The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to come out with a victory on Monday night football, thanks to a good start on both sides of the football including only four first downs allowed from the defense, and despite a rough third quarter, were able to hang on with a strong performance from quarterback Kenny Pickett and the ground game (172 yards) for the 24-17 victory and now 4-7 record. In this article I will provide data from Pro Football Focus and takeaways from watching the film.
Let’s start with the offense:
PFF’s highest graded player was Pickett (88.5), very encouraging and deserving in my opinion. He went 20/28 with 174 yards and no interceptions, and though he didn’t come away with any touchdowns, had a game littered with quality throws and an example on a would have been first touchdown to wide receiver Diontae Johnson (65.9) on a great back shoulder throw that hit him in the hands in the end zone. PFF graded six other players above 70: including two running backs who stepped up big in Benny Snell (78.6, led running backs with 62 yards and the go ahead touchdown), and Anthony McFarland (71.5) with each above five yards per carry, along with tight end Pat Freiermuth (74.4), two offensive lineman in center Mason Cole (72.7) and tackle Dan Moore (71.9) on a much better outing after a rough start in my opinion, and wide receiver Cody White (71.1) on a limited number of snaps and providing solid run blocking. Three below 50 grades this week: wide receiver Steven Sims (48.4), and guards James Daniels (48.4) and Kevin Dotson (41.7).
Pittsburgh’s offense took the field first, and began with a solid straight ahead run from running back Najee Harris, with good collective blocks including a pull from White for the nice churning gain of eight. On second and two, Pickett went play action and found Johnson quickly on the in route with separation and a bit of YAC for the chain moving gain of 11.
The following first down was back to Harris on the toss, but has nowhere to go with wide receiver Gunner Olszewski getting a good initial block but allows his man to disengage along with fullback Derek Watt unable to connect, limiting the play for no gain. On second and ten, Pickett gets Johnson involved again early, very encouraging after a quiet outing last game on a good stop route with separation against Colts’ cornerback Stephon Gilmore, getting a couple YAC yards as he went out of bounds on the 11-yard gain, and another conversion.
The drive continued with Pickett audibling to another run from Harris, and despite Cole and tackle Chukwuma Okorafor unable to connect on their second level blocks, was able to break a tackle at the line of scrimmage as he bounced outside where Freiermuth had a good block on Gilmore, freeing him to the sideline for the positive seven-yard gain. On second and three, Pickett fakes to Sims on the jet sweep, surveys behind good collective pass protection, then dumps it to him on the checkdown behind the line and is able to beat the defender to the sideline and stretch out for just enough on the chain moving three-yard gain.
Fourth first down on this encouraging first drive, and McFarland gets an early opportunity in the absence of Jaylen Warren, but the attempt is negated by a hold on Moore who was beat to the inside off the line. First and 20 instead, and Pickett play actions and has some time initially, then Daniels was pushed back triggering the step up and eventual scramble where Snell got just enough of the defender to free him to the sideline for the gain of eight. On second and 12, Pickett had just enough time find Freiermuth on a hesitation in route, with Moore beat inside again but getting help from guard Kevin Dotson, catching the target over the middle but tackled in the open field on the ten-yard gain. Very manageable third and two, and Pickett has good pass pro again, but his throw to Sims on the out route is high allowing the ball-jarring hit from the cornerback to stall the drive. Nearly overcame the penalty, but come out with early points on the field goal.
Returning at 9:09, the three-point lead still, and great field position thanks to a defensive takeaway, Pickett’s play action is very effective, and rolls left with White open for the catch, but noted he held the ball a bit which limited the YAC opportunity as he was upended on the gain of only two yards. On second and eight, Harris got the carry behind Watt’s lead block that connected, but allowed his man to work to the ball along with linebacker Zaire Franklin, the NFL’s leading tackler through week 11 staying clean to combine for the tackle on the three-yard gain. Third and five now, and Daniels lost his pass block off the line, but Harris was there for the chip to knock the linebacker to the ground and leaked out as an open option for Pickett, who instead elected to scramble behind another good block from his back that freed the nine-yard conversion.
The drive continued with Pickett taking the shotgun snap looking to pass, but both tackles were pushed back and Okorafor losing to a late spin that prompted Pickett to elude, but nowhere to go with defensive end Yannick Ngakoue getting the sack allowed by Moore. On second and 15, it was frustratingly a run in this situation, but did have good collective blocking that could have broke (Harris sharing the sentiment slamming the ball after the play), but instead is tackled for only three yards. Third and a long 12 now, and Ngakoue comes in unblocked to get a second quick sack on Pickett, holding on to it instead of taking the angle route to McFarland, which took Pittsburgh out of field goal range and disappointingly unable to capitalize on the defenses turnover and forced to punt.
The offense returned with three minutes left in the first quarter with the scoreboard remaining, handing to Harris but is only able to get two yards with Dotson beat to the outside and allowing the tackle. On second and eight, Pickett was able to get the pass off despite Daniels getting pushed back, finding wide receiver George Pickens open on the out route and makes a couple of good cuts to force a missed tackle and pick up the first down.
The following play was a play action to Harris, where Okorafor and Dotson were pushed back on a double team block, seemingly effecting Pickett’s pass that sailed over Johnson’s head to the right sideline incomplete. On second and ten, Pickett did a great job of selling the pass on the delayed handoff to McFarland, who took advantage of a big hole between Cole and Dotson along with a good cut on the linebacker for the healthy 14-yard chain mover.
McFarland was stuffed on the following first down run, a loss of one with Moore beat inside off the line which allowed the tackle. On second and 11, it was another one-yard loss for McFarland, this one on a flat route that did not fool the safety who shot down quickly on Pickett’s first read, and unfortunately a missed opportunity to Johnson open on the slant that ended the first quarter.
Third and 12 now, and good collective job from the line including a twist pickup by Daniels to hold the rush just enough for Pickett’s throw, but unfortunately it’s a dumpoff to Harris four yards behind the line, and gets the stiff arm to force the missed tackle for respectable YAC of four yards considering, well short of the chains but getting closer for the second field goal of the game and a six-point lead.
With 13:17 in the second quarter and the lead still six, Pickett play actions and surveys behind solid collective blocking, and takes a shot to Pickens on the go ball with a great back shoulder throw and catch, showing his hands late and toe-tapping on the explosive gain of 35 yards, kicking off the drive with a bang. The following first down was a successful Harris run of five yards, hitting a crease from a good combo block from Dotson on the churning run and also noted Daniels with a good push. On second and five, running back Benny Snell got his first opportunity on the ground, able to gain three yards behind good blocks particularly from Moore on a pancake and a Freiermuth pull. Third and two now, and Moore sealed the edge for a crease on this Snell carry along with a good Cole block and sliding behind the guards to pick up just enough for the conversion.
Back to Snell on his third consecutive carry, and this first down was a successful five-yard gain cutting inside another solid Moore block and pull from tight end Zach Gentry, with the latter allowing his man to shed and make the tackle. On second and five, Pickett throws a missile despite the pocket closing (Moore/Dotson), finding Freiermuth on the out route on a great throw at the sticks between two defenders, and great YAC getting up field to split them for the 12-yard gain.
Now in the red zone, this first down was back to the ground, this one to Harris but the linebacker darts in clean to meet him in the backfield for a loss of one. On second and 11, Pickett has his number called on the ground with a quarterback draw, and great job blocking once again with a huge hole up the middle and Okorafor getting to the second level, getting most of the needed yardage and diving for the nine-yard gain. Third and a short two now, and Pittsburgh goes to the line quick and hand it to McFarland, who is able to slither between Moore and Dotson for the three-yard gain to set up first and goal. Harris showcased a nice cut to get around another great Moore block, followed by a grown man churn through two second level players to extend into the endzone from six yards out. Very encouraging to see the run game dominate in quantity and quality and come away with six points in the red zone. Steelers now lead 13-0.
The offense returned with 3:48 left in the half, beginning with a play action screen pass to McFarland with a good block on the second level from Cole along with a late pancake from Daniels who was also out in front of the 12-yard gain. Refreshing success for a typically poor screen team. The following first down was a quick throw to Johnson behind good pass pro, splitting the defense on the slant route on the slightly pass slightly behind but great catch for nine yards. On second and one, McFarland was able to get an easy first down on the run up the middle with good overall blocks, but Gentry allowing his man to shed and tackle the five-yard gain.
Now at the two-minute warning, the drive continued with a Snell run with more great collective blocks including Freiermuth, along with good vision on the cutback to get into the second level for 16 yards. Second first down in a row, and Pickett hits Sims on the comeback for six yards and tackled quickly with Pittsburgh taking their first timeout. On second and four, Pickett is a bit antsy in the pocket and scrambles, first looking to pass then decides to run towards the sideline where he’s able to extend the ball and get just enough for the first and ran out of bounds.
The following first down at 1:22 was a Harris run delayed handoff, tackled quickly for only two yards with Daniels losing his block, and Pittsburgh takes their second timeout. On second and eight from the red zone, Johnson aligned in the slot and ran a great route faking in then running the out route getting separation and catching a good throw out in front, allowing him to stay on the move with YAC, something we at Steelers Depot have been yearning for on the ten-yard gain.
This set up first and goal with 1:13 on the clock from the ten-yard line, and Pickett fires right to the end zone with Freiermuth in his sites on the stop route, but well covered and broken up at the goal line. On second and goal, Pittsburgh tried their hand at the quarterback draw again, this one gaining three yards with Dotson and Moore allowing their men to close the hole and the latter’s making the tackle. Big third and goal before halftime, and Pickett stays composed with each interior lineman allowing push/penetration, making a good read to target Pickens wide open on the corner route in the end zone, but slightly overthrown getting one hand on it but unable to secure it, and would like to see a two-hand effort here though the catch still would have been difficult, so close and huge miss. Able to get points though with the third field goal of the game, lead is 13 again.
The offense returned at 13:04 in the third quarter with the lead cut to six and Harris out for the rest of the game. Pickett takes the shotgun snap and quick targets Johnson on first down, but his pass is low and incomplete. On second and ten, it was a carry behind good collective blocks once again, particularly a double team by Dotson and Moore along with a pull from White, and McFarland able to split two free second level defenders and break a tackle on his way to a nine-yard pickup. Third and a short one now, and a defender came free of both edges to converge and tackle this McFarland run for no gain, frustratingly can’t pick up a yard which forces the offenses first three and out of the game.
The offense returned at 4:29 in the third quarter following the defenses second takeaway and the same score, beginning with a Snell outside run with good blocks from Gentry, Dotson, and Moore to aid the tough eight-yard gain. On second and two, Snell gets another handoff but a bit slow to hit the cutback lane to the right around Okorafor, and the second level of defense swarms and is tackled for no gain. Third and two now, and Pickett enjoys a clean pocket and targets Pickens on the in route, but the pass is low (but catchable), disappointing given the situation and other spectacular catches we’ve seen him make. Painfully unable to capitalize on either defensive takeaway, another three and out punt.
The offense returned with 16 seconds left in the third quarter and down by one now, and Pickett rolls right and gets a dart off to the sideline despite the pursuing linebacker, finding the normally surehanded Pickens on the sideline but is unable to secure the catch once again. On second and ten, Snell gets the carry but is met by the linebacker who came free and met him quickly for the tackle on the gain of one to bring the rough third quarter to a close.
Third and nine to start the fourth quarter, and Pickett takes the shotgun snap and goes through his progressions, and impressively stands tall despite Snell allowing the hit as he unleashed over the middle to Pickens, a great redemption catch for 13 yards plus the aforementioned hit called for roughing the passer, adding on another 15 yards on a big momentum swing the offense really needed.
The following first down was a jet sweep to Olszewski with a great block from Freiermuth on the edge, and nice physical run for nine yards. On second and one, Snell got the handoff and hit a solid hole between Moore, Dotson, and Cole’s solid blocks, easily getting to the second level and tackled by the safety for a healthy gain of 13. The ensuing first down was a play action tight end screen to Gentry, with Cole and Moore failing to land their blocks out in front (the latter really struggling with this as of late), allowing the defense to swarm and drop it for a loss of four, ouch. On second and 14, Pickett did a great job to unload an accurate ball despite the blitzing linebacker coming free and bearing down on him, finding Johnson who ran a great in route, getting ample separation on Gilmore, but an unfortunate them after the catch running sideways and limiting his YAC. This led to a third and six, where Pickett made another awesome throw to Freiermuth on a good out route, hitting him in stride and turning upfield for quality YAC on the 17-yard gain.
First and goal from the three-yard line now, and it’s a scary discombobulated play with Pickett rolling out and flipping it left-handed into traffic to Derek Watt for a gain of one yard, lucky it was a positive gain. On second and goal, Pickett made another great throw to Johnson back shoulder in the end zone, hitting his hands and falling incomplete on the should have been first touchdown of the season, face palm. On third and goal, Snell got the hand off on a reportedly big call by Pickett, and with good straight-ahead blocks was able bouncing it out between Moore and Olszewski for the go-ahead touchdown! Huge play, and Pittsburgh goes for two here in hopes of extending the lead to seven. Pickett rolls, extending toward the sideline with Moore allowing pressure and Cole/Dotson letting up on their effort, eluding and finding Pickens who wiggled open late in the back corner of the end zone on the scramble drill for the two-point conversion! What a play!
7:50 left, still up by seven, the give is to Snell to get the clock rolling, and after hitting a wall behind Cole provides a good cutback between a solid hole between Moore, Freiermuth, and Gentry out in front for the healthy eight-yard gain. On second and two, it was Snell again, but he was stopped short with a convergence from the defense to tackle the one-yard gain. Big third and one, and Watt gets the fullback handoff and gets low/skinny through a hole between Okorafor and Daniels for the first down, and spinning for more on the nice four-yard gain and big conversion.
The drive continued with Snell, taking the handoff to the right side, and trying to work around Freiermuth, but allowed his man to make the tackle on the gain of three. On second and seven, Daniels was beat off the line along with Cole not picking up a twist on Pickett’s drop back, forcing the scramble and Snell blocked to the ground and allowing the sack, allowing Indianapolis to decline the holding penalty on Daniels, ugly rep. Third and a long 13 now, and Pickett goes to Snell on the dump off, who spins and breaks a tackle but is stopped short on the six yard gain and forcing the punt. Nail-bitter.
After a stellar job by the defense to keep the Colts last drive scoreless, Pickett kneels it for victory!!!
Now for the defense:
PFF’s highest grade on defense was cornerback James Pierre (87.1), highlighted by his incredible early game interception, a refreshing site that I was clamoring for after this study along with our own Alex Kozora. Edge rushers Alex Highsmith (85.9) and Malik Reed (85.4) are up next with +85 grades, particularly agreeing with the formers three pressures and a sack, and particularly stepped up with huge plays late in the game when the team really needed them. Four other players had +70 grades: linebacker Devin Bush (83.1) with some particularly good plays in coverage, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (75.8) with several timely plays highlighted by the final play hit to ensure the incompletion and the win, Arthur Maulet (71.8) providing a sack and some better coverage in my opinion, and edge rusher T.J. Watt (70.7) in a quiet performance comparative to his often dominant presence. Three players have below 50 grades: defensive lineman Cameron Heyward (46.5) doing some good things as a pass rusher but struggling in run defense overall, linebacker Myles Jack (36.6) who struggled in coverage, and fellow defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk with a particularly poor 29.9 grade. Definitely thought defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi was disruptive and deserved a higher grade.
Pittsburgh’s first opportunity came at 9:21 with a three-point lead, and the Colts opened with a play action pass from quarterback Matt Ryan, targeting rookie wide receiver Alec Pierce on the slant, and great coverage from cornerback Levi Wallace to tip the pass that was nearly picked by Jack, instead falling incomplete. All’s well that ends well, with the defense cashing in on the very next pass, where Watt and Highsmith got a good push along with Ogunjobi getting interior pressure forcing Ryan to step up, seeing wide receiver Michael Pittman seemingly open following a blatant push off on cornerback Cam Sutton, and Pierre showed great awareness and reaction to come off his man and dive in front for the wow interception. What a great start for the defense to get such an early takeaway and keep the lead at three.
The defense returned with 4:58 in the first quarter with the lead still three, facing running back Jonathan Taylor for the first time on the ground, cutting back due to Highsmith coming unblocked and pursuing to make the tackle, but able to gain six yards getting around Watt who was blocked well. On second and four, Taylor got another look and good job by Maulet to shed the wide receiver’s block to get the run stop of only one yard. Third and three now, and Pittsburgh brings the blitz where Ryan felt the push provided by Watt and looked to escape to the blindside, and safety Terrell Edmunds was there after shedding Taylor’s pass block attempt to bring him down for the sack. Defense stepping up big early and forcing the punt here.
Returning with 14:03 in the second quarter, Pittsburgh brought the blitz with Edmunds and linebacker Devin Bush, with the latter darting in to rush the screen pass over Taylor’s head and incomplete. On second and ten, defensive lineman Chris Wormley worked towards Taylor’s designed run lane well, but was able to cut back with Watt pushed back by the tight ends block (Mo Alie-Cox), Bush missing a diving attempt at his feet, and Fitzpatrick making the tackle but churned for extra yards on the gain of six. Third and four now, and Sutton came free of the edge but inexcusably unable to get the sack as Ryan eludes and scrambles, with plenty of time as Ogunjobi was held to find Pittman on the sideline but was out of bounds for an incompletion, allowing Pittsburgh to decline the penalty on their third straight three and out. Excellent start to keep the lead at six.
At 7:46 in the second quarter, the defense returned up by 13 now to a Taylor run, splitting good penetration from Ogunjobi and Watt, and cutting back and finding space with Jack and Fitzpatrick committing to the initial lane and defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk blocked to the ground, with Jack and Edmunds finally combining to tackle the ten-yard gain, their first chain moving play of the game.
The following first down was a play action dropback, with Ryan targeting Pittman on the out route at the sticks, and good click and close from Wallace to undercut it for another pass breakup. On second and ten, Highsmith provided a great rush winning the edge, but Ryan is able to get the screen off to Taylor who gets behind a good block from guard Quenton Nelson on Jack, then cuts inside to force a missed Watt tackle, making another move to cause Loudermilk to slip to the ground, and finally brought down by Maulet and Bush on the nine-yard gain. Third and one now, and Indianapolis rides the hot hand again with Taylor taking the handoff and hitting the hole between blocks on Watt and Maulet sealed on the edge but shed his block to track and finally tackle the seven-yard gain. Too easy and the Colts getting some momentum.
Following the conversion, Heyward finally made his presence known after a quiet start, beating Nelson inside and getting pressure on Ryan’s play action drop back, along with Watt pursuing on the scramble and getting the quarterback hit, forcing him to throw it away. On second and ten, Fitzpatrick diagnosed the quick target to Pittman, nearly undercutting the in route, instead allowing the catch and YAC for the first down where Jack and Ogunjobi combined to tackle the ten-yard gain.
Third first down of the drive (and game), and Taylor enjoys a bit of room on the ground again, where Ogunjobi washed out by Alie-Cox and Jack pushed back, with Reed and defensive tackle Montravius Adams combining to tackle the gain of four. On second and six, running back Zach Moss got the carry, and good run fills by Pittsburgh as he attempts to muscle forward on a good tackle by Ogunjobi for only two yards. Third and four now, and Reed provides good pressure on Ryan’s drop back along with an arguable missed holding call and good coverage by Pierre on his first read, forcing him to extend and get the pass off with Ogunjobi closing in, going incomplete to Alie-Cox with Bush in good coverage. Huge stand to hold them to a field goal, lead is still ten.
48 seconds left before halftime and the lead 13 once again, Ryan is able to find Pittman on the in route for a six-yard gain where Bush and Edmunds combined for the tackle. On second and four, Watt wins around the edge on his pass rush, arguably held as Ryan is able to elude, then scrambles for six to pick up a first down with Wallace making the tackle, and Indianapolis’ second timeout. With 22 seconds, the Colts were caught with an ineligible man downfield on a screen pass, setting up first and 15. Highsmith provided an excellent move around the edge in his pass rush, encouraging Ryan to take the dump off to Taylor and quick reaction from Bush and safety Damontae Kazee, with the former pushing him out of bounds. On second and 13, both Watt and Highsmith provided a good rush with Ryan stepping up, and the latter getting the quarterback hit on the throw that was dropped by the tight end on the short route. Third and 13 with six seconds left, and Ryan went right back to the same receiver for nine yards where Kazee reacted quick from off-coverage (given the situation) making the tackle. They took their final timeout and brought on their field goal unit, with the Steelers taking a timeout to try and freeze them. The attempt ended up being blocked, huge going into the break.
The defense was put in terrible position, already in the red zone to start the second half off a huge kickoff return, and Indianapolis gives to Taylor on first down, and good job by Ogunjobi to work off his block on the stretch run to limit the gain to two yards. On second and eight, back to Taylor on the ground, this one up the middle with Heyward, Watt, and Jack blocked out and Highsmith getting to him quick but big churn for seven yards with Bush combining to finally help bring him down. Third and one now, and Ryan finds wide receiver Parris Campbell wide open for the diving catch, allowing Sutton to touch him down as opposed to the likely waltz in. This set up first and goal though, and the play was expectedly a run to Taylor, where Jack aggressively shot into the backfield but took himself out of the play along with Ogunjobi blocked out to that side, and Heyward throwing Nelson to the ground, but Taylor worked around him for just enough space to punch it in for the touchdown. Painful start to the half, lead cut to six.
Returning quickly at 11:55 in the third quarter and the same score, it was back to Taylor up the middle on the ground behind good blocks, with Jack taking himself out of the play around the edge and Ogunjobi working off his block to tackle the four-yard gain. On second and six, Ryan quick triggered to tight end Jalani Woods on the stop route, which Fitzpatrick reacted to quickly to get the hit shy of the sticks, but allowed the big-bodied receiver to churn for the eight-yard gain and first down where Maulet combined for the tackle. Indianapolis blocked well collectively on the following Taylor run, getting space on the interior on Wormley with Jack and Ogunjobi able to tackle him on the five-yard run. On second and five, Ryan dropped back and was able to lob the pass over Fitzpatrick who came free on the blitz to Woods, who was able to make the catch on the corner route against Jack in coverage, allowing the gain of 14.
The drive continued with a Taylor run, getting another chunk gain of 13 yards, waiting for the hole between blocks on Adams and Reed, with Jack missing a tackle on the would-be short gain, and churning through Fitzpatrick who eventually brought him down as he tried to rip the ball out. The following first down was back to Taylor on the ground, and better run defense here with edge rusher Jamir Jones getting a good push, and Reed making the physical through the tackle along with Fitzpatrick standing him up on the three-yard gain. On second and seven, Ryan stepped up avoiding Reed and Jones’ pass rush around the edge, hitting Campbell on the slot drag wide open, where Fitzpatrick and Jack rallied for the physical combined tackle to stop him short of the sticks on the gain of six. Third and one now, and great job by Heyward and Adams to plug up the middle on the Taylor run, along with Edmunds coming of the edge to make the tackle for no gain and third down stop. Indianapolis decides to go for it on fourth and one, and Ryan easily dives over the pile for the two-yard gain and conversion. Ugh.
The following first down, Ryan takes the shotgun snap with Heyward and fellow defensive tackle Tyson Alualu get to him for the quarterback hit (the latter looping inside), but able to get the pass to Alie-Cox on the out route and catch for the first down, despite Jack being penalized for holding that was declined. First and ten once again, and Ryan goes right back to Alie-Cox on the quick out route on the opposite side, where Bush allowed the catch but wrapped him up quickly, getting help from Highsmith on the combined tackle of three yards. Now in the red zone on second and seven, good pash rush from Watt and Highsmith, but Ryan was able to get it off to Pittman on the drag route, with a good reaction from Bush to click and close and get the pass deflection on the slightly behind throw. Third and seven now, and Ryan enjoys a clean pocket and finds Woods short over the middle, and big play from Watt to come off his zone drop, worth the lack of pressure on the quick pass to combine for the big tackle short of the sticks with Bush. Indianapolis lined up for the short field goal attempt, but infuriating offsides penalty on Sutton gives them a fresh set of downs. Unbelievable.
First and goal now, and what else but Taylor on the ground in this situation, where Ogunjobi did a good job setting the edge and able to get a hand on him in the backfield, but eludes and able to gain three yards, where Reed worked down the line well and Bush avoided the low block attempt to combine for the tackle. On second and goal, Ryan throws it away due to pressure provided by Watt and Reed (who actually collided past the arc) and a good push in his face from Ogunjobi, setting up a big third and goal. Ryan quick targets Woods on the out at the goal line, and seemingly outstanding one-on-one coverage from Fitzpatrick but had his left arm hooked and called for the huge pass interference, and the defense shoots themselves in the foot again with a second drive extending penalty, woof. This set up first and goal from the one, and Taylor’s number is called once again, and crazily the exchange is botched with Ryan having the first opportunity to recover, and great fight and hustle by Wormley to secure the recovery! HUGE break for the Steelers, capitalizing with a takeaway when things looked grim to keep them off the scoreboard. What a rollercoaster and dodged bullet, WOW.
With 2:57 in the third quarter and the lead still six, Ryan came out passing on a corner route to Woods, making the catch and ran over Wallace who came down hill for the hit from zone coverage, then Watt chased him down from his short zone drop to punch the ball out for a forced fumble, but unfortunately it goes out of bounds, first down Colts. Taylor got another carry here, this one a four-yard churning gain up the middle where Wormley and Adams combined to bring him down. On second and six, Woods is staying busy and targeted again, this one in the flat, where Highsmith came from his zone drop to tackle him for no gain. Third and six now, and Ryan steps up in the pocket due to good pressure from Watt, and I bet you can guess Woods is the target, wide open on the right hash for the intermediate catch and run for an explosive 28-yard gain, eek. This set up first and goal from the seven, and Taylor expectedly gets the early down opportunity that only goes for one yard thanks to good overall run fits, with Wormley and Reed combining for the tackle. On second and goal, Ryan went for the fade to the endzone, with a good back shoulder throw to Pittman who got separation and made the catch over Pierre for an easy touchdown. This gave Indianapolis their first lead after an abysmal third quarter for Pittsburgh, now trailing by one.
9:50 left in the game, and a seven-point lead now, Ryan feels the pocket collapse thanks to Highsmith and Ogunjobi and dumping it off to Taylor behind the line, and good job by Maulet to wrap him up and limit the gain to one yard. On second and nine, Watt, Highsmith, and Ogunjobi collapsed the pocket on Ryan again, prompting a scramble where Maulet made another big play taking advantage of his lack of mobility to dart in and get the huge sack! Third and a long 14 now, and Ryan throws quickly over the middle to Pittman, who is hit immediately by Fitzpatrick, nearly jarring the ball loose on the bobbled catch and limiting the gain to only four yards. Outstanding three and out stand for the defense.
The defense returned one last time with 3:52 left and the Colts pinned back, but Ryan goes deep right away to Pittman for the leaping combat catch against Wallace in coverage, an impressive grab on the 28-yard gain, and a debatable call for defensive pass interference (thought he played it well) that Indianapolis was able to decline. The following first down was a Taylor run, gaining four yards with good overall run fits and Adams making the tackle. Ryan then found Woods on the slant over the middle between Kazee and Wallace, with the latter having tight coverage but allowing the catch and churn for 17 yards. Back to Taylor, who was able to get another four yards with Adams and Bush pushed back, then Watt and Heyward were able to combine for the tackle. On second and six, Ryan takes another deep shot as Ogunjobi got his hand in his face, this time to Pierce and good coverage from Sutton and Kazee, with the latter providing the big hit to ensure the incompletion. Big third and six, and Watt got a good push but Ryan took the quick pass to Pittman wide open over the middle on the drag, and amazing acceleration from Fitzpatrick to get the tackle before he could turn upfield for the third down stop. Four down territory though, and at the two-minute warning, Ryan finds Pittman again just past the sticks, and despite Watt tipping it at the line, gets the pass between Bush, Edmunds, and Wallace, with the latter tackling the four-yard gain and conversion, nerve racking.
First down, 1:35 left, Ryan steps back and Highsmith provides a timely win around the edge for an awesome strip sack, but is quickly recovered by an offensive lineman. The Colts confusingly do not use their timeouts (we’ll take it), and on second and 17 with a minute left, Ryan pumps with Heyward skying through the air in hopes of a bat, then decides to scramble and is able to get 14 yards with the deep coverage, and still no timeout. Third and three with 33 seconds left, and they try to get the conversion with Taylor on the ground, and another huge late game play from Highsmith on the run stop for no gain! Indianapolis finally takes their first timeout with 30 seconds left, and on fourth and three Highsmith makes it a triple crown with another pressure, and Ryan tries the left sideline but no dice, with good coverage from Sutton and Fitzpatrick with the big hit to ensure the incompletion for the win.
Let’s look at special teams:
PFF’s highest graded special teamer was Loudermilk (92.7), rightly so with a fantastic field goal block just before halftime. The only other player with a +70 grade was kicker Matthew Wright (70.9) highlighting just how poor the special teams units fared otherwise. Wright went 3/3 on his field goals along with an extra point. A whopping six players had below 50 grades: with core special teamers Marcus Allen (47), Miles Killebrew (43.4), and Snell (42.3) all struggling, along with Tre Norwood (31.9) missing two tackles, White (31), and Sutton (29.5).
Wright was called upon early to cap the offenses first possession, and was able to connect on the 45-yarder to get Pittsburgh on the scoreboard first. The sent the following kickoff to the one-yard line, but poor coverage with Maulet and Allen missing their angles, along with Norwood missing a tackle, and finally Snell and Maulet worked back into the play to combine for the tackle on the 33-yard return. Pressley Harvin’s first punt came at 5:06 in the first quarter, a 38 yarder with good placement that White impressively tracked and caught just short of the goal line, but was unable to keep it out of the end zone as he fell to the ground for the touchback. Sims got his first punt return at 3:12 in the first quarter, fielding it from the 21 with a good block from Olszewski along with a good cut, providing a good 18-yard return.
Wright got his second field goal opportunity with 14:14 in the second quarter, a 52-yard attempt that went off the right upright, but stays in to extend the lead to six. The following kickoff went to the one-yard line, with another good return of 29 yards where Derek Watt was washed out, Allen was blocked initially, and a pancake on Killebrew before Maulet and Allen could combine for the tackle. Sims’ next punt return came at 13:25 in the second quarter, but nowhere to go on the swarming kick coverage, running sideways and losing a yard. Wright was also good on his third field goal attempt just before halftime from 25 yards out, extending the lead back to 13. He sent the following kickoff to the end zone, but brings it out with Pittsburgh’s coverage struggles, and exploits them again with a huge 41-yard return where Killebrew and Jamir Jones took a bad angles, Connor Heyward, Snell, and Norwood blocked with the latter missing a tackle, and always a bad sign when your kicker makes the tackle with Maulet combining. Indianapolis attempted a 59-yard field goal to close the half, and huge play by Loudermilk to get up and block the attempt, huge play to keep the Pittsburgh lead at 13 into the locker room.
Wright kicked off to start the second half deep into the end zone, with the returner bringing it out once again and the painful kick coverage continues, this one going for a whopping 81 yards where Maulet, Allen, Derek Watt, and Wright each missed diving opportunities and off to the races, where Pierre finally forced a cutback and Connor Heyward made the touchdown saving tackle, yikes. Harvin punted with 12:03 in the third quarter, this one a long 54-yarder landing along the sideline and rolling to the 12-yard line before it went out of bounds. Indianapolis lined up for the short field goal attempt at 5:20 in the third quarter, but infuriating offsides penalty on Sutton gives them a fresh set of downs. Unbelievable. Harvin had a 40-yard punt with 3:03 in the third quarter, traveling to only the 45-yard line where it was luckily fair caught with a bit of room to roam.
Wright kicked off at 9:55 in the fourth quarter following the offenses go ahead touchdown, sending it to the end zone, brought out again and finally a decent coverage play from the unit, with Maulet able to stay clean and tackle the returner at the 25-yard line. Sims got another punt return with 7:58 left in the game, misjudging the trajectory and luckily securing it at the 26, smartly going to the ground to ensure there was no muff, whew. Harvin provided an excellent late game punt with 4:02 left, with the returner allowing it to bounce, with a friendly roll for 50 yards that was downed by long snapper Christian Kuntz at the seven-yard line, awesome job.
STEELERS VS. COLTS WEEK 12 SNAPS & REGULAR SEASON TOTAL SNAPS:
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