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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Running The Saints Out Of Town

GAME PRELUDE

The Steelers running game got moving and the New Orleans Saints could not stop the Steelers running attack. Losing Minkah Fitzpatrick to appendicitis just before the game was worrisome. Extra pressure on Damontae Kazee to perform just coming off injured reserve.

Currently, I’m out in the middle of Oman, and connectivity to the internet is spotty at best from my particular location. So, this was one of the first games that I could not watch, nor even listen to the Steelers Nation Radio broadcast. I settled for following the game via Twitter and the Steelers Depot Week 10 Live Update and Discussion Thread. Very frustrating for an average Steelers fan waiting to see what comments people posted about the game action instead of watching or listening to the game live.

Earlier in the week, I did meet the director of the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Muscat, Oman. He really liked the story of the Terrible Towel.

STEELERS OFFENSE

The Steelers’ offense started strong scoring on two of their first three drives. Then they punted their next two possessions away and had the ball to end the first half. In the second half, the offense scored ten more points on two drives. But missed field goals on two others. The Steelers ended the game with a long drive to finish in the victory formation.

I’ll highlight a few of the key plays from the Steelers’ 11 possessions.

Steelers Offense Creates Early Lead

The Steelers punted the opening possession away. But not before gaining some valuable field position. On third and six, Kenny Pickett connected with George Pickens for 14 yards and a first down at their own 43. They gained three more yards before punting after two incomplete passes.

The defense forced New Orleans to punt from their nine-yard line. The Steelers’ second drive began at the Pittsburgh 43. Najee Harris ran straight ahead twice for 12 yards and a first down in Saints territory. Pickett was sacked on first down. On third and 13, Freiermuth catches an 11-yard pass. On fourth and two at the 37, Jaylen Warren takes a short pass seven yards. Then Pittsburgh benefitted from the Saints’ defensive pass interference on an incomplete pass to a slanting Diontae Johnson. Suddenly, they are in the red zone. Diontae catches a short pass over the middle for 11 to the six-yard line. Najee runs five to the one. Then George Pickens darts inside for a one-yard rushing touchdown. The Steelers’ offense created an early 7-0 lead.

The defense forces another Saints punt. This time Steelers start at their 20 following a 62-yard touchback. Pittsburgh benefits from another Saints penalty on third down. This time it’s roughing the passer on third and eight. Kind of nice to have the officials blowing their whistle in Pittsburgh’s favor.  Najee Harris burst for a 36-yard run breaking tackles. Very hard running but he has to visit the medical tent for a possible concussion. The second quarter starts with Pittsburgh second and 11 from the 2. Incomplete pass. Then Freiermuth gains six. Matthew Wright kicks a 33-yard field goal increasing the lead to 10-0.

Offense Sputters

The defense forces another punt. But this time the Steelers backed up to their 11-yard line. Pickett scrambles for three. A short pass to George Pickens who is forced out of bounds before he can reach the first down marker. Harvin punts for the first time.

The Saints scored a field goal. Steelers start at the 25. NFL officials award a third first down to the Steelers by penalty. Najee is back in the game. On third and one Derek Watt up the middle for a first down. Pickett throws a 15-yard pass to Steve Sims for another first down. They reach 37, possibly in field goal range. But on third and five, Pickett sacked again back at the 44. Harvin short punt just after the two-minute warning.

New Orleans storms back. The 10-nothing lead evaporated and it’s 10-10 to end the half.

A Miss Then a Hit

The defense forced yet another punt to open the second half. Offense starts at their 15 after Marcus Allen caught holding on the punt return. Pickett scrambles 23 yards to the 38 on the first play. Then on third and three, Pickett throws a 12-yard pass to Pickens. Going with the hot hand, Pickens runs on the next play for 22 yards. The Steelers reach the 10-yard line on a Pickett six-yard scramble with five penalty yards tacked on for defensive holding. But Pickett was sacked for the third time losing 11 yards. He tries a swing pass to Najee Harris but the ball goes through his hands. Wright wide left on the 39-yard field goal attempt.

Pittsburgh pinned at the two-yard line after a beautiful 58-yard punt. On third and one, Pickett keeps for the first down. Then Pickett hits Freiermuth for 12 yards and they are out of trouble. Pickett misses Zach Gentry but NFL officials award Pittsburgh another first down for the defender’s illegal use of hands. Najee runs ten for a first down. Then Pickett throws deep connecting with Diontae for 36 yards. The drive stalls at 15 after another Pickett sack. But after a miss from 39 yards, Wright hits from 33 to break the tie. Pittsburgh leads 13-10 early in the fourth quarter.

Offense Extends Lead Then Hold Ball Until Victory Formation

The defense intercepts and the Steelers get the ball in Saints territory at the 44. Najee Harris almost fumbles the ball right back to the Saints, but Chuks Okorafor recovers it to retain possession. Harris sits and Jaylen Warren takes a shot pass 26 yards. Now in the red zone, Warren catches a third-down pass for first and goal at the five. Tomlin gave Najee a chance to redeem his fumble but stopped at the line of scrimmage. On third and goal Pickett throws incomplete to Freiermuth. But the Saints were called for pass interference. Pickett sneaks the ball in for a 20-10 lead.

The Steelers’ offense gets the ball back with 4:23 to play. The offense runs nine times. The decisive play was a 21-yard Jaylen Warren run on third and eight. After Derek Watt converts a short third down, Pickett ends the game kneeling in the victory formation.

STEELERS DEFENSE

Overall, the Steelers’ defense played superbly. A letdown at the end of the first half allowed New Orleans to tie the game. But they forced the Saints to punt away their first three possessions. And shut out New Orleans in the second half including three takeaways. Two by interception one on downs.

Defense Force three Straight Punts

Robert Spillane tackled Juwan Johnson on third and 13 forcing the first punt from deep in Saints territory. Pittsburgh exploited the good field position to go up 7-0. Andy Dalton threw 18 yards for a first down on the next drive. But on third and nine, Dalton connected with Alvin Kamara. But Spillane and Arthur Maulet are there to prevent the first down. So, another New Orleans punt. With Pittsburgh up 10-0, New Orleans got another first down. This time Dalton to Olave for 12 yards. But on third and seven, Maulet made a marvelous defensive play tugging the ball out of Olave’s hands to force the third straight punt.

Defense Allows Saints to Tie

The Saints started their fourth drive from the 34 after a Pittsburgh punt. Kamara broke into the secondary with Damontae Kazee tacking him but after the first down marker. Then Dalton through to Landry for 11 yards and another Kazee tackle. Then Dalton threw 12-yard first down on third and seven. Spillane and Chris Wormley combined to tackle Taysom Hill for a one-yard loss. On third and 11, Dalton scrambled to his left. But T.J. Watt tackled him from behind just missing a sack. But it forced a field goal. Now it’s 10-3.

With 1:53 in half, James Pierre was called for interfering with a fair catch. So instead of starting at the 14, the Saints have the ball at 29. Following a 17-yard first-down pass. Alex Highsmith sacks Dalton. It’s second and 18 but Olave gains 14 from a Dalton pass. On third and four, hits Juwan Johnson with Spillane in coverage. This time it’s a first down. Another eight yards to Johnson with Spillane in coverage. Then Kazee hits Olave shoulder to shoulder to force an incompletion. Referees flag the play. I believe the NFL is discouraging such hard hits on receivers. Now first and ten from the 15, Dalton hits tight end Juwan Johnson for a touchdown. Too easily, the Saints tie up the game.

Two Punts and Three Takeaways

Tied up, the defense really stepped up in the second half. The Saints start the second half at their 35 but offensive pass interference pushes the ball back to the 25 with 20 yards for a first down. On third and 12, Dalton targets Trautman with Edmunds in coverage. It’s incomplete. Punt Then Wright misses a field goal. So, the Saints start at their 29. On third and ten, Dalton hits Olave for 14 with Levi Wallace in coverage. But a false start and Dalton recovering his own fumble stalls the drive. The Saints punt a second time in the third quarter.

The Steelers break the tie early in the fourth quarter. On the Saints’ third play after the kickoff, Damontae Kazee intercepts a tipped pass. Pittsburgh exploits the takeaway to go up 20-10. Saints at their 34. On third and one, Cam Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi stop Kamara for no gain. Dalton tries to sneak on fourth and one. But Spillane tackles him to take away the ball on downs. Wright misses a 48-yard field goal attempt. Saints at their 38. Alex Highsmith strip-sacks Dalton. The Saints hold onto the ball, but it’s a nine-yard loss. Dalton throws to Kamara for ten with Levi Wallace tacking him. Dalton targets White with Wallace in coverage. This time Wallace intercepts. The third takeaway gives the ball back to the offense one more time with 4:23 to play. This game is over.

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

With Chris Boswell on injured reserve, the Steelers released Nick Sciba and signed Matthew Wright during Bye Week. Wright kicked off five times in his second stint as a Steeler. Rashid Shaheed returned the first four 93 yards. His first returned from three yards deep in the endzone. He went 31 yards to 28.  Rasheed returned the second 41 yards, but a holding call brought the ball back to the ten. Then Wright kicked two short kicks, perhaps trying to get more loft for the coverage unit. Rasheed returned one 23 yards to the 35. The second he returned 16 yards to the 25. Wright kicked a touchback on his final kickoff. Wright’s kickoffs were not in sync with the coverage unit.

Wil Lutz kicked off three times. The first two touchbacks. The third near the end of the first half reached the two. Steven Sims returned a kick 27 yards to the 29.

The Saints holding call put them in a hole. Although Wright’s kickoffs are too returnable, I still give Steelers the edge with their better average starting position.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Matthew Wright 5 4 1 0 0 0 NO 24.6
Wil Lutz 3 1 2 0 0 0 PGH 26.3

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Stephen Sims 1 27 27.0 27 0 0
Rashid Shaheed 4 93 23.3 31 1 0

 

Advantage Steelers.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted three times averaging 41.0 yards. The Saints had to fair catch all three punts. The third punt was marred by James Pierre interfering with the fair catch. So, instead of starting at the 14-yard line, the Saints got the ball at the 29 on a drive that tied the game.

Blake Gillikin punted five times. In the first half, his first 48-yard punt was fair caught at the 43. Pittsburgh scored on the favorable field position. Then he booted a 62-yarder that was a touchback. But the third first-half punt was fair caught at the 11. In the second half, he punted 45 yards and Steven Sims went eight yards to the 30. But a holding call brought the ball back to the 15 and erased five yards from his return. Then Gillikin hit a 58-yard beauty that went out of bounds at the two.

Harvin punted better but the holding penalty and the long punt to the two gives the Saints the edge even though Pittsburgh climbed out of the hole.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 3 41.0 41.0 0 0 2 1 48
Blake Gillikin 5 51.8 47.2 1 1 2 0 62

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Stephen Sims 1 3 3.0 2 1 3 0
Rashid Shaheed 0 0 0.0 3 0 0 0

Advantage Saints

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Wright hit two 33-yard field goals. But missing from 39 and 48 yards is inexcusable. He squandered opportunities to extend the lead. Pittsburgh may be rethinking its decision to release Sciba.

Lutz made both his extra point and a 44-yard field goal.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Matthew Wright 2 2 2 4 33 0 0
Wil Lutz 1 1 1 1 44 0 0

 

Advantage Saints

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

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

  1. Watt pressures the quarterback and stops some runs. Watt had one quarterback hit. Plus, he tackled Andy Dalton from behind to shut down a third-down scramble. But no sacks though he gave others opportunities due to the attention he drew. Mission Failure.
  2. Prevent Taysom Hill from explosive plays. The Saints did not record a single explosive play in the game. Hill only gained three yards. Mission Accomplished.
  3. Target Paulson Adebo in the secondary. The advanced statistics have not been published yet. Mission TBD.
  4. Running backs deliver 120 total yards. Warren could get 80. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren combined for 176 total yards. Warren with 77. Mission Accomplished.
  5. No more than one unforced offensive penalty. Pittsburgh had only three penalties including two on special teams. Mission Accomplished.

The Steelers accomplished three of the five keys to victory. A fourth mission is yet to be determined.

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  795 first-half comments.  Respondents added  848 more second-half comments.  Under the 1000 comment standard. 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:

Not so much interaction in this game. We may have been too nervous to comment.

The best first-half comment came after Damontae Kazee forcefully broke up a pass and was penalized. Mateo K asked “I thought that Kazee hit was perfect shoulder to shoulder. What is he supposed to do?” Any answers?

Monkey’s Uncle delivered the two most popular comments of the game in the second half.

First, “Instead of arguing about Harris versus Warren, how about appreciate the combination?”

Followed by, “Let’s give Pickett some credit. Some bad throws, some bailing and running too soon… but he got better and smarter as the game went on, and on a gimpy ankle too. Progress.”

BigDickSwangin had another popular second-half comment: “The difference with and without Watt is night and day.”

Finally, this comment did not get enough likes and replies to be a top comment but was a personal favorite of mine. After a takeaway late in the game, Danny LeBeau noted, “This might officially land Any Dalton in Pittsburgh’s Hall of Honor, dude has been great for the black and gold for a number of years”

CONCLUSIONS

The 2022 Steelers may not be the most talented squad, but they do have some scrappy players. I liked the Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren one-two punch in the backfield. Kenny Pickens is getting plenty of NFL lessons. I want to see him build on those. The offensive line needs to protect their quarterback better.

On defense, the secondary really stepped up in Minkah Fitzpatrick’s absence. Special mention to Damontae Kazee in his first action coming off injured reserve. Spillane is not good in coverage but not as useless as some say. He gave Myles Jack an opportunity to further recover. Very glad T.J. Watt is back. He draws so much attention that it gives opportunities for others to make splash plays.

Special teams. Matthew Wright better right his kicking or get Nick Sciba back. The management may have overthought that change.

The Bengals will be tough to beat, even in Pittsburgh. But looking for the Steelers to be competitive. Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. The Steelers may not win many more games this season. Certainly not playoff bound. Need to get fans that not fooling around. Maybe looking at other teams. Can’t have that cheating. Here is Little Walter performing My Babe

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