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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Pittsburgh Again Wins On The Road

GAME PRELUDE

The Steelers on the road again. This time Pittsburgh travels to Atlanta in a short week. A slight favorite the key is corralling Atlanta’s running game. And the Steelers running game needs to assert itself. Here we go.

Just a little bit of history. In 1970, Terry Bradshaw’s rookie season, the Steelers Week 13 opponent was the Atlanta Falcons who came into the game with a 3-7-2 record. The Steelers were 5-7. Bradshaw and Terry Hanratty combined to throw 28 passes, completing eight for 110 yards. They threw five interceptions. The Steelers led 16-10 at the half but lost the game 27-16.

STEELERS OFFENSE

For the third consecutive game, the Steelers offense scored points on four of five possessions in the first half. They could only muster three second half points.

Steelers Start with Two Field Goals

The Steelers received the ball after the Falcons won coin toss and deferred. Pittsburgh opens with three straight runs. The last a four yard run on third and one by fullback Derek Watt. On the next set of downs, Kenny Pickett connects with Pat Freiermuth for 10 yards on third and three. Frustratingly, an apparent 21-yard reception by Steve Sims overturned when replay shows he stepped out of bounds becoming ineligible to touch the ball first. But Pickett connected with Freiermuth for nine yards on third and eight. It sounds like a Steelers home game with fans yelling ‘Muth!’ in Atlanta. Pickett gains another first down on third and one. But the drive stalls. Pickett was caught for a five yard loss. Then two incompletes, the last to Freiermuth. Matt Wright kicks a 46-yard field goal.

The second drive starts at the 14 after Steve Sims muffs a fair catch. Pickett scrambles for nine. Najee converts the first down with a five-yard run. Sims runs a sweep to the right for 10 yards. Diontae Johnson gets a first down with a nine-yard catch. The first quarter ends with Steelers at the Atlanta 40 on second and four. Najee Harris starts the second quarter with a 13 yard run. Pickett throws two incompletions and Wright back on the field for another 46 yard field goal. It was 6-0.

These plays force field goals:

Rest in Peace Ironhead, Your Sons Honor You

Atlanta makes it 6-3. The Steelers face third and four at the 31. Then Pickett completes a short pass to Freiermuth who gains 57 yards to the 12-yard line.

Kevin Dotson false starts (perhaps to give the receivers more maneuvering space. Do you believe that?) Then Pickett hits Connor Heyward for a 17-yard touchdown. It’s 13-3. Connor and brother Cam had visited their father’s gravesite prior to the game. Rest in peace Ironhead.

Atlanta gets another field goal. With 5:05 left in the half, Pickett hits Diontae for 20 yards on first down. On second and four, Jaylen Warren gets a first down on his only carry of the day. Najee gets another first down on a six yard reception leading to the two minute warning. Sims catches a 21 yard pass on third and seven. But replay shows he stepped out of bounds prior to the catch making him ineligible to be the first offensive player to touch the ball. Matt Wright kicks a 48-yard field goal to make it 16-6.

The Steelers got the ball back with 29 seconds but let Najee run out the clock on a four-yard run.

Offense Scores Three in Third Quarter

The Steelers begin their first drive at the 10 after a Falcons punt. Najee runs twice for a first down. On third and one, Benny Snell gets a first down. Then Diontae had a 14 yard catch. Najee runs 14 yards. But Chuks Okorafor hurt, seldom used swing tackle Trent Scott replaces him. Snell runs 11 yards on second and eight. A defender horse-collared him and penalty yardage takes the ball from the 28 to the Atlanta 14. Chuks back in game. But the drive stalls. Diontae false starts on first down. On second and 13, Diontae could not make a touchdown catch. A delay of game pushes ball to the 22. Wright hit a 33 yard field goal. His fourth to make it 19-6.

Nearly Fumble Ball Away

Atlanta runs ball down Steelers throat to make it 19-13 near end of third quarter. Pickett’s only completion to George Pickens gains two yards. Then another receiver sweep for no gain. The fourth quarter begins with Steelers facing  third and eight. Pickett throws to Diontae, but the ball fumbled and Atlanta recovers. The replay official reverses the call. It is an incomplete pass. Big call favoring Pittsburgh. So, Harvin punts.

Clock Management Counts

Atlanta makes it 19-16 but take a lot of time off the clock since they rely on running the ball. Pittsburgh at the 25 with 5:27 to play. Pickett connects with Zach Gentry for eight yards. Najee gets the first down on second and two. Then Snell runs for six on second and three. With 2:39 left, Gunner Olszewski goes to left end for two yards. Atlanta lets clock go to two minute warning. On second and eight, Diontae picks up an important first down with 10-yard catch. Najee runs twice and Atlanta has just spent all three of their timeouts with 1:40 to play. Pickett loses a yard on third and five but stays inbounds to keep clock moving. Harvin punts a beauty.

The game ended following an interception and the Steelers in victory formation. Never a doubt. We had ‘em all the way.

STEELERS DEFENSE

The Steelers defense played solidly in the first half. But Atlanta almost ran away with the game in the second half.

Defense Holds Atlanta to Six First Half Points

Atlanta deferred the toss and Pittsburgh scored three. Wright kicks short to avoid Cordarrelle Patterson. It works, Atlanta starts their first drive from the 21. Marcus Mariota opened with an 11 yard pass to D London. On second and seven, Cordarrelle Patterson runs to left end for seven. Offensive holding creates a second and 15. Incompletion. Then on third and 15, Atlanta false starts. Steelers fans are loud. Can they be impacting the Falcons snap counts? Mariota completes a 12 yard pass on third and 20. Cam Sutton makes a sure tackle forcing Atlanta to punt.

Atlanta does not get the ball again until the second quarter down 6-0. T Allgeier runs for 20 on first down. Mariota completes a 16 yard pass. Then another for 13. But then Larry Ogunjobi stops Patterson in the backfield for a three yard loss. Mariota throws to London and Levi Wallace is injured on the incompletion. Cam Heyward stops the drive by sacking Mariota on third and 13. But Atlanta hit a 50-yard field goal.

Pittsburgh pulls ahead 13-3. Mariota hits London on a deep 37 yard pass with Wallace in coverage. Patterson tries to sweep right but Minkah Fitzpatrick drops him for a four-yard loss. Mariota throws deep but Sutton breaks up the pass at the two. On third and 14, Mariota completes a pass, but it only gains nine. Koo hits a 51 yard line drive field goal.

The offense responds with a three of its own making it 16-6. They also left just 1:29 on the clock. Atlanta starts with two straight first down passes. But that’s as far as it goes. Mariota throws three straight incompletions. Atlanta punts their last possession of the half away.

Putrid Third Quarter but Finish Strong in Fourth

Atlanta starts the second half from the 26 following another kick away from Patterson. On third and two, Mariota gains three for the first. But following an incompletion on a deep pass, Atlanta gets a delay of game making it third and 11. Mariota throws for London with Robert Spillane in coverage, but it is incomplete. Atlanta punts. Good way to start the second half.

Pittsburgh goes up 19-6 and Atlanta gets the ball at the 25 following a touchback. Atlanta runs seven straight times for 63 yards plus five penalty yards. Mariota finishes the drive with a seven yard touchdown pass to M Pruitt. Suddenly it was 19-13 with another quarter to play.

The Steelers punted following the reversal of a fumbled catch. The Falcons commence a 16-play drive that reaches the Pittsburgh 10-yard line. Atlanta ran 11 times eating up 9:21 of the clock. Atlanta converted a fourth and one with an ailing T.J. Watt making the tackle. I wonder if he would stop that for a loss if he were fully healthy. Patterson’s ten yard touchdown was nullified by an offensive holding call. Another Atlanta false start (visiting Steelers fans again?) made it second and 22. Mariota connects with London for 12. He tries again for London on third down, but the pass is incomplete. Atlanta ships in the field goal making it 19-16 with 5:29 to play.

Pittsburgh punts but has eaten 4:45 off the clock and forced Atlanta to use all their timeouts. Harvin hits a beauty that Miles Boykin downs at the two. Mariota throws for London on first down and just 42 seconds left. But Minkah Fitzpatrick intercepts and runs out of bounds at the four. Guess he didn’t want to pull a Jerome Bettis so did not go for the pick-six. In any case, the game is over except for one play in the victory formation.

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 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

Matthew Wright kicked off six times. He managed to prevent Cordarrelle factoring into the return game. His first kick was short to the 11 yard line. Upback Kevin Smith returned the ball 10 yards to the 21. Atlanta countered by putting two returners back. This allowed Wright to target kicks toward Avery Williams. The second kickoff returned 25 yards from the one to the 26. Then two touchbacks. Wright kicked to Williams to open the second half. The ball returned 20 yards to the 26. His final kick was a touchback. The Falcons average starting position after kickoffs is just behind the 25. Kudos to Danny Smith for the adjustments to negate Patterson.

Punter Bradley Pinion kicked off five times. All were touchbacks.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Matthew Wright 6 3 3 0 1 0 ATL 24.7
Bradley Pinion 5 0 5 0 0 0 PGH 25.0

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Stephen Sims 0 0 0.0 0 0 0
Kevin Smith 1 10 10.0 10 0 0
Avery Williams 2 45 22.5 25 0 0

 

Advantage Steelers.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted twice in the fourth quarter. His first reversed the field going 47 yards and fair caught at the Atlanta 26. The second only went 38 yards but bounced up at the goal line allowing Miles Boykin to down the ball at the two. Minkah effectively ended the game with an interception on the next play.

Bradley Pinion punted three times, averaging 45.7 yards a punt. Steven Sims muffed the first punt at the 14 for a one yard loss. Pinion punted another that Sims attempted to return but tackled after just one yard at the 14 again. Sims fair caught Pinion’s 54 yard punt at the ten in the third quarter with room to run. He may have been spooked by the first two returns.

A bit of results bias, but I give the edge to Pittsburgh for Harvin’s spectacular punt at the end of the game.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 2 42.5 42.5 0 1 1 0 47
Bradley Pinion 3 45.7 45.3 0 0 3 0 54

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Stephen Sims 2 1 0.5 1 0 1 0
Avery Williams 0 0 0.0 1 0 0 0

 

Advantage Steelers

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Wright converted a PAT and added four field goals. Another kick grazed the post but went in. All of those field goals needed for the win.

Koo hit a PAT and three field goals. He hit some long line drives including a 50 and 51 yarder. Frustratingly, the Steelers could not get a hand on one.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Matthew Wright 1 1 4 4 48 0 0
Younghoe Koo 1 1 3 3 51 0 0

 

Advantage Steelers

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

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

  1. Force touchbacks on kickoffs. Make the starting position near the 25-yard line. Matt Wright avoided Patterson. Three kickoffs returned by upbacks. The remaining three touchbacks gave the Falcons an average starting position just behind the 25.   Mission Accomplished.
  2. Contain mobility of Marcus Mariota. Mariota averaged over 35 rushing yards per game coming into this contest. Mariota gained 17 rushing yards on three carries. Mission Accomplished.
  3. Steelers RBs combine for 125 or more rushing yards. Today, the running backs gained 119 rush yards on 25 carries. But 84% of the runs were successful, including nine for first downs. Mission Accomplished.
  4. Reduce the number of third and seven or more downs for offense. Six of 12 Pittsburgh third downs were seven longs or longer. The first converted. The rest ended the drives with either field goals or a punt. Mission Failure.
  5. Score a double-explosive touchdown (40 or more yards). Kenny Pickett completed a pass to Pat Freiermuth for 57 yards that reached the 12 yard line. The Steelers scored their only touchdown to complete the drive. Mission Failure.

The Steelers accomplished three of the five keys to victory. But came close on one.

YOUR HOT TAKES DURING THE GAME

Thank you, Josh Carney, for keeping us posted on the game’s first and second half Live Update and Discussion Threads. Steelers Depot respondents contributed  812 first half comments.  Respondents added  944 more second half comments.  Here are the “best comments” of the game. I don’t know the algorithm used by Disqus but here is how they stacked it up:

The best first half comment address Diontae Johnson. Bobby Orehoski noted, “Just when you think Dionte is turning a corner. He’s the most frustrating player. That’s easily a first down probably 20 yard gain. Again, shows why he is nowhere near a WR1.” In another popular comment, Definitely Not Udyr added to the theme. “I’ve been a supporter of DJ, but these drops have become very problematic. Inexcusable.”

DirtDawg1964 drew attention to Marcus Mariota. “The only good thing about this prevent defense is Mariota.” Maybe that’s why they ran so much in the second half.

The best second half comment also addressed Diontae Johnson. Diontae apparently caught a catch and fumbled but the call was overturned. Prior to the ruling, Hmmmm exclaimed, “11 career fumbles.. Wow that is a lot..”  Diontae does have 10 career fumbles out of 357 touches and returns. Five occurred during his rookie season.

The_Standard loved Benny Snell’s reaction after a horse collar penalty. “Gotta love Snell’s attitude. That dude never complains. Obvious Horse Collar. Just gets up and moves on.”

The Steelers scored on five drives. Then punted the last two away. After a three and out, Greg Payne noted, “Canada’s microphone must be working again.”

CONCLUSIONS

Kenny Pickett played a good game but was hurt by some drops again. Nice throw to Connor Heyward for the touchdown.  The 25 runs by the running backs including Derek Watt stood out to me. 21 of 25 were successful runs gaining 119 yards and making nine first downs. The running game helped eat clock at end of the game.

Again, the defense played a strong first half. The defense forced a punt to open the third quarter but then Atlanta ran the ball down their throats. Last week, I guessed that T.J. Watt was not close to 100%. It was very apparent in this game. He had to leave late in the game with the outcome still in doubt. Although they gave up ten second half points, Atlanta ran the ball a lot eating up a lot of time. Minkah preserved the victory with his interception.

Great strategy installed to keep the kickoffs away from Cordarrelle Patterson. Nice job Danny Smith. Wright has earned his keep. All of his field goals were needed for this win. Steven Sims may be spooked on his returns. The muff on the first punt concerning.

Baltimore up next. They may not have Lamar Jackson. But we must monitor T.J. Watt’s status. Both are key components to their respective team’s fortunes. Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. The Steelers took care of the Colts and now the Falcons on the road. Call me lazy but going with the same songs from last week. First Canned Heat and On the Road Again. And here is Willie Nelson and his On the Road Again.

“Never a doubt. We had ‘em all the way.”

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