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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: A Pittsburgh Win? Yes. Playoffs? No.

GAME PRELUDE

The Pittsburgh Steelers must beat Cleveland to make the playoffs. But they require help from Buffalo and the New York Jets. Ideally, Buffalo beats New England. And Joe Flacco leads the Jets to beat the Miami Dolphins. All three games were scheduled at the same time. So, I’ll be keeping an eye on the scores during the game.

Drove up from Maryland for the game with my college bro Rich Frankenfield. And once again, hosted by the Edwards family at their River house.  Timmy, Mona, Rich, and I were cheering for the Steelers back in the day. The Black and Gold had a pretty good run from 1976 to 1980 when I finally graduated from Cal U. Madison Edwards is carrying on her families traditions.

Also got to meet Steelers Depot contributor AJ Alany. He contributes the Depot Stat Pack articles and traveled from his studies at Berkley to attend his first Steelers game. The Steelers attracting younger fans from around the country indicates the fan base is healthy. Here we go.

STEELERS OFFENSE

The Steelers fumbled the ball away at the goal line on the opening drive. But closed out the first half with ten points. The Steelers scored on three of four second half drives to win 28-14.

Najee Scored the First Time

The Steelers marched right down the field. Diontae Johnson caught a 32-yard pass and tackled at the two-yard line. That close to breaking his touchdown drought. Najee Harris stopped once. Kenny Pickett stopped on a sneak. Back to Najee who fumbled the ball away. But the video evidence that Najee scored the first time.

Mike Tomlin kept the challenge flag in his pocket. A serious gaffe due to the results.

Key Third Down Conversion Leads to Touchdown

The teams exchange punts twice. Then Cleveland scored 7-0. The Steelers got the ball back with 6:27 to play in the half. On third and one at the 27, the Steelers got a key first down. Pickett avoids a sack. And Warren catches the checkdown pass and weaves through defenders for the first.

The Steelers backed up to the 31 due to a delay of game. I joked in a tweet that Mike Tomlin purposefully took the penalty to give the receivers more maneuvering room. But not calling timeout was a second gaffe. But Matt Canada dials-up a play that had George Pickens wide-open. Touchdown ties the game.

The Steelers intercepted Watson and added three more with 43 seconds to play in the half.

Steelers Settle for Three but exploit an Interception for Seven

The Steelers reached the red zone on the opening drive of the second half. But Pickett was sacked on third and nine. Pittsburgh settles for a field goal. It’s 13-7.

Damontae Kazee intercepts another Watson pass returning it to the the 25. Warren picks up another big third down to keep the offense on the field. Pickett throws incomplete to Diontae. Then Najee bursts four yards up the middle for the touchdown. The Steelers extended their lead to 20-7.

Offense Responds to Browns Score with One of their Own

Poor NFL officiating gift the Browns a touchdown. The Steelers responded with a 14-play drive lasting 10:23 of the fourth quarter. Along the way, they convert three third and longs. The first was on third and ten from their own 40. Pickett connects with Pickens.

Connor Heyward converted the other two. That enabled Derek Watt to rumble in from one.

Pickett throws to Diontae for the two-point conversion. Steelers won 28-14.

STEELERS DEFENSE

The defense gave up a first half touchdown. And the officials scored a touchdown in the second half. Two interceptions led to ten Steelers points. The game closes out with the defense dominating the Browns who are forced to a passing game.

Penalty Leads to Early Browns Score

The Browns offensive gameplan used more passing to surprise the defense stacked up to stop Nick Chubb running the ball. But The Steelers defense forced Cleveland to punt away their first three drives. On their fourth drive, the Browns had ball on third and ten at midfield. Watson threw incomplete to David Njoku with James Pierre in coverage. However, officials flagged Robert Spillane for defensive holding to extend the drive. The Browns continued on to score to take an early 7-0 lead.

Wallace Interception a Six-Point Swing

The Steelers tied it up late in the half. Kareem Hunt runs four yards with 1:42 to play. On second and six, Watson threw deep down the middle. But Levi Wallace intercepts. Instead of Cleveland reaching field goal range. The Steelers kick one of their own for a six point swing on the takeaway. Steelers led 10-7.

A Second Interception Leads to Another Score

Watson an elusive quarterback. Steelers have him. Then Watson went up the field for 21 yards. He has another big gain after being in the grasp. But review shows his elbow down and Terrell Edmunds credited with the sack. On third and 18, Watson throws, and Damontae Kazee sneaks up to intercept. The Steelers scored again to make it 20-7 late in the third quarter.

Horrid NFL Officiating

The Browns put together a strong drive to start the fourth quarter. From their own 23 they reached the 11-yard line. On second and seven, Cam Heyward sacked Watson. But an official threw a late flag. The referees flag Heyward for roughing the passer. This routine sack had Steelers fans very upset after seeing Roquan Smith slinging Kenny Pickett to the ground by his head with a hand using his facemask for leverage with no flag a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, instead of third and 15 from the 19-yard line, the Browns have first and goal. They scored to pull within 20-14.

Steelers Exploit the Lead

As the lead increased, the Steelers sacked Watson seven times. Plus intercepted him twice. Nick Chubb carried the ball just 12 times. A dominant performance

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 six times with five returns. Jerome Ford muffed the first kickoff. But picked up the ball at the eight and reached the 24-yard line. Ford returned the second kickoff from three yards deep in the end zone to the 32-yard line where Arthur Maulet and Derek Watt tackled him. Then Ford reached the 25 on a 17-yard return near end of first half. Boswell kicked short again after his second half field goal. Mark Robinson and Miles Killebrew tackled him at the 20. Boswell showed he can kick deep with a touchback on his penultimate kickoff. With 4:37 to play, Ford returned the last kickoff 31 yards. But the Browns called for offensive holding bringing the ball back to the 15. The kickoff coverage team allowed two big returns though one was negated by penalty. Still a cause for concern.

Cade York kicked off three times. All touchbacks. The Steelers trusting their coverage unit to tackle returners behind the 25 which they accomplished three times. But the Browns conservative approach kept Stephen Sims from returning any kickoffs.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Chris Boswell 6 5 1 0 3 0 CLE 23.5
Cade York 3 0 3 0 0 0 PGH 25

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Steven Sims 0 0 0.0 0 0 0
Jerome Ford 5 93 18.6 35 1 0

 

Advantage Steelers.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted three times. He averaged 48 yards a punt including one Miles Boykin downed at the six-yard line. Elijah Riley made a hard tackle limiting Jaelon Darden to just five yards on his only return.

Corey Bojorquez punted four times. He averaged slightly more than Harvin. But netted significantly less due to a touchback and Stephen Sims 12 yard return.  Sims did muff one punt but recovered the ball.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 3 48.0 46.3 0 1 1 0 57
Corey Bojorquez 4 48.5 38.5 1 0 0 0 56

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Stephen Sims 3 20 6.7 0 0 12 0
Jaelon Darden 1 5 5.0 1 0 5 0

 

Advantage Steelers

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Boswell converted all of his kicks. Two points after touchdowns. Plus 49 and 34-yard field goals. The Steelers added a two pint conversion with Pickett connecting with Diontae Johnson on the final score.

Cade York scored both his points after touchdown attempts.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Chris Boswell 2 2 2 2 49 1 1
Cade York 2 2 0 0 0 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. Hold Nick Chubb to less than 99 rushing yards. Chubb only ran 12 times for 77 yards. Mission Accomplished.
  2. Limit Myles Garrett to no sacks and just a few tackles. Garrett sacked Pickett once. Plus, seven tackles with two for a loss. Mission Failure.
  3. J. Watt multiple big plays exploiting James Hudson. Watt half sack. But allowed others to get to Watson for 6.5 sacks. Mission Accomplished.
  4. Najee and Jaylen combine for 25 rushes for 140 or more yards. They combine for 29 carries for 120 yards. Close but … Mission Failure.
  5. Kenny Pickett avoids giveaways. Pickett threw no interceptions. Mission Accomplished.

The Steelers accomplished only three of the five keys to victory. Which keys stood out?

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  1071 first half comments.  Respondents added  1230 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:

First Half Hopes Not Delivered

Alex Kozora got us started with a welcome. “Hope it’s not our last game but if it is, thanks for being here all year with us!”

BigDickSwangin added what we hope for every game. “Can we please just score 40 today… I really don’t need the drama.”

Of course, our hopes are not delivered all too often. Rob S voiced our upset when a close call that eventually went the Steelers way cost a timeout. I believe the officials restored it. “That’s a huge failure by the NFL right there making us have to take a time out when it’s so obviously should be reviewed.”

Steelers held a 10-7 lead at the half.

Pleased with Progress but No Playoffs

Steelers4Eva likes the emerging running game. “Najee was a great 1st pick! He’s our offense.”

Folks hitting BigDickSwangin with a lot of likes this game. He highlighted the underappreciated offensive line. “O’line deserves a bunch of credit…head and shoulders over where they were last year and the start of the season.”

Chris92021 identified a lesson learned. Must win some of those early games to avoid dependence on others. “We have no one to blame but ourselves for this. Relying on Flacco to get a win for you is like asking a crackhead to guard your new TV.”

BigDickSwangin finished strong. “It was great spending the season with you guys, see you next year, and fire Canada!”

I hope you all enjoyed the Steelers Depot Live Update and Discussion threads this year.

CONCLUSIONS

Football season is over. The Steelers made a remarkable comeback to finish 9-8 after a 2-6 start. But any season the Steelers do not reach the playoffs is unsuccessful. The standard is the standard.

NFL officiating is horrid. Both teams suffered from terrible calls or misses like the facemask on Watson. Frankly, I think the NFL is emphasizing too much entertainment and not enough football.

That said, I like the trajectory of the offense. They underperformed as a whole. Just 12 passing touchdowns. But very successful in key situations at end of season Kenny Pickett leading four game winning drives. The offensive line stayed healthy and improved as the season wore on. Najee Harris ran very strong and there was an added one, two punch with Jaylen Warren. The receiving corps has an emerging star in George Pickens. Diontae Johnson did not score any touchdowns but got separation. And then there is Pat Freiermuth. Most of the offense on contract for 2023. What pieces can be added to improve it?

The defense held opposing teams to 20 or less points 12 times this season. Including the last seven games. T.J. Watt looks recovered and disruptive after an injury. Cam Heyward a phoenix rising. The team led by Minkah Fitzpatrick tied for the most interceptions in the NFL. The question is how much of this unit will be retained for 2023.

The playoffs don’t have much to interest me without Pittsburgh in them. But the offseason such as free agency and the draft does. Who among the 19 unrestricted free agents will stay with the Steelers? Who will the Steelers draft. I’m done with 2022. On to 2023. Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. We can’t always get what we want. That’s a Super Bowl win. But we can always try. And we’ll get what we need. That’s Pittsburgh Steelers football. Here is You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones.

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