As expected, the Pittsburgh Steelers could not pull off the victory in what needed to be a well-executed team game. Instead, nine penalties, 1/12 on third down (for an abysmal 8.3%), only touchdown on a pass by wide receiver Chase Claypool, quarterback Kenny Pickett sacked a whopping six times and an interception (along with another near one in first half). The running game was silenced, particularly with running back Najee Harris having no rush yards at halftime, along with the offensive line struggling and lacking effort on several occasions. The defense allowed four explosive passing touchdowns, all big reasons for the embarrassing 13-35 loss, now falling to a 2-6 record. In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.
Let’s start with the offense:
The PFF grades are particularly low as expected, with fullback Derek Watt topping the grades (90.4) highlighted by the teams only touchdown catch. Only two other Steelers had 70+ grades, starting with tight end Pat Freiermuth, who had four catches on seven targets, including an encouraging over the middle catch for an explosive gain on his 57-yard day. Running back Jaylen Warren got refreshing recognition in the grades (70.7), with six attempts for 50 yards on 8.3 yards per carry. In comparison, Harris (62.7) had eight attempts for 32 yards for a four-yard average, with most of the encouraging yardage coming with the game at hand. Quarterback Kenny Pickett (51.9) actually had more rush yards (37), wow. The below 50 grades for the game were tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (49.4), tight end Zach Gentry (44.7), and wide receiver George Pickens with the lowest offensive grade (42.5) with no catches on his three targets.
Pittsburgh’s offense took the field first to start the game, beginning with a handoff to Harris that went nowhere, due to center Mason Cole getting beat and guard James Daniels late on the help, along with Claypool’s pulling block throwing his shoulder into the safety ineffectively for no gain. Going up tempo early on second and ten, including an interesting empty alignment with Claypool and Harris out wide and wide receivers Diontae Johnson and Pickens in the slot, Pickett felt the pocket beginning to collapse and with his first two reads covered, scrambles forward (a bit premature) thanks to guard Kevin Dotson’s combo block up the middle, then was tripped up by former Steeler Javon Hargrave but able to keep his balance and fall forward for a gain of one. Third and a long nine now, and this time there is no escaping for Pickett with a dominant pass rush including tackle Dan Moore losing the edge, Daniels getting pushed back into his lap, and the right defensive end looping across the line and blowing past Cole before he could react, with the latter allowing the free path and wallop on Pickett for the quick sack and three and out. I’m in pain just watching.
The offense returned at 9:23 to an early seven-point deficit, coming out with a play action rollout and Pickett hitting Derek Watt who pulled across the formation on the flat route for five yards. On second and five, Pittsburgh tried their hand a run-pass-option (RPO), but Dotson was flagged for the all too familiar ineligible man downfield penalty, negating an excellent one hand snag by wide receiver Diontae Johnson on a low and behind target from Pickett on his in route. Instead it’s second and ten, and Pickett goes right back to Johnson on the screen pass, and great job by Claypool to get to the outside corner and provide a nice block, allowing the cut back behind Moore and Cole out in front, with the former showing great effort and speed for his size to lead way and the latter getting down field on the nice slithering run for 14 yards to move the chains.
The following first down was an out route to Claypool, who was given ample cushion off the line for the easy pitch and catch for another nice gain of eight yards. On second and two, Okorafor was dinged for illegal formation, the second penalty in the game already, negating a poor play where both tackles allowed pressure forcing a would be throwaway as well. Instead, second and seven, and Philadelphia’s takes their turn on the penalty train on a defensive holding drawn by Pickens who beat his man inside, seemingly the target Pickett wanted, with the penalty thankfully negating the would-be sack, but what wasn’t erased was another huge quarterback hit with Daniels allowing his man to loop inside. Wincing and it’s only been half a quarter.
It is first down though, but infuriatingly it’s a delay of game penalty this time, with Pickett trying to check to something way too late in the clock for the fourth straight penalty play in this rough stretch, and three of them on Pittsburgh. Let’s try again, first and 15 and it’s a quick screen once again, this one to wide receiver Steven Sims, with Pickens allowing the defender by on his block but Okorafor cleaning it up with a pancake, and good block from Freiermuth to allow the cutback for a couple yards but tackled quickly by the safety for only two yards. On Second and a long 13, Warren was able to get most of this yardage back on a nice draw play, thanks to great seals by Daniels and Cole for the gig lane, along with Moore and Freiermuth getting to the second level for the block, but their men did combine for the tackle on the refreshing 12-yard run. Third and one now, and Pickett picks up the conversion easily on the quarterback sneak, getting two yards with the Eagles not pressuring the middle.
This encouragingly moved the chains for the third time on this drive, another play action boot where Pickett targeted Gentry in the flat for three yards. On second and seven, Pickett enjoyed a clean pocket including Harris cutting the edge rusher off on the edge, finding Freiermuth who sold the out pattern then got vertical and wide open on his route against the zone, for a coveted over the middle for the catch, along with a couple churning yards of YAC for the explosive 21-yard gain! Second week in a row, love it.
This also set the long drive up in the red zone, where Pickett dropped back from shotgun, but Okorafor was beat around the edge, and thanks to Moore getting a good punch and riding his man past the arc, Cole getting a solid block, and the wide receivers clearing out space on their routes towards the middle, Pickett had a lane and ample room to scramble to the sideline for 11 yards and a first down.
First and goal now, and following a Pickens sweep action, it’s a handoff to Harris straight ahead, but stuffed do to second level penetration from the defense with Claypool running past a defender on his pull, along with Moore allowing Hargrave to work off his good initial block late to combine on the one-yard run stop. On second and goal, the Steelers mix it up with Harris in the wildcat, sending Johnson in motion and flipping it to him on the jet sweep, where Gentry got just enough of the edge defender to free him behind the line, stutter stepping to get outside two free defenders to the sideline and behind a terrific block from Claypool driving the cornerback into the endzone on the four-yard gain.
Big third and goal now, and Pickett wants Johnson on the pivot/angle route to the corner of the end zone, but unfortunately slips on the cut and flies over his head incomplete. Pittsburgh brought out the field goal unit, but a rare defensive delay of game penalty moved the ball to the one-yard line, a huge penalty that thankfully brought the offense back out considering the fire power of Philadelphia. They go with the jet sweep to Claypool that they like near the goal line, but a huge surprise and great wrinkle/call to throw it to Watt, who was wide open with all the second level defenders converging to the ball. What a huge decision, conversion, and call overcoming three early offensive penalties (pun intended), and continuing early game scoring improvements the past couple games to tie the game back up at seven.
The offense returned with 12:38 in the second quarter, and things started shaky with another penalty yet again with an illegal formation penalty on Moore, the second of the game for an unacceptable sixth team penalty already. Pittsburgh went with the screen pass on first and 15, with the o-line allowing penetration to get out in front and Pickett somehow got the pass past the edge rusher to Sims, bringing in the low target but brought down immediately on a good read and react by the safety before Gentry could get there on his block attempt on the tackle for a loss of three. On second and 19, the Steelers elected to run with Harris behind a pulling Daniels block that lacked push, along with Okorafor getting pushed back and allowing the tackle for no gain. Third and 19, and it’s another screen this one to Warren for ten yards, getting a bit more breathing room for a punt. Three and out, still down by seven.
With 7:47 in the second quarter with the same deficit, Pickett play actions and rolls out, and the wobbly pass into tight coverage is nearly intercepted, targeting Johnson on the comeback near the sideline who was nearly able to make the catch off the deflection but falls incomplete. On second and ten, Pickett takes the shotgun snap and fakes the screen, then targets Pickens on the slot fade where only he can get it, leaping for the impressive grab, very closely to toe tapping but pushed by the defensive back on the catch out of bounds, incomplete. Third and ten now, and Pickett surveys and able to just get the pass off despite Okorafor getting beat around the edge, finding Freiermuth open over the middle but overthrows him badly for another near interception. Rough three and out for Pickett with two near interceptions, right back to Philadelphia.
Down by 14 now with 6:06 left in the half, Pickett play actions and enjoys good collective protection including an extra tackle (Trent Scott), and throws it to Pickens down the left sideline following a nice hesitation in his route and great leaping catch, but it was negated by a on the push off for the offensive pass interference and teams seventh penalty. Yikes. First and 20 this time, and Pickett hands to Harris, then gives to Sims on the reverse, with some room around the corner due to the defense flowing with the initial handoff, affective play despite Pickett pulling in front and unable to land a block, and noted and excellent downfield block from Johnson. On second and ten, Pickett tried to reconnect with Pickens again as he did two plays earlier, another jumping back shoulder seemingly caught, supposedly broken up by the defender but appeared to be jarred loose as he hit the field, wonder why this wasn’t challenged needing a momentum swing? Third and ten now, and Pickett surveys and great job sensing the pressure allowed by Dotson on a double looping rush to step up in the nick of time, but not liking his downfield options has to scramble, accelerating to the sideline and laying out for the first down, unfortunately stopped just short and taking his third big hit of the game and a bit slow to get up, eek. Going for it on fourth and one in hopes for points before halftime, Pickett is unfazed following the last play and churns forward on the sneak behind good blocks sans Cole ending up on the ground, along with Harris hustling to help push him forward. Huge conversion.
The following first down was back to the air, getting the dump off to Harris uncovered at the line, able to make one defender miss on a cut and churn forward on the seconds’ tackle for the seven-yard gain. On second and three, Daniels got beat off the line, but Pickett got the pass off very quick to Claypool on the out route for the catch and gain of seven along the sideline, getting both feet in as he stumbled against ample cushion given the situation.
A Harris run was the call on the following first down, doing good just to get back to the line, breaking initial contact by the safety five yards behind the line, then spinning past another, but Moore allowing Hargrave to spin off his block and provide a reoccurring stuff that’s the theme of the first half.
Second and ten at the two-minute warning, Pickett finds Freiermuth quickly for the short stick route from the middle of a bunch formation for the wide-open catch, getting great physical YAC for 18 yards to get into comfortable field goal range. Daniels was beat off the line on the following first down, along with Warren getting pushed back by the same defender, forcing Pickett to escape the pocket, scrambling to the sideline for a gain of three. On second and seven from the 18 with the clock stopped, Pickett wants Pickens on the stop and go double move from earlier, but the corner isn’t fooled and meets him with physicality and the pass sails well out of reach. Big third and seven now, and Pickett looks downfield but is pressured to scramble once again with the tackles and Daniels being pushed back, and Cole letting up on his block, not playing to the whistle in a critical situation and allowing the sack. Extremely discouraging to see, Philadelphia calls timeout to get another opportunity before Pittsburgh’s field goal attempt, better to take the points with everything else going wrong in the game. Steelers down 11 now.
With 25 seconds in the half, Pickett looks downfield to try and make something happen, but is pressured with both tackles allowing a combined quarterback hit on the dump off to Harris behind the line, making the catch and getting out of bounds for two yards. On second and eight, Pickett looks downfield and has to roll due to feeling pressure from the blind side, but chased down by Hargrave and dropped for the sack to end the half.
The offense returned with 12:53 in the third quarter, Harris gets just enough of the pass rusher to keep Pickett clean on his throw to Freiermuth in the flat, able to get separation, catch the low target, and make the first man miss to get solid YAC on the eight-yard gain. On second and two, Okorafor was beat soundly around the edge, but Pickett fired quickly right back to Freiermuth, but the target was low, and the defender was right there to ensure the incompletion. Third and two now, and Pickett decides to go deep to Johnson against tight coverage on the go route, with both players falling down on the incompletion, debatably could have been called a pass interference which would have been huge.
Following a fourth and two conversion by the special teams (sad they had to rely on them to convert), Okorafor was called for holding on the NINTH penalty of the game. Have to be able to come out cleaner from halftime. First and 20 was encouraging though, with the offensive line providing plenty of time against the four-man rush, and Claypool doing a great job to make the catch on the stop route against tight coverage short of the sticks, and most impressively muscle his way out of two tackles, then provide excellent YAC drag three others for the first down and more on the 25-yard gain.
The drive continued with Pickett triggering quick to Johnson on the short route for five yards. On second and five, Harris gets the handoff and has a bit of space between Daniels’ pull and Cole, for a limited gain of two. Third and three now, and with seemingly good coverage past the sticks, Pickett gets the dump off to Harris but is indecisive on the catch, juking and jiving instead of using his frame to barrel forward with plenty of separation to move the chains, ugh. Also noted poor blocking effort from Pickens and several o-lineman not blocking to the whistle, where’s the pride effort? Going for it again on fourth down and three, I liked the teams’ response to go right back to him, but this time hitting Harris in stride on the swing pass, with much more room along with more decisiveness on a hurdle attempt, on the nine-yard gain. Two fourth down conversions in one drive, time to get in the end zone.
The following first down was a five yard in route to Claypool in front of the zone, showing great effort post catch again refusing to go down but the defense rallying to stand him up for no YAC. On second and five, Warren got an opportunity on the carry with good collective blocks particularly seals from Moore, and Cole on the second level, seeing this a bursting ahead quickly before edge contain could react, for the refreshing ten-yard chain-moving run. Clearly having a better day than Harris, perhaps go with the results the rest of the way?
This put Pittsburgh in the red zone, and Pickett has good time in the pocket and wants Johnson in single coverage, but they miscommunicate on the route reminiscent to last week, this one sailing way over his head on the incompletion. Second and ten was right back to Johnson, this time on an easy quick out noting Pickett’s pass was high and needed to lead him more to the sideline for more YAC possibility, with this one limited to six yards off the jumping catch. Pivotal third and four here, and enjoyed the call here and Pickett targeting Claypool on the slot fade to the end zone, but unfortunately good physical coverage from the defensive back, slowing him up and the pass going over his head incomplete. Touchdown woes continue, and personally would have gone for it here not knowing if you’ll be in this good of position the rest of the game and the momentum of the two successes earlier in the drive, but not upset with Pittsburgh taking the field goal here, making it a two-possession game with the deficit 15.
The offense returned at 1:47 in the third quarter in an extremely tough position due to a downed punt at the one yard line, starting with Harris in the wildcat for the second time, faking the jet and taking it for his longest run of the game, but it’s a grain of salt at only three yards, with Daniels, Okorafor, and Cole creating space for a bit of breathing room. On second and seven, Pickett takes the shotgun snap and thankfully releases quickly with Dotson beat and ending up on the ground, getting it to Johnson who had separation on the out route, but lost his footing when trying to cut back inside and tackled just short of the sticks. Third and one now, and Pittsburgh benefits from a defensive pass interference, drawn by Johnson on the go route for a 14-yard penalty to move the chains.
The drive continued with 48 seconds left in the quarter, and Harris got the delayed handoff, and was able to hit the hole with conviction between seals from Dotson and Cole, then a cut thanks to down field blocks from Okorafor and Freiermuth (with the latter’s including a pancake as Harris passed), then ran over a man like a locomotive along with dragging others for yards after contact on the 18 yard gain, his best run of the season. Love it, can we have more of this please? The following first down, Pickett drops back and wants Claypool, but due to Cole getting pushed back, the pass is batted in the air, a hold your breath moment but thankfully no one close enough to make a play on the ball, incomplete. On second and ten, Pickett gets the pass off despite Moore getting beat and Harris pushed back in pass pro, finding Freiermuth on the out route, and good YAC along the sideline and extending the ball as he went out of bounds to pick up the first down to end the third quarter.
The Steelers began the fourth quarter with a Warren run, where Moore lost his block allowing Hargrave to make the tackle for only one yard. On second and nine, Sims got the reverse from a unique look (for Pittsburgh), aligned as the inside receiver from a tight trips bunch with room to roam on the edge for the 11-yard gain. On the following first down, Pickett takes the shotgun snap and is pressured quickly with Okorafor getting beat around the edge off the snap, able to shed the sack attempt, but as he started to scramble Dotson lost his block resulting in a strip sack by Hargrave, making his presence known to his former team and recovered by Philadelphia, essentially putting this game away barring a miracle. Fourth sack on Pickett on a terrible showing from the offensive line, very disheartening and leaving the team licking their wounds entering the bye week.
The offense returned to a 22-point deficit following their turnover, and with the game at hand I hope you can forgive me for not breaking down the remainder of the game with the outcome (and the scoreboard) already decided.
Now for the defense:
PFF’s highest graded defender is cornerback Cameron Sutton (78.2), allowing one reception on his three targets including a nice pass break up. Defensive lineman Chris Wormley has the only other 70+ grade (71.6). Personally thought he and linebacker Devin Bush seemed a bit high. A whopping eight defenders have below 50 grades: defensive lineman Montravius Adams (49.5), Tyson Alualu (49), and Carlos Davis (45.3), safeties Terrell Edmunds (42.9) and Tre Norwood (37.2), linebacker Robert Spillane (40), and particularly poor games from cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (33) who was benched, and linebacker Myles Jack having the lowest graded game (26.9) and struggled across the board.
Pittsburgh’s defense came on for the first time at 13:09 with the game still tied, quarterback Jalen Hurts takes the shotgun snap and drops back, surveying against the Steelers slot blitz from cornerback Arthur Maulet, creating a one-on-one matchup for edge rusher Alex Highsmith on the guard and getting great push to get his hand up and pressure the pass to wide receiver DeVonta Smith, unable to corral the catchable low target in front of Edmunds. On second and ten, Hurts got the shotgun pass off quick against another blitz, with Spillane coming this time, but an even lower target was caught this time by wide receiver A.J. Brown for nine yards against cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon who touched him down on the nine-yard gain. Third and a short one now, and the Eagles go with a toss for their first run of the game, where Philadelphia’s o-line did a great job cut blocking the backside, pancaking Jack, sealing Spillane, double teaming Edmunds out in front on the edge, and Witherspoon finally pushing running back Miles Sanders out of bounds on the seven-yard chain mover.
The drive continued with another Sanders run, getting behind center Jason Kelce’s pull where Bush took it on aggressively to limit the lane, and good job by defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk setting the edge and working off his block to make the run stop for only one yard. On second and nine, Hurts wanted Brown on the comeback route past the sticks, and great read and react by Sutton to knock the ball out for an incompletion. This set up an ideal third and a long nine for the defense, bringing a six-man blitz including Jack and Spillane, but a less than ideal play call on the quick tight end screen to Dallas Goedert, with Witherspoon, Edmunds, and Maulet blocked well out in front, and great pursuit and chase down from edge rusher Malik Reed along with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to come up to ensure the tackle short of the sticks. Philadelphia decided to go for it on fourth and two, able to utilize their strong RPO game, getting Pittsburgh’s front seven to react to the run threat and instead finding Goedert again, who got good separation on Edmunds who was beat on the late reaction and nice rub route concept to easily convert to the outside on the five-yard gain.
As Philadelphia continued to march on their first drive, the Steelers blitzed and committed to the run on the RPO again, cuing the quick screen decision to Smith, and Witherspoon gambles going inside the blocker, nearly loosing edge contain but able to grab him by the ankle, with Edmunds coming in but missing the tackle, and Maulet finishing the combined tackle for no gain. On second and ten, Hurts enjoyed plenty of time in the pocket, though Bush and defensive lineman Carlos Davis were closing late as he unleashed deep to the end zone, targeting Brown on the slot fade with a clear mismatch on Edmunds in coverage, who was beat off the line and Fitzpatrick did a great job to get there in time, but unfortunately missed the interception opportunity, instead caught for the touchdown. Huge missed takeaway opportunity, reminiscent to the struggles from last game in this regard, along with the allowed fourth down conversion looming large for an early seven-point deficit.
The defense returned at 1:52 in the first quarter to a tie game, and edge rusher Alex Highsmith came in unblocked on the RPO, committing to the running back along with Jack and Bush, and Hurts makes a good read to keep and scramble with room behind good blocks on Bush, defensive lineman Montravius Adams and Cameron Heyward, creating an alley where Fitzpatrick kept him inside on his angle and Edmunds forced the slide down on the gain of eight yards. Pittsburgh brought the six-man blitz with Maulet and Bush this time, with the latter getting around the block for penetration on the target to Brown, where Fitzpatrick made an excellent play to break up the pass. Third and two now, and it’s Reed who comes free into the backfield but takes a wide angle with the recent scramble likely in mind, cuing the hand off to running back Kenneth Gainwell with the d-line held up by good collective blocking, Jack pushed out, and Spillane met him in the hole for the hit short of the sticks, but allowed a churn for three yards allowing the conversion.
The drive continued with 46 seconds left in the quarter, Highsmith won around the edge on the dip n rip move to pressure Hurts, but able to get the deep target off down the sideline, slightly underthrown for a jump ball situation where Sutton made a nice play for his second pass breakup of the game. On second and ten, you guessed it, six-man blitz again with Jack and Edmunds, getting a penetration along with a spin from Adams but Hurts is again able to get the target off, to Brown with Witherspoon in single coverage and making the quick tackle of the nine-yard gain. Third and one now, and Philadelphia aligns in what most teams call ‘victory formation,’ normally used for kneel downs, but used for a quarterback sneak, and appreciate the aggressive intend from Adams, but crucial offsides penalty. Way too many self-inflicted mistakes, this one allowing a fresh set of downs. Good shape with this considered though, tied at the end of the first quarter.
Philadelphia continued with a play action dropback to start the second quarter, with Spillane getting coming free and getting pressure to flush Hurts out of the pocket, thankfully unable to find anyone downfield considering the eight defenders near the line with Fitzpatrick, Sutton, and Witherspoon dropping deep, and the latter defending the pass incomplete to Smith on the sideline. On second and ten, Hurts took the empty shotgun snap against a five-man blitz including Spillane on the edge, but found Smith quickly on the slant with separation on Witherspoon, allowing the catch and YAC for nine yards where he combined for the tackle with Edmunds. Third and one now, and it’s another play action with a rollout this time, getting the defense to react that way and throwing to Goedert on the drag to the opposite side for the catch and adding to his monster YAC totals to date on the 16-yard gain, where Fitzpatrick pushed him out of bounds.
On the fresh set of downs, Sanders got the carry and defensive lineman Tyson Alualu got a hand on him slowing him up, and tackle Lane Johnson attempted to block both Reed and Bush, who were able to stay clean and tackle the two-yard gain. On second and eight, Pittsburgh was able to get pressure with four, thanks to Reed beating Johnson around the edge and hitting Hurts as he threw for the incompletion. Third and eight now, and the Steelers show blitz, bringing all six guys on the line of scrimmage including Spillane and Jack, and Hurts quickly unleashes down the right sideline to Brown on the go with a dart of a throw over Witherspoon for their second explosive touchdown of the game. Steelers down by seven again.
With 10:02 left in the second quarter, the defense returned to the pass again, this one a screen to Smith where Witherspoon set the edge, Reed pursued well with a good angle to persuade the field reversal, Heyward’s pursuit closing of the middle, and Highsmith coming from the opposite edge to make the tackle for a huge loss of ten. On second and 20, Hurts took the lane between Heyward and Highsmith, with the latter taking a wide angle on his rush allowing the scramble lane, and good job from Sutton to react from zone and tackle the gain of two. Third and a long 18 of their own (Pittsburgh’s offense in similar situation last drive), and also similarly it’s a short pass to the running back who was able to get eight yards where safety Tre Norwood missed a tackle, Spillane missed the angle, then Fitzpatrick made the tackle. Nice job providing the three and out, still down by seven.
The defenses’ next opportunity came at 7:22, defending another shotgun pass where Hurts found Goedert on the intermediate out route to get open between defenders in the zone for the catch and bit of YAC, with Sutton and Jack able to combine to tackle the 17-yard gain. The following first down was another chunk of yards, with Smith catching the pivot route that got separation against Sutton for the catch, who forced him out of bounds on the gain of 14 yards. Two consecutive chain movers, and the next first down was even more painful with a RPO, faking to the screen, and unleashes down the sideline to Brown, insanely for his third touchdown of the game, too easy once again over Witherspoon in coverage and Fitzpatrick was able to get there in time to make the hit at the catch point, but does nothing as he ricochets off him, and Brown makes sure to let them know about it. Down 7-21 now.
One more stop needed before halftime with 55 seconds on the clock and the deficit now 11 following a field goal, and Highsmith got around the edge but was pushed past the pocket as he got near Hurts on the throw to Goedert, who got separation on the out route for 12 yards, with Jack in coverage and pushing him out of bounds. On the following first down, Hurts stepped up prematurely and Reed capitalized by working inside against the flat-footed lineman for the sack and loss of five. Following Philadelphia’s second timeout, Hurts targeted Smith who was open on the hash at the sticks on second and 15, unable to make the catch with the throw behind him. Third and a huge 15 now, and Hurts stepped up due to another rush by Highsmith around the edge, and good effort by Davis who was blocked to the ground but didn’t give up, getting back to his feet quickly and getting the second quick sack on Hurts on the drive, who would have had daylight to scramble otherwise.
The defense came on first to start the second half, and Hurts goes right to Brown deep understandably after an unstoppable first half, and equally justifiable was the Steelers benching Witherspoon for cornerback James Pierre, and right away the adjustment pays off with an incompletion. On second and ten, Hurts hands off on the RPO, with Maulet being blocked to the ground, Highsmith committing to Hurts, and the Eagles having it blocked well overall, though defensive tackle Chris Wormley worked off his block but couldn’t quite get there in time allowing the 21-yard explosive run which nearly totals their entire first half rushing total, with Fitzpatrick having to make the tackle. The following first down was a pass to Smith for ten yards on the pivot route gaining separation on Pierre in coverage who pushed him out of bounds. Another first down, and it’s also back to Sanders on the ground where Highsmith and Alualu were washed inside on the ten-yard gain where Fitzpatrick had to make another tackle. Third first down in a row, and Edmunds sees and reacts to what looks like a screen, but allows his man to just zoom past him for the wide-open catch and run for the touchdown. Embarrassing way to come out of halftime.
With 5:55 in the third quarter and the deficit cut to 15 on a field goal and put in poor field position on the kickoff out of bounds, the defense returned to a Sanders run behind a good interior push on Heyward and Wormley, with Highsmith pushing his blocker in pursuit of the ball to make the tackle but a six-yard gain. On second and four, Hurts chose pass on the RPO, targeting Brown on the in route that got separation from Pierre’s man coverage on an island, thankfully dropping the pass considering the YAC opportunity with how hard he is to bring down. Third and four now, Hurts had plenty of time against the four-man rush to let the pass to Goedert develop, who aligned out wide and got space on the drag/rub concept for the impressive catch, breaking through Jacks initial tackle to get past the chains where Spillane and Jack combined for the tackle.
The drive continued with a pass attempt, but Philadelphia was dinged for an illegal formation penalty, setting up first and 15. Though the play didn’t count, wanted to note a good win around the edge on his pass rush by Highsmith to provide the would-be pressure. Hurts gave to Sanders here on the RPO, where Adams and Alualu were both blocked to the ground, and spun inside for six yards where Edmunds and Highsmith (who worked off the block well) combined for the tackle. On second and nine, the Eagles joined the penalty party with another quick one on a hold, and noted good single coverage from Edmunds on Brown deep down the field on the would-be incompletion. Ideal situation for the defense on second and 19, and they step up with a timely play, thanks to Highsmith coming on strong and winning the edge once again, cuing the step up from Hurts, with Heyward and edge rusher Ryan Anderson converging and the latter credited for the sack! Third and a mile (24), and Philadelphia was content handing it to Sanders, with room due to Highsmith’s wide angle around the edge and Davis trying a spin inside, and enjoyed the effort from Heyward to pursue and tackle Goedert and Sanders, and Maulet getting the credited tackle. Thankfully a much-needed defensive stand forcing a punt.
Pittsburgh’s defense returned with 13:30 in the fourth quarter following the Eagles takeaway still down by 15, and right away the defense has a coverage lapse, with Sutton and Jack but going to Smith on the short route, leaving Brown wide open over the middle and 30ish yards of YAC on the double explosive pass to Brown, with Fitzpatrick making the shoestring tackle in the red zone. My forehead hurts from face palming, Eagles stayed aggressive and looking to put this game away, putting Pittsburgh’s linebackers in a tough spot (expecting run with their personnel). It didn’t take long for the Eagles to do so, with the following handoff to Sanders where Highsmith was sealed on the edge, the pulling blocker got just enough of Jack who took a poor angle in the hole, getting to the outside to beat Edmunds to the pylon for the dagger touchdown. 22-point deficit, draining all optimism (if you had any) for a comeback. Sickening.
With the game at hand, I hope you can forgive me for not breaking down the remainder of the game with the outcome (and the scoreboard) already decided (and putting in backup quarterback Gardner Minshew).
Let’s look at special teams:
PFF’s highest graded special teamer is deservingly Marcus Allen (88.8), making several plays including a fourth down conversion and two tackles. Connor Heyward (81.4) and Reed (77.6) are the other two players with +70 grades, and particularly agree with the former, providing tow tackles. Warren (44.2) and Norwood (29.5) have below 50 grades, the former missing a tackle and the later having a penalty.
Punter Pressley Harvin got started early with a great 55-yard punt to the 27-yard line, with Derek Watt and Marcus Allen cutting off the desired return lane, forcing the bounce out where Boykin worked off his block to make a great tackle for only five yards. With kicker Chris Boswell unable to go in this game, Nick Sciba was brought in to fill his big shoes. His first kickoff following the offenses first touchdown was at 1:57 in the first quarter, traveling to the one-yard line and returned to the 21 where Allen tripped him up.
With 12:48 in the second quarter, Sims fielded the kickoff from the goal line and provided a good return with great cuts, but one contributed to a holding penalty on Norwood that brought the play back to the 17-yard line. Harvin punted again at 10:10 in the second quarter, a 46 yarder to the 36-yard line, going for a three-yard return where Allen hitting him out of bounds for his third tackle on special teams already. Sims got another opportunity quickly at 8:00, fielding this one at the 12-yard line and able to get a ten-yard return thanks to a good block from Edmunds but Olszewski unable to land one out in front. Harvin’s next punt came at 7:29, a poor 38 yarder that went out of bounds, only going to the 40-yard line. At 6:13 in the second quarter, Sims returned another kickoff, this one from the 15-yard line due to the Eagles unsportsmanlike penalty on Browns’ third touchdown, able to provide a nice 20 yards on the return. Pittsburgh’s offense was held in the red zone before halftime, and brought out Sciba to cut into the deficit before the break with a 38-yard field goal that’s good, down by 11 now. Sciba sent the following kick off to the four-yard line, with the return going 26 yards with Allen, Benny Snell, and Jamir Jones blocked, Watt a poor angle, with Connor Heyward and Olszewski combining for the tackle, and another penalty tacked on to the next play in an illegal formation. Unbearable penalties in all three phases.
Sciba kicked off to start the second half, traveling to the four-yard line where Allen and Warren kept the returner inside where Connor Heyward worked off his block to make the tackle. On fourth and two with 12:19 in the third quarter, Pittsburgh ran a fake with Allen taking the snap for a four-yard run and much needed conversion, and now has more rushing yards than Harris. Sciba made his second field goal attempt at 5:59 in the third quarter, a short 29-yard chip shot after the offense couldn’t punch in the much needed touchdown, but cuts it to a two-possession game. Sciba’s following kickoff went out of bounds, adding to the laundry list of mistakes that are so hard to overcome against top teams, giving them great field position at the 40.
STEELERS VS. EAGLES WEEK 8 SNAPS & REGULAR SEASON TOTAL SNAPS:
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