The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to step up big when it mattered most, with a final offensive drive led by quarterback Kenny Pickett ending in a red zone touchdown in two consecutive weeks, along with winning the battle of the running game 198-120, and a strong showing from the offensive line overall. The defense came up big, getting stops and the games only takeaway with a particularly strong second half to put the game away, eking out the victory in typical Steelers-Ravens fashion in the huge 16-13 win to keep the season alive. 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 is deservingly Pickett (92.4), who accomplished this for the second week in a row and went 15/27 (55.6%) for 168 yards, a stellar touchdown pass to running back Najee Harris with great placement over the defender, along with several other high-quality throws and limiting negative plays for the most part, while also providing three third and short quarterback sneak conversions. Guard Kevin Dotson ranked second with his 86.5 grade, playing very well in both the run and pass game and much better than he did in the previous week 14 matchup (60.1). The running backs come in next, with Harris ranking third this week (83), with a decisive and skillful game as a runner with 22 attempts for 111 yards for a healthy five yards per carry, highlighted by two 15-yard chunk runs along with his receiving touchdown. Fellow running back Jaylen Warren (80.5) had 12 attempts for 76 yards on a great 6.3 average, highlighted by an explosive run of 31 yards that was the longest play of the game on a jet sweep, and also hauled in all three of his targets for 22 yards and a 7.3 average in the passing game, with one coming on a solid YAC play and gain of ten. Two other players achieved 70+ grades on offense this week: wide receiver Steven Sims (70.4) and tackle Dan Moore (70.3). Sims caught three of his four targets for 34 yards for an 11.3 average, highlighted by a great throw and catch over the middle just over the defender by Pickett for the explosive 28-yard catch on the fourth-quarter comeback drive. Moore had a stronger game as a run blocker in my opinion, and also fared better than the previous matchup, but did allow a quarterback hit. PFF’s grades highlight the improved offensive game with only one grade below 50, tackle Chukwuma Okorafor (47.6). I completely agree, making my notes several times for getting beat in his worst-graded game of the season, allowing five pressures, three hurries, and two hits in the game.
The offense came on first to start the game, starting with a handoff to Harris, who lowered his shoulder for a three-yard run, but Moore was unable to get to the second level on linebacker Patrick Queen’s gap fill along with Dotson allowing his man to work down the line and get the tackle. On second and seven, Pickett slides left off the shotgun snap and hits tight end Pat Freiermuth on the out route for six yards where he was hit out of bounds. Third and one now, and nice play call here, motioning tight end Connor Heyward (who took a jet sweep last game) then showing toss action to Harris and handing to fullback Derek Watt on the backside, who was able to get three yards and the conversion thanks to a great push from the line, particularly Dotson, center Mason Cole, guard James Daniels, Okorafor, and tight end Zach Gentry.
The following first down was back to Harris on the ground for a six-yard run this time, and nice job collectively from the offensive line including a Heyward pulling cut block, and tackled by Queen. On second and four, Pickett play actions to Harris and is able to just get the screen pass by safety Kyle Hamilton who came free off the edge, with Sims making the catch with fellow receiver Diontae Johnson out in front with a decent initial block, cutting inside on the run after but unable to elude the unblocked cornerback on the gain of two yards. Third and two now, and Pickett surveys and nearly takes off prematurely behind good pass pro, continuing to go through his progressions, resets his feet and finds Warren on a good short throw, able to cut inside of Queen’s aggressive angle and pick up nice YAC for ten yards where linebacker Roquan Smith made the tackle.
Warren got the carry this time on the following first down, only able to pick up one yard with Okorafor pushed back, Dotson losing his block, and Cole letting up on his, limiting his running room on the minimal gain. On second and nine, Warren aligned in the slot and came in motion, getting the jet sweep with Freiermuth landing a good block out in front, and Baltimore having numbers to seemingly limit the play on the edge, but wide receiver Gunner Olszewski threw a great block that took out two defenders and sprung the explosive 31-yard run down the sideline. Nice execution and enjoyed seeing both Harris and Warren on the field together.
Another first down in the red zone now, and Harris got the carry here with a good push from the line overall, but Daniels allowed his man to work toward the ball, and Cole was unable to land his second-level block on Queen, combining to tackle the three-yard gain. On second and seven it’s Harris again, this time leaping at the line of scrimmage to clear Cole’s block as he took his man to the ground, and got behind solid blocks from Moore and Dotson, barreling forward for six yards with Daniels allowing his man to get in on the tackle. Third and one now from the four-yard line, and Pittsburgh goes to the line quickly, then Pickett sneaks it getting behind Dotson and running physically for two yards and the conversion.
First and goal now from the two-yard line on this encouraging opening drive, but unfortunately an untimely penalty on Freiermuth for a false start, shooting themselves in the foot in the red area. This set them back to the seven-yard line on the retry of first and goal, and great job by Pickett recognizing the play clock and communicating to get the snap off in the nick of time to avoid a second straight penalty, but didn’t like his initial read to Johnson despite a bit of separation, and Baltimore blanketed in coverage otherwise, leading to a scramble drill back shoulder pass that was low to Harris who was unable to corral it. On second and goal, the Ravens pushed the right side of the o-line back, and thanks to a seal from Cole, Harris showcased a spectacular cutback and get behind healthy space created by Dotson, Moore (though he fell off his block late), and Gentry, with the latter and wide receiver Miles Boykin (pulling block) pushing the pile on the churning five-yard run. Third and goal from the two-yard line now, and Pittsburgh aligns four receivers to the left (Gentry, Freiermuth, Watt, and Harris), which got wide receiver George Pickens isolated to the other side, and Pickett with a nice throw giving him a shot on the fade, but good defensive play to break it up by backup cornerback Brandon Stephens in the end zone. Pittsburgh takes the field goal to go up by three early, a great start from the run game, but the all too familiar no touchdown and fizzling in the red zone after a long 14-play drive.
Returning at 14:09 in the second quarter with the game tied, Harris took the handoff and enjoyed good overall blocks, knifing between Boykin’s pulling block and Daniels holding his block just long enough, then getting inside a Moore seal on the second level and a pancake from Dotson to pick up a healthy nine yards. On second and inches, Harris took the handoff, designed to stretch to the left, seeing a lane between Okorafor and Daniels and making a decisive cutback and able to get five yards and move the chains. Great to see the run game carry over their success from the first drive.
The following first down Pickett play actions and trips on Harris’ foot and falls to the ground, staying there and is eventually touched down for the sack. On second and 17, Moore was pushed back in his pass set and also noted Cole recovering with a pancake on Pickett’s drop back, finding Johnson on a stop route in the zone for the catch and a bit of YAC to pick up much of the needed yardage on the 14-yard gain, good job continuing to look downfield with a bit of pressure. Third and a manageable three, and Pickett throws to Pickens on the run, but the second penalty on Pittsburgh is costly on illegal touching, so instead of a conversion it’s a loss of downs and forces a punt, ugh.
The offense came back for their third drive at 8:46 in the second quarter with the game still tied, and awesome collective effort from the offensive line, with Harris finding a lane between Moore and Cole, getting behind nice effort and drive from Dotson on the second level block on run for five yards. On second and five, Olszewski goes in motion and takes the jet sweep with Heyward and Freiermuth out in front, with the former getting a bit of push on cornerback Marlon Humphrey, but the latter not landing a block, slithering behind them to pick up six yards on the chain mover.
Continuing on first down, Warren got the carry this time, able to get skinny in between Okorafor and Cole’s blocks and behind Daniels’ solid second-level block to gain six yards with Queen and Hamilton combining for the stop. On second and four, Cole and Gentry provided good seal blocks on another Warren run, getting behind a good push from Moore and Dotson for five yards and another first down. 100 yards on the ground already, very nice.
Pickett drops back on this first down, surveying but is forced to escape right with Moore getting beat bad inside, and unleashing it to the sideline on the scramble drill to Johnson, who got both feet in but ruled a bobbled catch. On second and ten, a terrific job once again by the offensive line overall, particularly the interior, and sans Moore letting his man by Warren’s five-yard run. Third and five was a different story, with most of the line beat on this rep except for Daniels and Warren who helped Okorafor with a chip, and Pickett rolls left with a great throw on the run to his man in Freiermuth, low and where only he could get it, which he does for the refreshingly familiar third down conversion on the gain of ten.
First down once again, Harris finds some space between Okorafor and Daniels’ blocks, but both of their men working off and tackling the three-yard gain. On second and seven, Harris got behind a strong Dotson pull, meeting Queen in the hole to spring him for another successful run, this one four yards. Third and three now, Pickett takes the shotgun snap and wants Freiermuth on the money down again, but physical coverage from safety Chuck Clark leads to a pass breakup on the in route, and another drive stalls. Encouraging things happening, but just can’t finish. Unfortunately, a missed field goal here keeps the game tied.
The Steelers came on one more time before the half with a seven-point deficit, and Pickett kneels it to go into the locker room.
Returning at 9:31 in the third quarter in a ten-point hole now, and on first down, Pickett looks to Freiermuth on the out route from the slot but it’s batted at the line. On second and ten, Warren goes in motion from the slot and Pickett hands it to Harris who gets another nice gain, this one a chunk of 15 yards, great job from the line across the board, highlighted by Moore’s pancake and Dotson’s second level block and Queen making the tackle.
The following first down Harris got the carry once again, this time only three yards with the edge rusher coming down the line unblocked to make the tackle. On second and seven, Harris is dropped way behind the line with Cole pushed back off the snap and Baltimore swarming to tackle the whopping seven-yard loss. Third and a long 14 now, and Pickett enjoys a great pocket from the offensive line and makes a nice throw to Pickens on the in route at the sticks from out wide, making a fantastic catch to gain 14 and just enough for the conversion, wow.
The drive continued with Pickett dropping back on first down, and is forced to escape with Okorafor and Daniels allowing pressure between them, rolling left, and getting it to Warren in the flat for the catch and run of six yards. On second and four, Warren gets the handoff this time but loses his balance on a cut behind the line due to Cole losing his block and is stuffed for no gain. Third and four now, and it’s a Warren catch in the flat, and able to get five yards out of it. Second straight third-down conversion, love it.
On the following first down, Harris eludes Hamilton in the backfield and gets behind a Daniels block, and churns for another five-yard successful run. On second and five, Harris has very little room to work with Cole losing his run block, tackled for only one yard. Timeout #1 Baltimore. Third and four now, and Pickett stands tall as he surveys, but is hit hard by Hamilton as he threw trying to connect with Johnson and is slow to get up from a big quarterback hit. Able to come away with points though on the field goal, deficit cut to seven.
With 46 seconds left in the third quarter and pinned back at their own five-yard line, Harris gets some breathing room with a nine-yard gain thanks to a cut outside to get around a solid gain to the outside. On second and one, Harris gets just enough for the first down on a churning YAC effort through Smith, needing two men to bring him down.
The drive continued to start the fourth quarter, Harris had another great 15-yard run thanks to a good pulling Heyward block, along with a great push from the interior offensive line, and a great cut to bounce it outside. The following first down Okorafor can’t get to Hamilton on his slot blitz along with Cole being pushed back, prompting Pickett to step up and elude right, able to locate and finally connect with Pickens on the sideline, going down and making a great catch on the low pass and staying in bounds on the gain of 15. Third straight first down in a row, and Warren takes the carry for six yards with a bit of space between Daniels and Freiermuth along with Okorafor getting a good push on the second level.
Another first down and encouragingly moving the ball, and Warren keeps it going with a seven-yard chain mover on a jet sweep with Freiermuth and Olszewski out in front with decent blocks. This first down was a dropback from Pickett, and is forced to throw on the run again with Okorafor beat around the edge, incomplete to Johnson on a drag route that’s tipped by the defensive lineman and thankfully landing between Ravens defenders and not picked. On second and ten, Harris runs for six with good blocks from Okorafor, Dotson, and Moore in particular. Third and four now and Okorafor was pushed back but recovered late on his pass block to put his man in the ground, allowing Pickett to get the pass to Johnson, who eludes the first tackle and gets up the sideling for great YAC on the explosive catch and run for 21 yards. What a drive!
Now in the red zone, the following first down was a Warren run where Daniels allowed his man to get in quickly on the tackle along with the edge rusher coming free and combining to tackle the gain of two yards. On second and eight, initial blocking looks good, but Okorafor loses again and allows Warren to be dropped on the run for a loss of two. Third and a long ten now, and Pickett gets time with good collective pass pro, targeting Sims on the corner route in the endzone but it’s short and out of bounds falling incomplete. Redzone misery continues and settles for the field goal, the lead is cut to four with 9:47 left.
Returning at 8:41 in the fourth quarter from their own eight-yard line and the deficit at four, Warren takes the stretch run with good blocks from Freiermuth and Johnson out wide and is able to get five yards. On second and four it’s Warren again, this time for nine yards finding some space between Okorafor and Freiermuth and churning forward to get the first down and more.
Continuing on first down, Pickett takes a deep shot to Johnson for a near-stellar explosive play, but he’s ruled out of bounds and contested by Stephens incomplete, urgh. On second and ten, Pickett has time on the dropback, but holds onto it despite noting at a minimum Harris was there on the checkdown, and is dropped for the sack and loss of eight, at least throw it away. Instead, third and a long 18. Huge play here, and Pickett gets rid of it quickly with the tackles allowing pressure from the edges, going for his third down man in Freiermuth, but a short out route that is broken up incomplete. Can’t move the ball in the big moment, Steelers punt still down by four with 6:42 left in the game.
4:16 left. Down by four. First down is a Harris seven-yard run with great collective blocking, including a pancake from Daniels. On second and three, Harris gets a catch this time, with Pickett finding him wide open on the short pass given the situation, and tackled quickly for only two yards. Huge third and one here, and Pickett converts on another quarterback sneak, getting the yard needed to move the chains and keep the drive going.
Continuing with 2:35 left with a drop back with good protection from the line, rolling left as he extended, surveyed, and zips it to Freiermuth for and explosive 20-yard gain in crunch time, wow. The following first down was another dropback, and Pickett impressively gets the deep middle throw to Sims for a consecutive explosive play (what a rarity this season), this one a 28-yard strong catch over Hamilton in coverage and hangs on to it taking a big hit, and Pittsburgh also able to decline a defensive holding penalty!
Now at the two-minute warning, this first down was a jet sweep to Sims, able to get four yards as he goes out of bounds with Freiermuth and Pickens creating a bit of space out in front. In the red zone now on second and six, Harris gets the carry and leaps over Moore at the line of scrimmage, who took his man to the ground on the block and gets behind Dotson and Daniels on the second level for a gain of five yards. Timeout #2 Ravens. On third and one, Pickett sneaks it once again, and is stood up for what seemed would be short, and great effort by Harris to push/muscle him forward to pick up yet another huge third down conversion, outstanding play.
The following first down came at 1:11, and Pickett targets Johnson but overthrows him in the corner of the end zone incomplete. On second and ten, Harris two yards with Cole pushed back and allowing his man to make the tackle. Final timeout Baltimore. With 1:02 left at the 12-yard line on third and eight, and a stellar play by Pickett to elude the pressure allowed by Moore, extending the play by throwing a laser over Smith to Harris, who made a great catch in the end zone for the incredible touchdown! Unbelievable! The Steelers are up three with 56 seconds left.
The defense came up huge as well, getting the takeaway to allow Pickett to kneel it for the win, outstanding job stepping up on both sides of the ball with their backs to the wall and when it mattered most. What an ending!
Now for the defense:
PFF’s highest-graded defender was edge rusher T.J. Watt (85.4), playing very well in run defense especially compared to the week 14 affair, and adding four pressures and a sack as a pass rusher. Linebacker Robert Spillane grades out second this week (75.2) with another strong showing in run defense, with six stops as a tackler which led the team. Defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi (74.7) is next, and did some good things, particularly in the run game, though he did have a missed tackle. Three other defenders were given 70+ grades, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (73.4), and cornerbacks Cameron Sutton (73) and Levi Wallace (71.5). Fitzpatrick of course had the game-sealing interception to put the game and the win in the books, with a solid game across the board overall, but particularly as a tackler. Sutton fits this bill as well, with a strong coverage game and targeted only once and didn’t allow a catch, which is impressive given his high number of snaps. Wallace fitted this bill on lesser opportunities and contributed to the good game from the secondary unit overall. Two players received below 50 grades this week, well below in fact: edge rusher Jamir Jones (30) and linebacker Devin Bush (29.1). Each played five snaps or less, with Bush particularly struggling in his limited opportunity across the board.
Pittsburgh’s defense came on at 6:56 with a three-point lead, and as expected began it’s running back J.K. Dobbins starting things off, able to get three yards on the run with defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal getting blocked back and eventually pancaked to the ground by fullback Patrick Richard, and thankfully linebacker Mark Robinson came across the formation to fill the hole and provide the hard tackle. On second and seven, defensive lineman Cameron Heyward got a good push on quarterback Tyler Huntley’s first pass to tight end Mark Andrews, getting separation on his break against safety Terrell Edmunds and Robinson combined for the tackle on the gain of seven.
The following first down was back to Dobbins, this one for no gain with Watt winning around the edge and tracking the ball carrier along with Robinson shooting downhill, staying clean, and getting inside the pulling blocker to combine for another tackle. Nice start to the game for him. On second and ten, edge rusher Alex Highsmith was bearing down on Huntley’s drop back, and Watt was pushed past the pocket giving up the edge, allowing a scramble for ten yards and Wallace blocked out in front but eventually pushed him out of bounds.
The drive continued with Dobbins on the ground, and a great job by Highsmith to set the edge and linebacker Robert Spillane to take on and win against the tight ends block to make the stop for no gain. On second and ten, Heyward looped around the edge, prompting a scramble from Huntley, but limited to four yards with Spillane disengaging easily from a poor blocking effort from Dobbins to make another tackle. Third and six now, Huntley finds Andrews on an out route again, and Edmunds wraps him up short of the sticks but allows the churn for the six-yard gain and just enough for the first down.
Dobbins got the toss on this first down, a two-yard gain where Highsmith set the edge well once again, and Leal worked down the line with a nice run stop from Leal and Sutton coming down to combine for the tackle. On second and eight, Huntley drops back and a good push from Highsmith who was picked up by Richard, not on the same page and incomplete to wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, and Sutton was nearly able to capitalize with a diving low interception but was unable to make the play. Pittsburgh burned their first timeout here with 1:49 left in the quarter, late to get their subs in. Third and eight now and Huntley tries Demarcus Robinson again, this time a catch at the sticks and conversion on the nine-yard gain where Fitzpatrick and cornerback Arthur Maulet combined for the tackle.
The Ravens kept it on the ground with Dobbins on the following first down, a big chunk of 15 yards where Spillane overran the play, and Heyward was late getting off his block and couldn’t get there, with Wallace wrapping him up but drug along with Fitzpatrick combining to finally bring him down, and linebacker Myles Jack was engulfed by Richard’s block. Another first down from the red zone now, and Huntley keeps the read option, selling the fake which got Highsmith and Spillane flowing to the running back, allowing a running lane and lunging forward outside a block on Heyward who got pushed back, picking up four yards there Fitzpatrick made the tackle.
Continuing to start the second quarter on second and six, Huntley handed off to the motion man for the jet sweep where Robinson darted in but got the worst of the collision on the blocker and ended up on the ground, and Edmunds came up but missed the tackle, but slowed him up enough for Highsmith and Spillane to rally and combine for the tackle of just one yard. Third and five now, and Huntley looks for wide receiver Deshaun Jackson on the corner route but overthrows him in the end zone incomplete with Maulet in good coverage. Let them drive, but good hold to limit them to a field goal and it’s all tied up again.
Returning at 10:50 in the second quarter and the game tied at three, running back Gus Edwards was stuffed for no gain on the run thanks to Watt staying clean and getting around a Richard pulling block to get to him behind the line, and Robinson coming in to clean up the churning second effort. On second and ten, Highsmith faked a zone drop then came on the pass rush, along with Watt twisting inside with both nearing Huntley’s drop back in the end zone, but they collide as he slides right and connects with Jackson on the short stop-route, and with separation adds YAC for a nine-yard gain where Maulet makes the tackle. Third and a short one now, and it’s Edwards for no gain again with a great push from the defensive line, with Ogunjobi getting penetration but juked to the ground on a cut, and great gap fits with nowhere to go as Heyward and Highsmith combined for the run stop. Great three and out-forced by the defense.
Coming back on at 3:30 in the second quarter following a missed field goal and the game still tied, Baltimore opens with a false start penalty, setting up first and 15. Dobbins picks it all up right away though on the following play on a run of 17 yards, where Watt got outside of Richard’s pulling block, Leal dominated to the inside, and Spillane controlled by the pulling lineman which allowed him a big lane, then bounces it outside and gets to the sideline where he’s pushed out by Sutton who was blocked downfield. Ouch.
The following first down was another well-blocked run for Dobbins, and Robinson fought through traffic but was unable to make the tackle, then Spillane worked off his block to make the tackle on the five-yard gain. On second and five, Dobbins gets the carry once again, and Watt gets inside Richard’s block initially but is blocked to the ground on his second effort, along with Robinson darting in for the hit but doesn’t wrap up and the tackle is broken behind the line, continuing to fight forward for six yards where Spillane and Leal combined for the tackle, but it goes for another first down.
Continuing at the two-minute warning on third and inches, Huntley sneaks and picks up two yards with them pushing the pile for the easy conversion with Ogunjobi getting the tackle. On the following first down, Highsmith, Heyward, and Watt all converged in the backfield and Dobbins split them all, then Robinson and Spillane were unable to get off their blocks in time, allowing a chunk 12-yard gain where Edmunds eventually ran him down to push him out of bounds. First down yet again, Edwards two yards where Ogunjobi missed the angle, and Robinson thankfully got back on the run-stop train from earlier in the game to make the tackle. On second and eight Huntley play actions, with Leal and defensive lineman Tyson Alualu getting in the backfield but were walled off, and Ogunjobi gets pressure up the middle as he pump fakes and forces the scramble, but is able to get the pass to Andrews who was open along the sideline for nine yards where Edmunds ran him out.
First down and in the red zone for the second time, Huntley is stopped on the keeper, and Spillane is there to stop the play for no gain. Timeout #1 Baltimore with 28 seconds left.
From the 16-yard line on second and ten, Spillane made a great recognition play behind the line covering tight end Isaiah Likely, getting the tackle for a loss of six, awesome job. Timeout #2 Ravens. Third and 16 now, Dobbins runs straight ahead between the edge rushers who got behind the line, seven yards. Crucial and debatable unnecessary roughness penalty at another inopportune time for Pittsburgh, with Heyward being pulled down on the bad call in my opinion. Instead of fourth down, it’s first and goal from the seven-yard line. The Ravens wasted no time capitalizing, with Likely running the out route along the goal line against Maulet in coverage, making the catch for the touchdown. Deficit of seven just before halftime, ouch.
The Steelers’ defense came out to start the second half, and Huntley play actions sucking up the linebackers, and steps up with Watt bending the edge, and gets it to Andrews on the move for 14 yards with Robinson beat thoroughly in coverage and Edmunds tackles the hurdle attempt. The following first down was a Dobbins run, where Highsmith got to him in the backfield before the pulling lineman could get there, but spins to break out of the tackle attempt, and maintains his balance through Ogunjobi and Robinson’s tackle opportunities as well, then finally brought down but thankfully just two yards by Leal. On second and eight, Huntley fakes to Dobbins and keeps it himself, and another great run stop from Spillane avoiding the pulling lineman to stand him up for only one yard. Third and seven now, and Watt won around the edge on his pass rush but slipped to the ground, giving Huntley time to find Andrews again with the catch with a step on Fitzpatrick along with churning him for YAC on the gain of 18 yards where he and safety Damontae Kazee combined for the tackle. Andrews already making a bigger impact than the last meeting, surpassing his yardage from week 14 on this play alone.
Baltimore is hit with a false start penalty on the following first down, setting up first and 15. Dobbins runs straight ahead here, and great penetration from the defensive line as a whole with a combined run stop from Ogunjobi and defensive lineman Montravius Adams for no gain. On second and 15 another penalty on the Ravens for holding, setting up second and a mile. On second and 25 to be exact, Highsmith and Alualu got near Huntley on his release, finding Andrews to get most of the yardage back at 19 yards, where linebacker Devin Bush was in coverage and ran him out of bounds. On third and six, Watt won the edge and forced Huntley to scramble right, where Fitzpatrick got their first and Heyward combined to finish the tackle out of bounds for three yards. The defense holds to a field goal, deficit now ten.
At 3:42 in the third quarter and the deficit cut to seven, and Dobbins keeps his balance after tripping on his offensive lineman’s foot, and hits the Steelers’ run defense with an explosive 22-yard run with Highsmith and Spillane taking edge angles but is able to cut inside and elude a Leal tackle attempt, and Fitzpatrick had to make the downfield tackle, oh no. Dobbins got the following first down carry as well, this time stopped for only two yards with Leal and Edmunds combining for the tackle. On second and eight, Watt shoots off the line and comes up big with the sack around the edge. This set up third and a long 18, where Huntley finds Likely quickly on the slant with ample cushion given the situation for 11 yards along with YAC. A huge sack from Watt forces the punt and keeps it a one-score game, great play.
The defense returned at 9:33 in poor position following Baltimore’s long kickoff return and drop Dobbins for a loss of two on the run, with Watt coming in clean and Heyward winning to get there as well to combine for the tackle. On second and 12, Huntley play actions, steps back, and Watt gets in the backfield on his pass rush, but Dobbins picks him up in pass pro and knocks him to the ground, but quickly gets back to his feet to get in his face as he unleashes a deep shot incomplete, where Fitzpatrick had good coverage and nearly made a play on the ball. Third and a long 12 now, and Huntley throws quickly and it’s incomplete again, this time to Likely, and big play by Edmunds to make the hit and jar the ball loose, forcing the punt, great job playing stout defense and not letting them capitalize on good field position.
6:32 left in the game and still down by four, the defense came back defending the pass, with Huntley getting it to Andrews on the quick out for four yards where Spillane was in coverage and stands him up, with Robinson coming in to combine for the tackle. On second and six, Dobbins rushed for four yards getting behind his pulling lineman, with Highsmith and Bush both doing a good job working off their blocks to combine for the tackle. Third and two, and huge run stop from Heyward, pushing tackle Ronnie Stanley back along with Highsmith to blow the play up for no gain with Heyward and Robinson combining for the tackle and getting the offense the ball back quickly on two straight three and outs.
56 seconds left, needing a stop following the great touchdown drive from the Steelers’ offense and a three-point lead. On first down, Huntley throws incomplete to Likely on the swing pass in the backfield with Watt, Ogunjobi, and Heyward all converging on their pass rush. On second and ten, holding on Baltimore drawn by another strong pass rush from Pittsburgh sets up second and twenty, can the defense hold? Huntley gets it to Andrews short over the middle, who was open given the situation, and gets most of the needed yardage on the 18-yard catch and run with Wallace and Fitzpatrick combining for the tackle. Third and two now, Huntley finds Andrews yet again, this one for five yards, and Fitzpatrick makes the stop again. Huntley spikes with 22 seconds left. On second and ten, Huntley tries to thread the throw in, resulting in an amazing interception from Fitzpatrick, reading Huntley and sprinting to undercut the over route for the only takeaway of the game, but boy was the timing impeccable to keep the season alive and get the win. Incredible!
Let’s look at special teams:
PFF’s highest-graded special teamer is Boykin (75.7), highlighted by a good tackle on a limited two-yard return. Two other players had 70+ grades, Miles Killebrew (73.5) and Spillane (73.4). Many performances left much to be desired, with kicker Chris Boswell (55.5) missing a field goal but making three others, and a whopping six players with grades below 50: long snapper Christian Kuntz (49.2), Benny Snell (48.9) missing a tackle, Olszewski (48.8), Riley (30) with a penalty, Warren (29.1), and Fitzpatrick (29.1) with a penalty as well.
Boswell connected on his first field goal from 21 yards out to cap off the opening drive and put Pittsburgh on top to start the game. He sent his first kickoff to the one-yard line following the offenses opening drive field goal, where Snell got around the blocker but missed the tackle opportunity, and returned to the 27 where Connor Heyward and James Pierre combined for the tackle. Punter Pressley Harvin was called upon for the first time at 11:00 in the second quarter, an excellent 48-yarder that bounced to the six-yard line where Boykin downed it. Sims went back for a punt return at 8:53 in the second quarter, traveling to the 36-yard line and fair caught, with the defense on the field (other than Sims) in case of a fake, but Pittsburgh’s third penalty ensues on a hold from Fitzpatrick, taking away would be good field position, and costly penalties in the first half are really hurting. Boswell came on for his second field goal opportunity at 3:35 in the second quarter, but doinks and misses the 48-yarder, and his uncharacteristic struggles this season continue. Sims returned a kickoff with three seconds before halftime and down by seven now, taking it from the end zone out to the 24-yard line.
Boswell got another field goal opportunity at 3:46 in the third quarter, connecting on the long 51-yarder to cut the deficit to seven. With 55 seconds left in the third quarter, Sims fair caught a punt at the ten-yard line, and Elijah Riley is hit with a defensive holding, the second on the special teams unit, and pinned Pittsburgh back, special teams not playing special. Boswell made a 33-yard field goal with 9:47 left in the game, cutting the deficit to four. He sent the following kickoff to the four-yard line with 9:44 left, but a huge return with Derek Watt missing a diving attempt, Connor Heyward missing a tackle as well, and gets all the way to Pittsburgh’s 40-yard line with Boswell trying to run him out of bounds, cutting inside for yards after contact as well, ouch. Harvin punted with 6:42 left in the game down by four, a great 51-yarder with good hangtime to the 34-yard line, and the return goes nowhere and is pushed out of bounds quickly for only a two-yard return by Boykin.
STEELERS VS. RAIDERS WEEK 15 SNAPS & REGULAR SEASON TOTAL SNAPS:
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