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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Pittsburgh Loses A Winnable Game

GAME PRELUDE

I departed Jacksonville, Florida early enough to drive back home to Maryland and catch the Steelers game. Had to listen to the first few minutes on Steelers Nation Radio and it sounded like a Buffalo redux. But once I hurried in from the driveway, the Steelers had settled down and started holding the Dolphins to field goals.

STEELERS OFFENSE

The Steelers gave up a touchdown to the Dolphins to start the game. The offense responded with run, run, pass, punt. Officials tacked on a sympathy penalty to Pressley Harvin’s putrid 23 yard punt. This time the defense held Miami to a field goal, and it is 10-0 in the first quarter.

On second and four, Kenny Pickett targets Chase Claypool. But J Bethel intercepts after Claypool gets tangled up with a defender and falls to the ground. The announcers say the referee missed the defensive interference call. NFL officiating is atrocious. Have I said that before? Regardless, Miami is gifted the ball and drive for another field goal. It’s 13-0 and the game feels like a runaway.

Steelers Score on Third Drive

Steelers score on third drive. The offense converted a third down. Kenny found Pat Freiermuth for eight yards on third and two. Then on a third and four at 47, Pickett scrambled to the 50 for three. Jaylen Warren barreled four yards into Dolphin territory to convert the fourth and one. Najee Harris picked up a first down on a short passing play. But on third and three Pickett failed to connect with Diontae Johnson. Pittsburgh settles for a Boswell 45 yard field goal and are on the scoreboard.

The Steelers start their final possession of the half at the 14 with 9:19 to play. Zach Gentry dropped for a four yard loss. Why pass to Gentry behind the line of scrimmage when he is no speedster? But then Pickett hits George Pickens for 30 yards at the sideline. Diontae Johnson makes a nice catch for six yards on third and two. Pickett to Pickens twice for ten yards and another first down.

But Steelers backed up again on first down. This time, Najee called for illegal block above the waist making it first and 20 at the Miami 46. Claypool picks up 11 but Najee loses three setting up third and 12. Kenny Pickett drops back then scrambles up the middle for 16 yards and a Pittsburgh Steeler first down.

Najee runs strong for 12 to the ten yard line. On second and seven, the very first Pickett to Pickens touchdown. It’s 13-10!

Miami scores another field goal with two seconds left. To make it 16-10. What confounds me is the Steelers running the ball just prior to the two minute warning when they had a first down at the ten. Abysmal clock management that saved Miami around 35 seconds.

Five Futile Drives

The Steelers offense had seven drives in the second half. The first five resulted in punts. The last two looked promising but ended with interceptions.

Five futile drives to start the half. The first stymied by Miami sacking Pickett for an 11 yard loss. The Steelers got one first down on the second drive. A 12 yard pass to Diontae. But on third and three, Najee catches a short pass, but the defender has his legs wrapped up and a second defender takes him down before he can stretch out for the first. The third drive marred by penalties. First, James Daniels too far down field on a run-pass-option. Interestingly, the announcers noted a difference between NFL and college rules. The NCAA allows a three yard cushion while the NFL limits it to one. Maybe, someone should get the memo to Matt Canada. That’s about the fourth or fifth similar penalty this year. Then Diontae Johnson called for offensive pass interference. 15 yards of penalties too big a hole to dig out of.

On the fourth futile drive. Najee Harris runs for 16 on the first play. But cannot convert on third and one. Stuffed at line of scrimmage. On the fifth futile drive, Pittsburgh tries shovel pass to Gentry that looks awkward but gains four. But on third down, Pickett throws to Claypool but its not there. And there is no flag. Punt number five of the half.

Two Promising Drives End with Interceptions

Final two drives promising but end in interceptions. Pickett to Diontae for five on second and six. But Pittsburgh accepts a five yard penalty for illegal contact that results in first down. Pickett to Freiermuth for 13. On third and ten, Pickett to Claypool for 12. A big reception by Claypool. Then a couple passes to Pickens for another first down. Claypool for ten to the 24 and another first down. Najee enters the red zone on a seven yard run. On third and one, Pickett keeps for an apparent first down. But officials call Pittsburgh for an illegal shift.

NFL’s Byzantine Rules

Why is that even a rule in the book? Why can’t you have several people shifting. Is it to cater to the aesthetics for the television cameras? On third and six, Pickens almost reaches the sticks. But now officials call Dan Moore for holding. The replay shows him doing nothing more than what happens on every play at the line of scrimmage. NFL rules just seem so subjective. No one would have raised a peep if no flag thrown. On third and 16, Pickett targets Diontae Johnson. But Jevon Holland intercepts and returns the ball 33 yards near midfield. The game seemingly over. But the defense holds, and the offense gets one more opportunity to win this game.

With 2:31 left, Pickett hits Freiermuth for seven to their own 20. Another pass to Freiermuth for eight and the two minute warning. Pickett is sacked. Then throws short. On fourth and six, Pickett to Freiermuth for 21 yards. Pickett spikes to stop clock with 48 seconds left at the Miami 47. Pickett to Diontae ho makes a nice juke and runs put of bounds after gaining 14. On second and two, Pickett scrambles to his left. Looks like he has room to run for the first and step out. Instead, he throws toward the goal line. Igbinoghene catches the ball keeping both feet in to effectively end the game.

STEELERS DEFENSE

The Steelers defense gave up 13 points on the first three Miami drives. They settled down from  there just giving up a field goal to end first half. In second half they shut out Miami. But at least four interceptions dropped and Tua not sacked during the game.

Miami’s Large Chunks

Miami faced a second and 19. But Tua Tagovailoa passed to J Waddle for 20 to the 40 yard line. Tua to Tyreek Hill for 17. Tua to Mike Gesicki for 18. Then an eight yard touchdown pass to Raheem Mostert. Tua throwing the ball quickly and gaining yards in large chunks with ease.

The Steeler offense responds with a three and out. Then Pressley Harvin punts out of bounds for just 23 yards. A holding call pushes the ball to 35 but just a terrible kick. Mostert runs for five yards. Then Tua to Waddle for 25. Mostert runs for 12, then catches a pass 11. Steelers defense caught leaning forward then back as a professional offensive scheme has then guessing. Tua scrambles to the six, but Minkah Fitzpatrick lays the wood on Mostert forcing an incompletion on third down. Miami settles for a field goal. 10-0.

Miami intercepts on the second play of the Steelers drive. Defense right back onto the field at the Miami 47. Miami gets a first down on two runs by Chase Edmonds. Then an 18 yard pass to Waddle. But the defense settles in and Tua throws three incompletions from the 23. Another field goal and its 13-0 and still just the first quarter.

 

Pittsburgh kicks a field goal of their own. The defense must have adjusted. Tua passes to Sherfield twice for a first down. Myles Jack in coverage. But not getting big gains. On third and seven Tua throws incomplete and Miami punts for first time.

Poor Clock Management

Steelers score to make it 13-10. But Miami gets ball back with 1:46 to play due to poor clock management by running a play just before the two-minute warning. Tua throws to Sherfield for 32 yards on the first play. Arthur Maulet never looks back. He must have been watching the receiver’s eyes as he did attempt to make a play as the ball was caught. Tua targets Maulet in coverage again. This time throwing to Hill for 21 on third and six from the 49. Cam Sutton almost intercepts the first down pass. A couple short passes that Mostert takes out of bounds to give a shorter field for the kicker who hits a 47 yard field goal to now take a 16-10 lead to end the half.

Second Half

The defense shut out the Dolphins in the second half. Miami drove down the field after Steelers punted their opening drive away. On third and two, Tua to Waddle for 25. Now at the Pittsburgh 39, Tua hits Mostert for 18. He gets the ball out fast and not sacked at all. Miami has third and two at the 13. Edmonds runs off right guard, but Cam Heyward stops him for one yard loss. Instead of field goal, Miami goes for it on fourth and three. Edmonds goes off left guard. This time Myles Jack stops him for no gain. Big time takeaway on fourth down.

On next drive, Terrell Edmunds nearly intercepts pass in Miami territory. But must settle for Tre Norwood dropping Hill for just four yard gain on third and 11. Miami punts. Then Harvin punts to 30 instead of pinning Miami behind the 20. Miami responds with their own three and out. On third and eight, Norwood tackles Tua one yard short of a first down. Punt.

Steelers force three Miami fourth quarter punts.

The fourth quarter belonged to whichever team could score. A Pittsburgh touchdown could win the game. A Miami score could ice the game with their six point lead. Following another Pittsburgh punt, Miami started with a 16 yard Hill reception. But on third and eight, Tua passes to Gesicki with Fitzpatrick and Edmunds limiting him to four yards. Punt.

Miami starts at their 15. The teams are just exchanging punts as it is a defensive struggle. Hill gains nine. Mostert converts the second and one. On second and two, R Anderson drops Mostert for a loss. Then Tua throws incomplete to Hill setting up another punt. But Edmunds dropped a potential interception.

Miami does intercept the ball. A long drive with a field goal could ice the game. Miami forces Pittsburgh to use their final timeouts with two runs but on third and three, Tua targets Hill but pass incomplete. Yet another punt giving the Steelers one last chance to snatch a victory.

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 three times. Raheem Mostert returned the game’s opening kickoff 28 yards to the 29 yard-line. The second touched back. And Mostert muffed the third but James Pierre just a step too late to attempt recovering the ball and Miami retained possession at the 15.

Jason Sanders kicked off five times. Gunner Olszewski allowed the first three to touch back. Sanders kicked a squib near end of first half that Benny Snell returned eight yards. Olszewski returned the second half kickoff 27 yards to the 27. Steelers get the edge due to the muff which gave Miami average starting position behind the 25.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Chris Boswell 3 2 1 0 1 0 MIA 23
Jason Sanders 5 2 3 0 0 0 PGH 29.6

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Gunner Olszewski 1 27 27.0 27 0 0
Benny Snell 1 8 8.0 8 0 0
Raheem Mostert *2 28 14.0 28 0 0

*Mostert muffed one return but recovered

Advantage Steelers.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted six times averaging 41.8 yards. Miami could only return one, but Harvin had an overall horrid outing. His first punt went out of bounds after just 23 yards. A 10-yard penalty helped but Miami still had starting position from their 35 and picked up three points. Harvin’s third punt went 43 yards and fair caught at the 21. If he had put more power into it, they could have pinned Miami behind the 20. His fourth punt was a below average 36 yard effort. Cedrick Wilson had to sprint ten yards up field to fair catch it at the 30. Harvin did punt his fifth punt 45 yards that was fair caught at the 12. His last punt was best, going 57 yards and the coverage team tackled Wilson after just a one yard gain at the 14. Still, the Steelers can’t wait for one or two excellent punts while giving up several poor ones in a game. Harvin continues to be a liability.

Thomas Morstead also punted six times. Olszewski returned his first punt two yards to the 14. Gunner returned the second one seven yards. Olszewski’s third return for ten yards did give Pittsburgh starting position at the 23. But the others were fair caught. Four of Morstead’s six punts pinned Steelers starting position behind the 20. He may have had a lower net than Harvin but easily won the field position battle.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 6 41.8 41.7 0 1 2 0 57
Thomas Morstead 6 42.7 39.5 0 0 4 0 53

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Gunner Olszewski 3 19 6.3 3 0 10 0
Cedrick Wilson 1 1 1.0 4 1 6 0

 

Advantage Dolphins

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Chris Boswell hit both his extra point and field goal attempts. But those were his only scoring opportunities.

Sanders went three for three on field goals and hit his extra point attempt. He could have had a fourth field goal, but Miami elected to go for a failed fourth down conversion.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Chris Boswell 1 1 1 1 45 0 0
Jason Sanders 1 1 3 3 47 0 0

 

Advantage Dolphins

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

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

  1. Limit Tyreek Hill from explosive plays. Hill responsible for three of Miami’s longest plays including a 21 yard reception. Mission Failure.
  2. Exploit Dolphins secondary with Claypool and Pickens. Conversely to Hill, Claypool and Pickens combined for only one of Pittsburgh’s longest plays. Mission Failure.
  3. Get after Tua. Pittsburgh had zero sacks and only hit Tua on one of his drop backs. Mission Failure.
  4. Help Najee get best rushing game so far this season. Najee had his second best rushing game of the season. Second is not best. Mission Failure.
  5. Steelers plus-two in takeaways. Steelers end minus two in takeaways. Mission Failure.

The Steelers accomplished none of the five keys to victory.

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  1455 first half comments.  Respondents added  1622 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:

Miami mauled the Steelers secondary especially in the first quarter. Depot respondents noticed: the_immaculatedeception led the way with “Maulet is a downhill run stopping nickel not a pass defender and we’ve got him lined up on Hill. Takes 3 defensive coordinators on one team to come up with that brilliant move.”

Still the defense had missed opportunities as DirtDawg1964 noted, “Steelers’ best play is a Dolphin dropping passes.”

But respondents did not forget about the other side of the ball. Monkey’s Uncle cited the offensive offense. “Everyone who knew that would be a 2 yard pattern, raise your hand.”

Meanwhile, RealSoldier saw a flaw in special teams. “The Percy Harvin experiment needs to end.”

A rare twofer, the_immaculatedeception got the “best” comments in both halves. “Ladies and gentlemen we’re in a good old fashioned standoff between the Dolphins lack of desire to win and Matt Canada’s lack of ability to win. Stay tuned for who budges first”

At the end of the game SFSteeler identified a discriminator between the two teams … “and that’s a defender w/ hands.”

But it was not just the defense, What an offensive scheme. MSP said, “That pass 5 yards behind the line to Gentry would work good here….” Dan6374 explained the logic, “Got to use his speed and elusiveness out in space.”

CONCLUSIONS

NFL officiating and the rulebook are horrid. Officials penalize teams subjectively on infractions that do not materially impact the outcome of a play. For example, Kenny Pickett would have picked up the first down whether the players who made the illegal motion shifted or not. Linemen grab at each other every play. Why single out Moore for a flag on a bare hold with his hands inside? Frankly, if the Pittsburgh Steelers moved the franchise to another city, I would not be watching the NFL.

Scheme of Talent Bigger Problem?

The Steelers offensive scheme is a bigger problem than the talent failing to execute. The Steelers like all NFL teams expend a lot of resources researching and evaluating college players and free agents to strengthen a roster each year. Art Rooney II should direct a similar effort for coordinators and position coaches. Specifically, a talent-search should be currently underway to identify an NFL-caliber offensive coordinator to hire in the offseason. The offensive line is outperforming expectations, so I’d continue with those position coaches. But the wide receiver group leaves too much on the field especially in away from the ball play.

Kenny Pickett gained valuable experience against Miami. He is learning what he can succeed at. But more importantly the types of passes he can’t force at the professional level. He had a mix of good and bad decisions.

The defense played well enough for most teams to win. But holding Miami to 16 points not good enough on Sunday. A key difference in the game was Miami securing their interceptions while Pittsburgh defenders missed at least three opportunities.

Roethlisberger or Bradshaw Comparable?

Finally, many people comparing Kenny Pickett and the 2022 Steelers to Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. A better comparison is Terry Bradshaw and the 1970 Steelers. They had some talented players on the rosters but many holes that needed patching. Right now, Steelers averaging 15.8 points a game. The last time a Steelers team averaged such low scoring was 1970 when the Steelers  averaged 15 points a game. Terry had zero touchdowns and five interceptions after his first four games. Kenny has seven interceptions but at least two TD passes. I’d like to see if Mike Tomlin can turn this team around like the 1970 team. Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. The Steelers lost a winnable game. Time for Mike Tomlin to get funky. He’s got to get those defenders catching those interceptions. Kenny connecting with his receivers. Time to get practicing and ready for Philadelphia. Here is Mr. C The Slide Man doing the Cha-Cha Slide.

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