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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Pittsburgh Reverses Run Roles

GAME PRELUDE

The Steelers face another strong running attack. The Carolina Panthers gained 223 rushing yards last week against Seattle. In Pittsburgh, Mike Tomlin announced Mitch Trubisky as the starting quarterback before the team flew to Charlotte. Tomlin conducted a competition between Trubisky and Mason Rudolph. With Kenny Pickett out Rudolph will be active for the first time this season. The Steelers cannot afford to turn the ball over like last week.

Myles Jack ailing. Maybe raw talent Mark Robinson will see his first defensive snaps of the season. The Steelers defense cannot allow the Panthers to run over them.

A number of my friends attended the game. Shout out to Steeler Matt from Charlotte with his sister. Plus, Ted Webb and Marc Mosley who I chat with every Monday night on our Steelers Town Hall. This snap taken by Matt from inside the stadium showed Pittsburgh well represented by Steelers fans:

 

STEELERS OFFENSE

The Steelers offense scored touchdowns on first two possessions. They finish the day three for three in red zone opportunities.

Offense Scores Touchdowns on First Two Drives

Pittsburgh started their first possession from the 33-yard line after Carolina punted away their opening drive. Najee Harris ran twice for four yards. Mike Tomlin called a timeout very early before a third and six play. Mitch Trubisky throws a pass to Diontae Johnson who gains eight to get the first down. Najee gains ten on second and seven slanting to the end. Another second and seven, Najee runs by left tackle for eight. Dan Moore and Kevin Dotson create space for the running backs. Trubisky keeps third and one and reaches the redzone at the 18-yard line. Then he throws to Jaylen Warren who gains 11. Trent Scott enters the game as an extra tackle. Najee runs left, stiff arms one defender and brushes by a second for a touchdown. Pressley Harvin had to snag a high snap and quickly set it down for the PAT.

Carolina ties it up 7-7 on their next possession. From the 25, Trubisky starts out with a four yard pass to Zach Gentry. Najee gains five. Then Trubisky gains four on a quarterback sneak with Freiermuth pushing from behind. Najee rips off a seven yard run. Kevin Dotson false starts on third and four. But a Carolina neutral zone infraction regains the lost yardage. Trubisky targets George Pickens who makes another sideline grab for 38 yards. Steelers back in redzone at the 18.

Warren runs for nine on first down. Then two more for the first down. It’s all Jaylen who runs for five off left tackle to the two-yard line. Then right back to Warren but right tackle this time for the touchdown. The offense scored touchdowns on first two drives and are ahead 14-7. The two drives consumed nearly 13 minutes off the clock.

Next Two Drives End with Punts

The Steelers got the ball at their 30 with 6:20 to play in half. Carolina stuffs Najee on first down. Trubisky hits Diontae for four. But cannot connect with George Pickens on third down. Steelers punt.

The Steelers got the ball back with 3:36 to play after defense forces Carolina three and out. Again, Najee stuffed on first down. But Trubisky connects with Pickett for 15 on second and nine. Before the two minute warning, they tried Steven Sims on wide receiver run that lost three yards. Trubisky goes right back to Sims in the air for ten yards. Trubisky throws to Sims again on third down, but it is incomplete. Harvin punts with 1:27 to play. Pittsburgh runs one more play after Panthers fourth punt of the half. Score remains 14-7.

Offense Opens Second Half with 21-Play Scoring Drive

Sims takes the second half kickoff 29 yards to the 30-yard line. But flags are all over the place. Benny Snell caught holding. Carolina declines that but accepts the penalty against Miles Killebrew for a blindside block. The ball goes back to the nine-yard line. Trubisky throws to Diontae on first down for seven yards. Najee only gains one on second down. But then he goes up the middle for the first down. Carolina stuffs Najee on first down. On third and ten from the 19, Pittsburgh picks up a clutch first down on a Trubisky to Diontae reception for 12 yards. Pittsburgh tries running Jaylen Warren on first down. Same result, he’s stuffed for no gain. They go back to Najee who runs nine off left guard. Then Sims turns the corner on third and one going 22 yards. Who says they don’t like wide receiver runs?

Now in Carolina territory, Trubisky hits Diontae for 18 yards and a Pittsburgh Steelers first down. Pittsburgh in the redzone for the third time. On third and six, Diontae catches an eight yard pass for a first down and goal at the seven.

Taunting Penalty and Not for the Last time Today

But no. Diontae taunts the defender drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. It’s still a first down but the ball is at the 22. Mike Tomlin has a long chat with Diontae on the sideline as he misses a play. But on second and ten, Diontae is back in game and catches a nine yard pass to set up third and one. Derek Watt goes up the middle for the first down. Najee goes nine yards to the two – I thought he was closer to the goal line. Trubisky sneaks and scores. But no. The officials say he did not make it in. No challenge. Trubisky keeps it again this time there is no question. Touchdown and it is 21-7. A 21 play drive to open the half that chewed up 12:54 off the clock. Wow.

Fourth Quarter Field Goal

Carolina scored three early in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh goes three and out at an inopportune time. Trubisky was sacked on third and six play. Harvin punts 54 yards from the 19 to Carolina 27. Carolina pulls within eight. 21-13.

With 6:15 to play. Pittsburgh at their 25 with Trent Scott in as eligible tackle. Have not seen the extra tackle in that much recently. Harris stuffed and then Trubisky throws incomplete. It’s third and nine. Then Pickens false starts making it third and 14. Can’t afford to give the ball back to Carolina. Trubisky throws short to Diontae who comes up with yards after the catch. Huge play.

Now Najee gains six. But loses two on next play. Third and six. Diontae comes up big again. This time a nine-yard reception. Warren runs for four and Carolina takes their first timeout with 3:01 to play. Warrens runs five yards. Carolina takes second time out with 2:55 to play. Trubisky up the middle for the first down. Warren gains one before the two-minute warning. Najee runs three and Carolina uses their last time out with 1:55 to play. On third and six, Najee runs again to eat clock. The ball is at the 32-yard line. Chris Boswell calmly drills a 50-yard field goal to create a two score game 24-13.

Carolina gets another field goal but cannot convert the onsides kick. The ball was recovered by George Pickett and the game is over except for one kneel down in the victory formation.

STEELERS DEFENSE

The Steelers defense destroyed the Carolina running attack limiting them to 21 yards on the ground. Bent a bit in the first half giving up two first downs on third and very long. But in fourth quarter limited Carolina to two field goals inside the redzone.

Defense Stops the Run, But Carolina Scores

Larry Ogunjobi set the tone on the first play of the game. He tackled D’Onta Foreman for a loss. Sam Darnold connected with Cuba Hubbard, but he is stopped two yards short of the sticks. Three and out to start the game.

Pittsburgh takes a 7-0 lead. A holding call on the kickoff return starts Carolina at their own 15. Carolina passes on first down. Terrace Marshall gains 13 as Levi Wallace pushes him out of bounds at the 28. Foreman runs again and Ogunjobi stuffs him for another loss. Foreman runs again and this time Devin Bush stops him for no gain setting up third and 11. Pittsburgh set up to stop the run but now Carolina goes to the air. Darnold to DJ Moore for 15 on first down.

An ineligible player downfield creates second and 13. Darnold throws it away under pressure. On third and 13, Darnold buying time under pressure again. James Pierre looks in releasing Terrace Marshall who makes a 40-yard reception. Suddenly it’s first and goal at the seven. Isaiahh Loudermilk stops Foreman for a loss. Hubbard gains three but its third and five. Darnold scrambling to his right. Gets the pass off and Moore makes a fantastic catch despite tight coverage. Tie ball game.

Defense Forces Three Consecutive Three and Outs

Pittsburgh responds with another touchdown to break the tie. Darnold back to pass on first down. Scrambles for three with Robert Spillane bringing him down. Foreman up the middle for four. Their longest run up to this point. Carolina false starts on third and three. I hear visiting Steelers fans are making plenty of noise. Darnold targets Laviska Shenault but passes incomplete. Carolina Punt.

Carolina gets ball back at 27 with 4:42 left in the half. Darnold throws to incompletions. On third and ten, T.J. Watt sacks Darnold. It looks like he used a James Harrison tactic. Using his inside arm to hook the linemen as he leverages around him to the quarterback. Carolina punt.

Harvin exchanges punts with Johnny Hekker. Carolina at the 20 with 1:27 to go. Spillane tackles Hubbard after a short pass. It’s third and two. Darnold throws for Shi Smith with Minkah Fitzpatrick in coverage. Another incompletion. Carolina punt.

Carolina finishes the half with 104 total yards. Just 14 rushing. The Steelers defense clamped down.

Three Second Half Field Goals

Carolina does not get the ball until just 3:17 left to play in third quarter. Down 21-7, Steelers forced Sam Darnold to try to win the game through the air. Darnold throws a screen to Marshall on first down. Spillane tackles him for two yard loss. Darnold throws it to Hubbard. Spillane dives but misses the tackle and Hubbard has open ground gaining 45 yards. Carolina at 32. On second and nine, hometown boy Alex Highsmith sacks Darnold at 39. On third and 17, Darnold drops back. Cam Heyward shrugs off a lineman and sacks Darnold at the 49. Well out of field goal range, it should be fourth and 23 to start the fourth quarter.

Another Unsportsmanlike Penalty

When we got back from the commercial break, it was suddenly Carolina with the ball at the Pittsburgh 34 with a first down. Marcus Allen channeled the Bungles and for reasons unknown decides to approach Carolina players during the television timeout and start barking at them. Unquestionably a taunting penalty that provides Carolina momentum when they were back on their heels. Two straight sacks just wasted.

Foreman runs for five. Darnold hits Tommy Treble for 17 to the 12-yard line. Terrell Edmunds tackles Hubbard after a two yard gain. On third and eight, Darnold tries to run a quarterback draw. But Edmunds and Heyward are there to drop him for a one yard loss. Allen’s bonehead play only cost three points but Carolina has newfound confidence with the score now 21-10.

Carolina forces a Pittsburgh three and out and get the ball at their 27 with 10:21 to play. Watt sacks Darnold on first down. But officials say he was offside. He did step in neutral zone, but I thought he stepped back before center snapped ball. Darnold hits Moore for 13 to the 45. From no huddle, Darnold passes deep to Shi Smith for 24 more yards. Darnold throws to Marshall near the goal line. Sutton breaks up pass. But officials call him for defensive pass interference. Ticky-tacky call in my opinion.

Brilliant Stand at the Four-Yard Line

Regardless of my expertise, it is first and goal at the four. Carolina brings in two big guys as additional linemen. Cade Mays and Cameron Irving add 640 pounds to an already stout line. But Ogunjobi tackles Foreman at the two. Foreman runs up the middle. Highsmith meets him a yard behind the line of scrimmage and forces a fumble. Carolina recovers at the four. Darnold drops back on third down. But Heyward and Watt combine to sack him on the 14. Carolina forced to kick another redzone field goal. Now it is 21-13.

The offense reasserts itself and scores three for a two-score lead. Carolina returns the kickoff to the 37 with less than a minute to play. On third and seven, Darnold hit Moore for 26. But with no timeouts. Darnold spikes ball. On second down, Carolina kicks its third field goal of the half.

Down 24-16, Carolina tries the onsides kick that George Pickett recovers to end the game. The defense made a brilliant stand at the four-yard line. But never a doubt. We had ‘em all the way.

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

Chris Boswell kicked off five times. Three kickoffs were touchbacks. Raheem Blackshear returned the second kickoff 30 yards to the 32-yard line. But a Carolina holding penalty brought the ball back to the 15. Blackshear returned the last kick 37 yards to the 37. Arthur Maulet and Connor Heyward finally tackle him. That long g return resulted in the Panthers final score.

Eddy Pineiro kicked off five times. Steven Sims returned the second kickoff 29 yards to the 30.  But Miles Killebrew threw an illegal blindside block and Benny Snell was caught holding. That gave the Steelers a starting position at the nine-yard line. Unacceptable for veteran specialists to commit penalties. Fortunately, the Steelers went on a 21-play scoring drive. So, the damage was overcome. Carolina attempted an onsides kick at the very end of the game. Diontae Johnson dove for the ball. But George Pickens ended up recovering the kick after a scramble at the Carolina 43.

I’m giving the edge to the Steelers. The Panthers had more return yardage. But the game was decided by the onside kick. That’s an area that suffers due to Collective Bargaining Agreement constraints on practices. The new rules make onsides kicks very difficult and the lack of practice time for both the kicking and receiving teams makes this more of a  scramble.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Chris Boswell 5 2 3 0 1 0 CAR 25.4
Eddy Pineiro 5 1* 3 0 1 0 PGH 28.2

*Carolina attempted an onside kick. Pgh recovered at Carolina 43

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Stephen Sims 1 17 17 17 1 0
Raheem Blackshear 2 60 30.0 37 1 0

 

Advantage Steelers.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted three times. Shi Smith fair-caught his first 38 yard effort at the 27-yard line. James Pierre almost kept his second 44 yard punt in bounds, but his foot just touched the goal line making it a touchback. Harvin kicked a long 54-yard punt out of bounds at the Carolina 27 in the fourth quarter.

Johnny Hekker punted four times, all in the first half.  Steven Sims tried to return the first but only got five yards. He’s having a difficult time making the first man miss. Hekker punted twice more giving Pittsburgh starting positions at the 30 and 33. Hekker’s final punt went 63 yards before being downed at the nine. Sims decided not to fair catch the last one. But there was little time left in the half.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 3 45.3 38.7 1 1 0 0 54
Johnny Hekker 4 48.5 47.3 0 2 1 0 63

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Stephen Sims 1 5 5.0 1 0 5 0
Shi Smith 0 0 0.0 1 0 0 0

 

Advantage Panthers

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Boswell made three PAT’s. Then hit a 50-yard fourth quarter field goal to put the Steelers up by two scores late in the game.

Eddy Pineiro made a PAT and three field goals. His accuracy including a 52-yarder with 45 seconds in the game kept Carolina in the game until the final onsides kick.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Chris Boswell 3 3 1 1 50 0 0
Eddy Pineiro 1 1 3 3 52 0 0

 

Advantage Panthers

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

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

  1. Stop the Panthers running attack. The Steelers defense held Carolina to 21 rushing yards. Their lowest output this season. Mission Accomplished.
  2. Force Panthers into third and six and hold. Eight of 11 Panther third downs required six or more yards for first down. The Panthers punted after three and would have for a fourth except Marcus Allen penalty after the play gave Carolina a first down. 50% conversion on third and long. Mission Failure.
  3. Limit Brian Burns pass rush. Brian Burns made three tackles including one for a loss. But he did not hit the quarterback and had zero sacks. Great job by offensive line. Mission Accomplished.
  4. Run successfully up the middle. Pittsburgh ran between the guards 21 times out of 45 total running plays. They successfully ran 13 times for a 61.9% success rate including six first downs and a touchdown. Mission Accomplished.
  5. Hold D.J. Moore and Laviska Shenault to no more than 31 receiving yards. Laviska Shenault failed to record a catch. However, Moore caught five for 73 yards and a touchdown. Mission Failure.

The Steelers accomplished three of the five keys to victory. Holding  Carolina to 21 rushing yards while Pittsburgh gained 156 on the ground a huge factor. An early lead contributed to this success.

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  921 first half comments.  Respondents added  922 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:

Alex Kozora greeted us all onto the live thread prior to kickoff. “Thanks for being here guys! Enjoy the game.”

Carolina converted a couple third and longs early in the game. DirtDawg1964 credited with the best comment of the half, “You know you’re a bad D when the announcer says, ‘Sam Darnold has had a tremendous start to this game.’”

Mitch Trubisky threw a couple passes that looked shaky. Hmmmm observed, “Mitch stares every wr down….” Luckily, Carolina failed to pick off any of his passes.

Monkey’s Uncle had the best comment of the game. His reaction to Marcus Allen taunting the Panthers and erasing the third and 23 following Cam Heyward’s sack got a lot of replies. “I’ve never wanted to blame such a shift in momentum on one guy before, but none of this should have happened if Allen had half a brain.”

But our favorite primate wasn’t done. Multiple folks liked or replied to his comments such as “Steelers: we don’t do easy.” And “Trubisky with more QB sneaks today than Ben had his whole career.” Or “You can make an argument that as great as Heyward is, he’s still one of the most underappreciated Steelers of recent memory. He’s getting better with age too.” Monkey’s Uncle got the second half discussion rolling today.

DirtDawg1964 liked some sideline coaching he saw. “Give Tomlin credit. After the taunting he was right in DJ’s grill. Talked to him for quite some time. Easy moment for DJ to start pouting and shrinking. He’s done it before. But he has kept his head in the game and is coming up big.”

Finally, Dee Evolution gave Steelers Nation a shout out. “So proud to be among the thousands… AAAAAAAND THOUSANDS of yinzers taking over Bank of America stadium.”

Great job on the live thread folks!

CONCLUSIONS

The Pittsburgh Steelers came to Carolina to play. The defense shut down the panthers running attack for a season low 21 yards. Plus, the defense stood up at crucial times to force field goals rather than touchdowns. Pittsburgh was three for three in the red zone. The Panthers scored all three times they made it to the red zone but kicked field goals twice. The defensive stand when it was first and the goal at the four very strong. Watt, Heyward, Highsmith all made good plays. But Larry Ogunjobi set the tone early by stuffing the run.

The offense scoring on its first two drives helped discombobulate the Panthers game plan. Once Carolina started playing from behind, the defenders could start teeing off on Sam Darnold. The one, two run punch of Najee and Jaylen nice to see. Mitch Trubisky protected the ball. Pickens is a great weapon. But Diontae Johnson catching all ten passes to him very big. The offensive line opened some nice running lanes and protected Trubisky on passing plays.

The two taunting calls, especially by Marcus Allen, must stop. I thought I was watching the Cincinnati Bengals give away a game like several times in the recent past.

Next up, is the 50th anniversary plus one day of the Immaculate Reception. Looking forward to attending that game Christmas Eve. But the Raiders had a big win and will be coming in hot. Steelers need to cool them off next week. Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. The Steelers shut down the Panthers running attack. And Pittsburgh added 45 runs for 156 yards themselves. Here is Runaway Baby by Bruno Mars

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