing hard.” Thanks, it’s always fun interacting with the respondents.

PaeperCup noted, “A lot of people lost lots of money today.”

The Bus36 had dinner on his mind. “Many of us, myself included, are eating a LOT of crow right now. And thank God for that 🙏Go Steelers!!!!!!!!!!” Donald knew the right condiment to go with our meal, “I’ll take a lil ketchup on mine, thank you very much. 😋”

 

CONCLUSION

The team really rallied this week. Even with Kenny Pickett going out with a concussion. Mitch Trubisky came in and played with more confidence and authority in his throws. Chase Claypool really played masterfully, keeping drives alive. But so did Diontae and George Pickens.

The defense played with great heart despite missing almost their entire starting secondary and DeMarvin Leal. Players like Josh Jackson, Quincy Wilson, and Elijah Riley played defensive snaps but never let the receivers go over the top. Cam Heyward played strongly. Alex Highsmith strip-sacks Tom Brady. I’ve been very hard on Devin Bush most of the past two seasons. But he made play of game by knocking down the pass that would have tied the game.

Special Teams Improving

Chris Boswell made a clutch 55 yarder. Pressley Harvin improved but still a short open field punt that gave Tampa an opportunity to score at end of half. Steve Sims had a superb kick return and a long punt return. Real sparks in the game. Just hang onto that ball.

I’m sure to have missed citing some outstanding play. But this was such a team effort. Last week, I said, “Mike Tomlin’s challenge is to keep these players competitive.” He accomplished that. Now can he do it two weeks in a row? Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. The Steelers as a team really put together a gem of a game. Tom Brady must be that old flat-top, he come up grooving slowly. He got juju eyeball … Got to be a joker, he just do what he please. Here is Come Together by the Beatles.

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