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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Believing In The Black And Gold

GAME PRELUDE

Happy New Year everyone! It is 2023 and there are still two games to play in the 2022 NFL regular season.

The Steelers knew at kickoff whether their playoff potential remained viable. Seattle beating the Jets would help. But Bill Belichick and the Patriots had to beat the Miami Dolphins.

And the answer is … Jets and Dolphins lose. Time for the Steelers’ young players to put their big-boy pants on.

STEELERS OFFENSE

The Steelers ran strong but were limited to field goals until the end of the game. Kenny Pickett leads a second consecutive game-winning drive.

Opening Offensive Drive Scores Three

The Steelers start at the 25 after the opening kickoff. They march to the two-yard line, running on nine of 15 plays. After Pat Freiermuth gained six yards on second and seven, Derek Watt crashes the middle for a first down. Then, Najee Harris runs six yards to set up second and four. Jaylen Warren enters the game and Kenny Pickett throws to him on third and two for 10 yards. The Ravens stopped Warren for just one yard. But Pittsburgh goes right back to him. Jaylen Warren runs 31 yards around the left end. Gunner Olszewski threw a great block knocking a couple of Ravens out to spring Warren. Now at 13, Najee runs twice for nine yards. Kenny sneaks it over for the first. Najee reaches the two-yard line on second down. But Kenny throws incomplete to George Pickens on third down. Boswell put Pittsburgh up 3-0.

Offense Punts then Boz Misses

Ravens tied it and Pittsburgh starts at 25 again. Najee runs twice for 14 yards. Then on first down, Pickett trips and stays down for an uncontested sack. Pickett throws to Diontae for 14. Then hits George Pickens deep for a big first down. But Pickens stepped out of bounds as he adjusted to catch the pass. Pittsburgh punts.

Pittsburgh starts the last drive of the half at 26 after a holding penalty on the fair catch. Najee gains five. Then Gunner to the left end for six and a first down. Warren runs twice for 11 yards. On third and five, Pickett to Freiermuth for first down at the 37. Najee runs twice to set up third and three. But Freiermuth can’t catch the pass with a Raven draped over him. Boswell hits the right goalpost from 48 yards out. It is still 3-3.

Offense Keep Pace with Field Goals

Baltimore extends their lead to 13-3 to open the second half. Najee runs a strong 15 yards on second and 10. But then trapped for a seven-yard loss. On the third and 14, Baltimore fans were very loud. Pickett throws to George Pickens who makes a ridiculous catch. The first down at midfield quieted the crowd. Warren catches a check-down pass for a first down. But on third down, Diontae couldn’t come down with the pass. Boswell kicks a 51-yard field goal that faces but is good. 13-6.

Another special team penalty has the Steelers starting at their five. Najee runs twice for a first down getting Pittsburgh out of the hole. Then Najee opens the fourth quarter with a 15-yard run to the 30. Then Pickett evades pressure and connects with Pickens for 15. Warren spells Najee and runs twice for 13 yards. Baltimore deflects a pass and almost intercepts. Najee back on the field runs for six. On third and four, Pickett connects with Diontae who shakes a tackler gaining 21 yards to the 15. But two runs go nowhere. On third down, Pickett threw to no one. Boswell makes it 13-9.

Pickett on the Game Winning Drive

The Steelers’ sixth drive starts with two Warren runs for a first. Then Pickett throws deep to Diontae who can’t come up with the catch. It would have been amazing. Then Kenny was sacked for an eight-yard loss. Pittsburgh punts for the second time in the game.

Defense forces a three and out. Pittsburgh gets the ball their own 20 after a touchback. With 4:16 left to play, Najee starts with seven-yard run. On third and one, Pickett sneaks for the first. Pickett to Freiermuth for 20 yards right at midfield. The offensive line gave Pickett time to throw. Then Pickett threads the needle with a deep bullet to Steven Sims for 28 yards at the two-minute warning.

The Steelers are at the Baltimore 22-yard line. A touchdown is needed so it is four-down territory. Pickett throws again to Sims for four yards. Najee runs five yards a yard short of the sticks. Harbaugh takes a second timeout. Their big boys are in. Pickett sneaks but is stopped at the line of scrimmage. Najee races up and shoves Pickett from behind to the left for the first down. Pickett throws incomplete into the endzone stopping the clock. On second down, Najee runs for two to start the clock again. Baltimore takes their final timeout. On third and eight, Pickett scrambles. Najee heads for endzone. Touchdown! Pittsburgh was up 16-13 with 56 seconds to play.

 

STEELERS DEFENSE

The Steelers’ defense stepped up when needed. Kept cool after NFL officials give Baltimore our points. Forced three second-half punts and a game-ending takeaway.

Defense Hold Baltimore to Ten First Half Points

The Pittsburgh defense comes onto the field with 6:56 to play in the first quarter. Steelers up 3-0. Predictably, Dobbins runs on first down. Making his first start, linebacker Mark Robinson stops him after three yards. With the Steelers stacking the line, Baltimore threw. Tyler Huntley connects with tight end Mark Andrews for seven. T.J. Watt and Robinson stop Dobbins for no gain. But Huntley scrambles for the first down. Robert Spillane stops Dobbins for no gain. Huntley scrambles again but Spillane limits him to four yards. On third and six, Terrell Edmunds tackles Andrews near the sticks. The camera shows his knee down short of the sticks. Harbaugh challenged the spot, and the referee reversed his call giving the Ravens a first down.

An incomplete pass that Cam Sutton almost intercepted set up third and eight at the Pittsburgh 41. James Pierre leaves the game with an injury. Huntley connects with Demarcus Robinson for the first time. Dobbins finally penetrates the defense with a 15-yard run to the 17. The second quarter begins with Baltimore at the 13 on second and six. Alex Highsmith and Spillane stop speedster Andy Isabella for just one yard on an end run. Huntley throws incomplete and Baltimore settles for a field goal to tie the game 3-3.

Defense Force Another Field Goal but NFL Intercedes

A Harvin punt downed at Raven six. Watt and Robinson stop Gus Edward for no gain. But Huntley finds Desean Jackson for nine yards. But on third and one, Cam Heyward and Highsmith stop Edwards for no gain. Baltimore must punt.

The Ravens got the ball back at their own 38 after Boswell missed a field goal. Becomes first and 15 after a false start. But Dobbins ran for 17 yards. Dobbins runs twice for nine yards. He gets hit in the backfield, and starts to fall but still gains yardage. The two-minute warning finds Ravens at Pittsburgh 41 on third and one. Huntley keeps for the first. Dobbins runs for 12. On second and eight, Huntley completes a pass to Andrews. On first down, Spillane tackles Huntley at the 16-yard line for no gain. Baltimore timeout. Huntley throws a pass behind the line of scrimmage. Spillane tackles the receiver for a six-yard loss. Baltimore timeout with 22 seconds left. Arthur Maulet tackles Dobbins after a seven-yard gain.

In the pile, tackle Ronnie Stanley pulls Cam Heyward into the pile as Heyward holds his arms out. Goodell’s striped flying monkey flags Heyward for unnecessary roughness. So instead of Baltimore kicking a field goal, Huntley throws a touchdown pass on the very next play.

The first half ends with Baltimore ahead 10-3 instead of 6-3.

Defense Let Ravens Score to Open Second Half

Baltimore starts at the 25 after the second-half kickoff. The Ravens changeup and throw on first down. Andrews gains 14. DeMarvin Leal stops Dobbins for two. But it should have been a loss. Spillane catches Huntley for one yard gain. On third and seven, Huntley connects with Andrews again. This time for 18 yards. Worse, Minkah Fitzpatrick hurt trying to dislodge the ball. Damontae Kazee replaces him. But Minkah returns later. Now at 40, Tyler Linderbaum false starts. Larry Ogunjobi and Montravius Adams stop Dobbins for no gain. Baltimore finally called for holding after tackling defenders all game. Pushes the ball back into Baltimore territory. But Huntley finds Andrews who gains 16 yards. Huntley gains three more. So instead of punting Tucker kicks a 51-yard field goal to take a two-score lead. It’s 13-3.

Defense Clamps Down Forcing Three Punts and a Takeaway

The Steelers pulled within 13-6. Dobbins runs 22 yards to the 47 on the first play and is already Baltimore closing in on Tucker’s range. T.J. Watt sacks Huntley to make it third and 18 at the 39. Huntley passes over the middle. But Fitzpatrick and Kazee were there to stop the receiver at the 50. Baltimore punts.

Pittsburgh creeping back into the game. It’s 13-9. But Justice Hill has a 56-yard kickoff return. I swear I saw a block in the back right where he received the kick. But Baltimore has the ball at Pittsburgh 40. Definitely within Tucker’s range. Watt and Heyward stopped Dobbins for a two-yard loss. Huntley throws two incompletions. Terrell Edmunds is in coverage on third down. Baltimore punts rather than attempt a 60-yard field goal.

The Ravens started at 36 after a 51-yard Harvin punt. Plenty of time with 6:32 to play. Huntley throws for four yards on the first down. Dobbins gained four more on second down. On third and two, Heyward and Robinson combine to stop Dobbins for no gain. With a four-point lead, Baltimore punts with 4:25 to play.

Pittsburgh pulls ahead 16-13. The Ravens were forced to pass since just 56 seconds remained and they had no timeouts. Linderbaum caught holding setting up second and 20 with 45 seconds to play. Huntley to Andrews for 18 yards but Wallace and Minkah were there to tackle him. Back to Andrews for five and Minkah on the tackle. Huntley spikes the ball with 20 seconds left at the Baltimore 38. Huntley passes across to the 40. But Minkah intercepts.

Game over except for Kenny Pickett kneeling in the victory formation for the final 13 seconds. Great effort.

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 with three touchbacks. The first kickoff returned 27 yards with Conor Heyward and James Pierre tackling Justice Hill at the 27. After Pittsburgh pulled within 13-9, Boswell kicked short, and Justice Hill returned the ball 56 yards. Already missing Marcus Allen hurt last week, James Pierre left this game early with a concussion. Fortunately, the defense forced a Baltimore punt but allowing that big second-half return could have been disastrous.

Justin Tucker kicked off four times. All four were well into the endzone with three touchbacks. Steven Sims returned his third from five yards deep at the end of the first half. He gained 29 yards to the 24-yard line with just seconds on the clock.

THE STATS

Kickoffs KOs RTN TB OB IN25 Pen Start Avg
Chris Boswell 5 2 3 0 0 0 BAL 32.4
Justin Tucker 3 4 3 0 0 0 PGH 25

 

Kickoff Returns KR Yds AVG Long Pen TD
Steven Sims 1 29 29.0 29 0 0
Justice Hill 2 83 41.5 56 0 0

 

Advantage Ravens.

PUNTING

Pressley Harvin punted twice. Miles Boykin downed the first 48-yard punt at the six-yard line. Harvin punted a 51-yarder from his own 15. Boykin was there to force the returner out of bounds after just a two-yard return. Good night for Harvin

Jordan Stout punted four times, three in the fourth quarter. Steven Sims fair caught the first three. But Minkah Fitzpatrick held the Baltimore gunner on the first. So instead of the ball on the 36, Pittsburgh started at the 26. Worse, Elijah Riley caught holding on a fair catch at the 10. That pushed the ball back to the five-yard line. Luckily, the offense drove the ball down the field. Sims fair caught the third short 34-yard punt at the eight yard-line. The last punt went into the endzone for a touchback. Pittsburgh must clean up those penalties. Riley and Fitzpatrick were likely in due to injuries and to prevent fakes but can’t have those flags.

THE STATS

Punting Punts AVG Net TB OB/D IN20 Pen Long
Pressley Harvin 2 49.5 48.5 0 1 1 0 51
Jordan Stout 4 44.8 39.8 1 0 2 0 56

 

Punt Returns PR Yds AVG FC Pen Long TD
Stephen Sims 0 0 0.0 3 2 0 0
James Proche 1 2 2.0 0 0 2 0

 

Advantage Ravens

FIELD GOALS and EXTRA POINTS

Boswell three for four on field goal attempts. The 48-yarder he missed led to Baltimore scoring a touchdown to end the first half. He did make a 51-yarder, but the ball faded toward the end. Is he 100% healthy?

Justin Tucker made all his scoring kicks.  His 51-yarder easily through the uprights.

THE STATS

FGs and PATs XPM XPA FGM FGA Long 2PTM 2PTA
Chris Boswell 1 1 3 4 51 0 0
Justin Tucker 1 1 2 2 51 0 0

 

Advantage Ravens

DAVE BRYAN’S VICTORY PUNCH LIST

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

  1. Keep Ravens under 100 rushing yards. The Ravens gained 120 yards on the ground. Mission Failure.
  2. The Steelers must run better than last time. Pittsburgh gained 198 rushing yards. That’s more than three times the yardage from the previous matchup. Mission Accomplished.
  3. Target Brandon Stephens in the passing game. Pickett completed eight of 10 passes thrown with Stephens in coverage for 79 yards. Mission Accomplished.
  4. Limited Mark Andrews to less than 63 receiving yards and no TDs. Andrews did not score but gained 100 yards. Mission Failure.
  5. Boswell must be perfect. Chris Boswell doinked another off the goalpost. Mission Failure.

The Steelers accomplished only two of the five keys to victory. But the Steelers trebled their running attack and Kenny Pickett’s coolness on last drive the differentiators.

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  1253 first-half comments.  Respondents added  1595 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 10-3 score at the end of the half seemed insurmountable. Frustration dominated. DirtDawg1964 focused on why the Steelers did not exploit a weak-link in Ravens defense. “Not once in that drive did we attack the CB with zero snaps this year. It’s just more of the same. We plod along, dinking and dunking, needing above the line plays to convert, and all of that for zero points. Tomlin absolutely lives in his fears. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Go for it! This Ravens team isn’t scoring a lot tonight. Press them!”

But DirtDawg1964 liked what Kenny Pickett displayed: “And again, when people ask what does KP do well? That! Nice arm on the move.”

FranchisePunter also appreciated the play of young linebacker Mark Robinson. “Love the way Robinson plays the run…..see ball, hit ball”

Danny Porter detected weak officiating. “Refs missed at least 4 holding calls on the Rats.” And this was before officials penalized Cam Heyward.

On to the second half

Depot readers continued to comment on the officiating in the second half. WeWantDaTruth: “Ravens OL is phenomenal….not a single holding penalty with all those rushing attempts. Very disciplined and well coached. (sarcasm)” I agreed with him noting, “They lead both defenses in tackles too.”

We really don’t like this nebulous giving yourself up call. JustSayin “That was a live fumble no whistle no touch no surrender no retreat. The refs really tried to steal the game.” Mwahahaaa tried to explain, “He did, he started walking back towards the huddle.” But Hmmmm not buying it. “That is bs. He stood up and Minkah came in.. Andrews didn’t walk anywhere. That rule shouldn’t even be allowed.. No whistle means no dead ball.” Frankly, go to the ground if you are giving yourself up.

Many folks agreed with Triple Lindy on the performance by Najee Harris. “NAJEE WAS AN ABSOLUTE BEAST TONIGHT!!!!!!! Good for him! And good for us!”

Kingribel called out Kenny Pickett detractors. “Kenny f’n Pickett just won on the road in Baltimore with a game winning TD drive. Sorry haters you can’t teach what he’s done last 2 weeks to close out these games.” Mark Fisher added, “He has IT. You can see it. He has what you can’t teach.”

 

CONCLUSIONS

Kenny Pickett is a gamer. Two fourth quarter game-winning drives in a row. With any playoff hopes riding on the outcome. If you aren’t a believer by now, not sure what it will take. Najee hungry. Dominating in his first one-hundred-yard game. A huge play was coming up to help guide Kenny Pickett to a first down after Ravens stopped him initially. George Pickens’ first down at the 50 was ridiculous.

The defense stepped up giving up nine points with four added by the NFL officiating. Several young players including Mark Robinson in his first start showed that they can perform in a high-stakes game. Cam Heyward plays with passion. Minkah shut out the lights in Baltimore.

Other than Pressley Harvin’s punting and Miles Boykin’s punt return coverage, special teams has work to do. Boswell missed another field goal. Two penalties on punts that were fair caught. Plus, that last long kickoff return.

Back to Pittsburgh to take on Cleveland. The steelers need lots of help to make playoffs. But the Steelers first priority is taking care of their own business with Cleveland. Whatever happens, I believe there is a lot to like in this young team. Here we go.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. Is there a trace of doubt in your mind? Or are you a believer? Here is I’m a Believer by the Monkees.

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