The Pittsburgh Steelers unfortunately came out from Sunday with their first loss of the season, another lackluster performance on offense along with the defense coming back to earth and a costly special teams turnover, falling to the New England Patriots 14-17. 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 top grade on offense was tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, with an 84.6 grade, especially faring well as a run blocker along with playing every offensive snap (as did the rest of the o-line and quarterback Mitch Trubisky). Wide receiver Diontae Johnson landed at a close second (84.4), and only two other offensive players with 70+ grades, guard Kevin Dotson at 76.7 (a bit high in my opinion noting effort issues finishing plays) and fullback Derek Watt’s 71.4 (converting a third down run on his one snap). Largely thought the grades were fair, and the worst grade of the week going to tight end Pat Freiermuth, who had the offenses only touchdown but only below 50 grade (46.5) with issues including a drop and blocking throughout my notes in the game.
Pittsburgh’s offense took possession to start the game with a carry from running back Najee Harris, who was encouragingly available after being injured on a gnarly tackle in week one, and despite decent blocking from the offensive line, was only able to gain two with tight end Freiermuth getting beat on his block and fellow tight end Zach Gentry allowing his man to make the tackle. Negative play right away in one of my pregame outlook keys (tight end blocking). On second and eight, Trubisky rolled left for his first attempt, getting the quick out from the slot to wide receiver Chase Claypool who was given cushion off the line, benefitting from space created by the outside receivers’ deep route for the catch and four-yard gain. Third and four now, and Trubisky rolls right due to tackle Dan Moore allowing push around the edge from his man along with fellow tackle Okorafor’s man getting inside of him, with Freiermuth getting the target but the pass went off his outstretched hands incomplete. Discouraging, three and out, Steelers punt.
The offense returned at 6:42 down by three, opening with another Harris run going nowhere with Dotson slipping off his block and falling to the ground allowing the tackle for no gain. On second and ten, Trubisky took the snap moving to the right, looking for the flip pass to Harris that was covered well by the edge defender, cuing the scramble to the right with Johnson open on his short out route, but instead used his legs to pick up seven yards sliding down. Third and three now, and Trubisky throws a dart to Johnson on the quick slant, making a great contested catch for the first, with the play originally called as a fumble and return for a touchdown, but was clearly down (in my opinion) as the replay showed with this call overturned.
The needed conversion set up a first down completion on a checkdown to Freiermuth providing good yards after catch on the gain of seven, with good overall pass blocking but Moore getting pushed back and allowing the slight hit of Trubisky. On second and three the offensive line provided good overall run blocking (especially right guard James Daniels, center Mason Cole, an Dotson) including a nice pancake from Gentry, with the excepting being Moore not connecting on his allowing the tackle, but good churn by running back Jaylen Warren to fight past the sticks on the four yard gain. Warren got another opportunity here, encouragingly providing snaps to spell Harris on another strong gain of six yards, with a nice crease created by the interior line including a good lead block by Freiermuth. Encouragingly seeing a couple plays with better tight end blocking and stacking positive runs. On second and four, Trubisky’s playaction rollout seemingly had an opportunity for a deep target to wide receiver George Pickens, instead taking the safe checkdown to Freiermuth behind the line, tackled just short of the sticks on the gain of three yards. Third and one now, and refreshingly the Steelers are able to pick up their first conversion, on the ground at that, with fullback Derek Watt with just enough on his churn to keep the drive moving. The following first down was a pass targeting Johnson’s intermediate slant, that Trubisky ill-advisingly threw with a dropping defensive back able to tip the pass, resulting in an interception and runback for 13 yards. This was a big stat takeaway following week one, throwing passes into tight coverage being a factor that may come back to bite Trubisky after going turnover free in the opener.
The offense returned quickly (:42 in the first) thanks to the defenses’ takeaway, beginning with a Harris run with good overall blocking sans Cole ending up on the ground and Gentry good initial block but losing late, with the latter allowing the defender to angle him to the sideline on the five-yard gain. Harris rushed again to close the quarter, picking up four yards with a crack of daylight between Daniels and Cole and noted good blocking overall including Freiermuth.
The drive continued on to start the second quarter with a third and one, providing another respectable gain on the third straight run, this one for five yards and the conversion with good blocks except for Dotson ending up on the ground again, with Harris providing a good churn through two defenders. Harris’ fourth straight run was stopped for no gain, with Daniels losing his block and allowing his man to make contact behind the line but good fight to get back to the line. Second and ten was another negative play from Daniels, with an ineligible man downfield penalty, but was declined on the incompletion over the head of Johnson. This set up third and ten, where Trubisky (despite poor footwork and leaning back) hit Johnson on the stick route just past the sticks for 12-yards and the conversion.
On first down, Trubisky play actioned and came off his read to Freiermuth on the dump off quickly, seemingly eying Johnson deep, not liking what he saw looked to the screen option set up for Warren on the other side that was also covered well, then chased and sacked by Cole’s man, needing to block to the whistle. Want to check the all-22 on this, but it seemed Claypool might have been open over the middle with his defender biting hard on play action but a dropping linebacker underneath the route could have understandably deterred him with the recent interception in mind. On second and 17, Trubisky targeted Freiermuth quickly on the short stick route that was covered well and broken up incomplete. Third and 17 now, great pass-off by Daniels and Cole on the twisting pass rush, but Moore allowed the edge cuing Trubisky to leave the pocket, providing a good throw on the run to Johnson on the sideline, gaining just enough for the first down and taking a big hit out of bounds.
The Steelers went back to the ground, with good blocks from Moore and Cole to create a crease, but noted Harris needing to hit the hole sooner, but was still able to churn for six yards and Okorafor letting up on his block to allow the tackle. On second and four, Harris ran but similarly missed a hole straight ahead between Daniels and Cole, instead bouncing outside behind a good Dotson block for three yards. Here we have a rariety since I’ve worked for Steelers Depot, the second time on this drive a third straight run goes for the conversion on third and one, with Harris bouncing it outside with the middle completely plugged up, and able to pick up two on the stiff arm and diving effort.
Another penalty follows though from the red zone, a delay of game in which Trubisky has to have more awareness. Trubisky then targeted Claypool on the short target, but with a tight defender that was able to break the pass up for the incompletion. On second and 15 he went right back to Claypool despite Okorafor allowing the edge rusher near him on his release, and in route behind Freiermuth clearing space for the catch and healthy gain with yards after contact to set up third and a manageable four from the 13-yard line. Trubisky surveyed the left side and had Claypool wide open on the out route past the sticks, but curiously came off that read, very unfortunate with Harris being blown back on his pass block along with Dotson allowing the twisting rusher past for contain on the crucial sack! Disappointing end to a long 15 play drive including many positives to settle for three, tying the game.
With 6:25 left before halftime and the game still tied, the offense came out with a run pass option, getting the defender on the edge to bite on the run action, instead pulling it and hitting the flip pass to Freiermuth behind Daniels’ pulling block but Moore allowing his man to make the tackle on the gain of four. On second and six, Harris got the carry with a good block from Daniels on the gain of three, with Okorafor missing his second level block allowing the tackle. Third and three now, and Trubisky gets the shotgun pass to Claypool on the five-yard out with a nice catch against good tight coverage to pick up the first down. Another early conversion in the first half.
The drive continued with an outside run, where Moore slipped off his block and Johnson failed to land a block on the outside corner, allowing the hit on Warren behind the line, but great churning effort to gain positive yards on the gain of two. On second and eight, Moore was penalized for a false start. This set up second and 13, with Trubisky sliding right and hitting Claypool on another out route for six yards and pushed out of bounds. Third and seven now, Okorafor got beat to the inside on a strong pass rush move, along with Daniels late sliding to help, allowing the rusher to close on Trubisky’s over the middle pass to Freiermuth, a catchable pass hitting hit hands and discouragingly falling incomplete (though well defensed). Steelers punt, lack of early offensive scoring (and in general) continues, game still tied.
The offense returned with 22 seconds before halftime now down by seven, looking to make something happen downfield. The first attempt is successful thanks to an excellent inside release off the line by Pickens, stacking the corner along with a great over the shoulder catch on the sideline for the explosive 23-yard gain. The following first down was an attempt with the pocket collapsing around Trubisky with one good block from Dotson, able to get another deep target to the right off, this time to Johnson securing the ball with one hand but unable to miraculously get both feet in reminiscent of his highlight catch last week. On second and ten with 13 seconds left, Moore allowed penetration forcing Trubisky to escape the pocket, underestimating the closing speed of the edge rusher who worked off Daniels’ block on a twist, to track him down for the sack in bounds. Pittsburgh took a timeout with three seconds left to get one last shot, and the hail mary from his own 44-yard line hit Pickens in the hands in traffic, but even if it was caught was well short of the end zone.
Pittsburgh’s defense returned with 9:17 in the third with play action, but Trubisky wanting to go deep but seeing off coverage and checking it down to Harris, with extreme separation on the gain of 13. The following first down Harris missed another cutback lane, between Daniels and Cole, instead forcing it outside of the latter and where Claypool was blown back along with Moore allowing the same defender to make the tackle for only one yard. On second and nine, Johnson was able to make the catch on the stop route, making the catch and just enough for the first down.
New England brought a corner blitz the following first down, rushing and affecting Trubisky’s accuracy on the out route ahead of Claypool falling incomplete. On second and ten, Trubisky play actioned then quick targeted Johnson on the screen, with Moore getting out in front on the move well, but the linebacker coming free with Dotson late/sluggish to the second level allowing the tackle for only two yards. Third and eight now, and Trubisky surveys downfield but doesn’t like what he sees once again, understandable with Johnson and Claypool nearly colliding on the deep crossing concept, instead a checkdown to Warren behind the line with a violent tackle for no gain. Frustratingly bad production again for the offense, but just enough for field goal range, cutting the deficit to four.
With 2:47 left in the third quarter and now trail by 11 due to the special teams turnover and Patriots rushing touchdown. Trubisky dropped back, staying calm despite a strong pass rush between Moore and Gentry, with the former recovering well late to keep the qb clean, with Harris getting the short target against deep zone with plenty of space for yards after catch on the 14-yard gain and first down. On second down, Trubisky targeted Johnson on the quick slant on a rub concept with Harris on the flat route, which did compromise the defensive backs (colliding) but the throw was rushed and out in front incomplete, noting Harris the seemingly better option to target with more separation created for him on the design. On second and ten, Olszewski was given opportunity on the jet sweep despite his critical muffed punt, taking the jet sweep and good gain around the edge with a Pickens block out in front, and seemingly taking out his frustrations on the defenders (with two hands on the ball) with a physical 18-yard run.
The following first down was a quality eight yard run from Harris, a delay with good seals by Cole and Dotson up the middle, along with Moore and Freiermuth getting to the second level, with the former providing a good block, but the latter getting blown back and allowing the tackle. On second and two, Harris provided another eight-yard gain, this time a checkdown pass from Trubisky with plenty of time behind quality blocks, and impressive run after the catch, stiff-arming the first defender then hurdling the second. The following first down was another good chunk of yards, an out route past the sticks to Johnson, easily getting separation and the first down. Now in the red zone off another first down, another Harris run here where a cutback lane to the right was available, instead staying to the left and luckily finding space between Cole and Moore for three yards, and noted Dotson getting to the second level but not playing to the whistle on a few plays. The final play of the third quarter was a three-yard run from Warren, finding room behind Daniels and Okorafor’s blocks, but Freiermuth allowing his man to make the tackle.
The drive continued to start the fourth quarter, third and four now, and Trubisky finds Freiermuth was split out wide and ran a slant to the end zone against single coverage for the touchdown catch! You take the points, but the first touchdown not coming until the fourth quarter is very tough to watch. Pittsburgh goes for two in attempts to cut the deficit to three (please not another overtime), getting the pass to Johnson despite Moore getting beat around the edge, making a great diving catch against good coverage for the conversion.
10:49 left in regulation, pinned back at their own 11, and down by three, Pittsburgh gave Harris the carry gaining two yards, with Cole allowing his man to work to the ball and make the tackle. On second and eight, Trubisky took a back shoulder deep shot to Pickens, but it was underthrown and wide on the incompletion. Third and eight, and New England showed blitz, dropping two expected rushers (one defensive lineman) with an edge rusher coming free at Trubisky, cuing the target Harris in the flat, but two defenders rallying to tackle him for only a gain of two, and noted Claypool open past the sticks. Extremely frustrating that the Patriots schemed to force the three and out, forcing another three and out still trailing.
The offense returned at 8:03 still down by three. Harris started things off with a carry, a run-pass option freezing the free edge player just enough to get outside and gain five yards, with Claypool and Pickens getting good blocks on their men. On second and five, Harris helped Okorafor on a chip, on the late leak out to get the dump-off pass seven yards behind the line, gaining three yards with the defense corralling, and noted Cole letting up on his block allowing penetration along with Johnson being open past the line on a drag. Big third and two now, and Trubisky drops back with pressure in his face allowed by Okorafor but getting the pass to Harris on the wheel route, broken up by the edge rusher who was in coverage. Second straight three and out in the fourth quarter. The lackluster offense did not get another opportunity with only one explosive play for Pittsburgh, which came situationally trying to score before halftime, along with three sacks on Trubisky as well as an interception. Pittsburgh 14, Patriots 17.
Now for the defense:
PFF’s top graded defenders where Pittsburgh’s safeties, starting with Terrell Edmunds (86.5) with was also the best Steelers grade in the game, providing strong tackling and good coverage including a pass break up. Minkah Fitzpatrick (79.7) had good game, highlighted by another splash takeaway with an interception. Only two other players (just like the offense) had 70+ grades, defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal (78.7) fairing well as a tackler and including a great instant reaction to blow up a screen play in his 16 snaps, and edge rusher Alex Highsmith (73.8) on a high snap count, playing fairly well sans T.J. Watt on the opposing side, providing three hurries but no sacks along with good playmaking in the tackling department. A high number of six players had below 50 grades: including (three) cornerbacks Cameron Sutton (including a dropped interception), Ahkello Witherspoon, and Arthur Maulet (lowest defensive grade of 39.4) dinged particularly for two missed tackles, defensive lineman Tyson Alualu (important to note he and Ogunjobi were double teamed much of the game, so might deserve a slightly higher grade in my opinion), safety Tre Norwood, and linebacker Robert Spillane.
Pittsburgh’s defense came on for the first time following an offensive three and out, defending a Patriots pass with plenty of time (defensive tackle Cameron Heyward got a push late), but the throw is over the receiver’s head with nice Steelers coverage, particularly enjoying linebacker Devin Bush’s zone drop where he helped on the short route, then opened his hips to discourage a target to the receiver over the middle that gained separation on Witherspoon. On second and ten, New England went to the ground with running back Damien Harris, a short three-yard gain with space created by the double team block on Alualu, but good play by Heyward to get inside his blocker along with fellow defensive lineman Ogunjobi showing good hands to get off his for the combined tackle. Third and seven now, and edge rushers Highsmith and Malik Reed were both pushed past the pocket, with the secondary in a zone past the sticks allowing wide receiver Jakobi Meyers six yards of separation on his drag route in front of Spillane, who combined for the tackle with Norwood, but enough YAC for the conversion.
The following first down was another Harris run, this time for four with Bush coming on the blitz but sealed off, Heyward double teamed and washed out, Highsmith sealed, and thankfully good recognition from the backside by Fitzpatrick, staying clean and filling the open hole along with Ogunjobi working off his block late to combine for the tackle. On second and six, Highsmith got close to quarterback Mac Jones on his shotgun pass, another short completion over the middle with great recognition from linebacker Myles Jack to make the aggressive tackle of only two yards. Third and four now, Leal got a good push on his pass rush, but cornerback Levi Wallace got beat in coverage, allowing a second straight third down conversion on another completion (third) to Meyers for 16 yards with Edmunds making the tackle.
The drive continued through the air, with Alualu providing a good move around the left guard to get the quarterback hit, but able to complete the pass on the same route to wide receiver Nelson Agholor against Wallace for the same chunk of 16 yards, and Fitzpatrick recognizing to provide the big hit. First down once again, with a Damien Harris handoff where defensive lineman Chris Wormley was double teamed and Leal was late getting off his block allowing a lane, with Bush wrapping him up but drug for roughly five yards after contact on the nine-yard gain. On second and one, another handoff to D.Harris where Alualu and Wormley were doubled, Jack quickly shot into the backfield but missed the angle diving opportunity short of the marker, and Sutton working off the receiver’s block to make the tackle on the five yard gain.
The following first down was a good inside pass rush provided by Highsmith, and along with seemingly good red zone coverage, prompted Mac Jones to scramble, but was able to get positive yards, with Heyward pursuing backside to tackle the two-yard gain. On second and eight, we saw an early red zone target as I expected to tight end Hunter Henry, working short to the sideline behind created space from the wide receiver, shielding Wallace but the pass was off target and incomplete. Third and eight now, and big mistake from the Patriots with a delay of game. This setup a big third and 13, where Pittsburgh expectedly played off defending the end zone, allowing the short Agholor catch and rallying to the ball with Spillane wrapped him up and Fitzpatrick combined for the third down stop. Discouraging to see New England start by driving the field early, but Pittsburgh holds them to a field goal.
The defense returned with 1:38 in the first quarter following the Trubisky interception down by three, defending the play action pass on first down, and seemingly good coverage from Pittsburgh allowing the strong push from Alualu and Fitzpatrick to close in and affect Jones’ inaccurate pass to the running back checkdown falling incomplete. On second and ten, running back Rhamondre Stevenson got another look, this time on the ground, and though Alualu was pushed back a bit on the combo block, and Heyward sealed well despite ending up on the ground late, with Ogunjobi and Fitzpatrick working well through their blockers to the ball and combining for the tackle. Third and five now, and really enjoyed the pass rush disguise, with Highsmith faking a drop then barreling in unblocked with a huge hit on Mac Jones’ deep pass over the middle, and great timing by Fitzpatrick to pluck the interception away from the receiver without interfering, such a timely play for the defense to provide a takeaway of their own, also with a 13-yard return!
At 8:29 in the third quarter and the game tied, D.Harris got the carry with Wormley taking on the pulling lineman well to set the edge along and working off his block along with fellow defensive lineman Montravius Adams working to meet the runner just past the line, but allowing the churn for four yards. New England derailed their drive with penalties on the following two plays. The first was an intentional grounding, thanks to Spillane coming free on the blitz. The second was on third and 16, a holding created by edge rusher Malik Reed who won around the edge on a dip to force the penalty. Third and 26 now, and the deep pass went to Meyers who got behind Sutton for the leaping catch, nearly getting the needed yardage but the defense swarming and Edmunds making the solid tackle just short of the sticks on the 24-yard gain, forcing the punt. Game still tied.
The Steelers came back on defense with 3:08 left in the half, with Leal seemingly in the Patriots huddle, instantly reacting and providing a great play to deflect the pass for the incompletion on a tight end screen. On second and ten, Highsmith had a good spin inside on his pass rush forcing Mac Jones to slide, then finding Agholor on the short route with Jack understandably a step behind in coverage against a wide receiver, allowing the completion but thankfully able to connect on his diving shoestring tackle of nine yards, good play with green pastures out in front. Third and one now, and Mac Jones gets the conversion on the sneak for four yards with Bush getting the tackle.
The drive continued at the two-minute warning, starting with a drop back where the left tackle got away with a false start, and good pass rush from the opposite side from Reed forcing the scramble but got pancaked late, along with Jack being blocked and Wallace taking a poor angle, all of which allowed the positive gain of four yards where Highsmith showed great acceleration and motor to make the tackle. On second and six, Highsmith and Reed were both pushed past the pocket on their pass rushes, with Mac Jones finding the outside receiver where Witherspoon gave ample cushion off the line and a tick slow to react, allowing just enough for the first down.
56 seconds left in the half, and the pass goes to the short route by Meyers, dropping the open target off his hands incomplete. On second and ten, Meyers caught the short target this time with edge rusher Delontae Scott providing a good pass rush, and Spillane reacting quickly along with a solid tackle on the seven-yard gain. Big third and three now, and Mac Jones has plenty of time to throw with 30 seconds left, going deep down the right sideline with Witherspoon in good position, getting his head around, but reacting a bit later than the receiver who got the leap and catch atop his head, playing the ball then losing his balance on the crushing catch and waltz in for the touchdown. Interesting scheme call leaving the corners singled up on the outside, likely thinking New England was looking for shorter yardage to improve their position for a field goal try. Instead, a double explosive play that also ends in the end zone and beating the clock. Pain. Steelers down by seven.
Pittsburgh’s defense came on first to start the second half to a run, with Heyward getting in the backfield but away from the run along with Ogunjobi being sealed on the same side creating the hole on the gain of five with Bush working off the tight end block along with Maulet staying clean to combine for the tackle. On second and five, Ogunjobi got a good push on his pass rush, but the receiver got good separation on his break against Maulet, who allowed the catch but made the quick tackle on the ten-yard gain. The following first down was a D.Harris run behind a pulling block on Bush, with Jack doing a good job staying clean along with Edmunds working off the wide receiver block to combine for the tackle of two yards. On second and eight, D.Harris got another look, this time a reception on the check down following a good rush from Reed (debatably held as well), with Sutton coming up to make the tackle but allowing yards after contact on the 11-yard gain.
The following first down was another D.Harris carry where Reed set the edge, and Bush came up to make first contact on the runner with Alualu combining to tackle the hard run of three yards. On second and seven, Mac Jones overthrew his receiver over the middle, and too bad Fitzpatrick wasn’t a bit quicker to react, clearly frustrated knowing he could’ve provided another big play interception. Instead, it’s third and seven, with New England fooling Pittsburgh with a run here, hitting a hole between Heyward and Highsmith, with Stevenson churning through Spillane and Fitzpatrick’s combined tackle, with just enough yards after contact (one of my pregame keys) for the conversion.
The drive unfortunately continued with another Stevenson run, with Heyward pushed back on the combo block and Jack combining for the tackle with Reed for three yards. The Patriots suffered a false start penalty on second and seven. This set up second and 12, running a screen pass lobbed over Adams and Highsmith who got in the backfield, with the latter pursuing to tackle the four-yard gain along with Reed and Spillane converging. Third and eight now, and Pittsburgh brings the blitz and Highsmith rushing Mac Jones’ out of bounds throw on his twist pressure to force a field goal, which was encouragingly missed.
With 5:40 left in the third quarter, New England started with a play action pass to Agholor, taking Sutton on his across the field route for the catch, fighting through his tackle for yards after contact with Edmunds cleaning it up, but an explosive 25-yard gain. The Patriots were then flagged for a false start. This set up first and 15, with Heyward getting a good push but the pass is a quick pitch and catch to Meyers for six yards where Sutton and Jack combined to finish the tackle. On second and nine, Wormley, Reed, and Alualu provided a good pass rush push, cuing Mac Jones to escape left, targeting Meyers on the run, not seeing Sutton who had a golden opportunity to provide a takeaway, instead incomplete. Two big missed takeaway chances, highlighting the opportunities being there similar to last game, but unable to capitalize, coming back to earth following the opener. Third and nine now, and another incompletion to Meyers, having time but late pressure/qb hit by Reed on the deep target on the leaping effort off his hands, with great tight coverage by Sutton for the pass defensed and third down stop, forcing the punt and keeping the lid on the four-point lead.
Returning right away with the Olszewski muffed punt turnover, Pittsburgh was also hit with a half the distance to the goal unnecessary roughness penalty, insult to injury. This set the Patriots up in the red zone at the ten-yard line, running on first and goal for three yards through a hole between Highsmith and Jack, with Leal flowing down the line to make the tackle. On second and goal, Mac Jones got the quick pass in the flat off to D.Harris, with Jack chasing in coverage to make the tackle but a five yard gain. Third and goal now from the two, and D.Harris got the carry on the right side of a split back formation (with Stevenson) finding space behind a good block on Ogunjobi and Leal late on his opportunity allowing the rushing touchdown! Crucial mistake on special teams puts the defense in a terrible position, can’t weather the storm. Pittsburgh down by 11.
The defense returned with 14:50 in the fourth quarter to a quick pass to Meyers open in front of Sutton over the middle, with Jack making a solid tackle but gain of 11. Stevenson got the carry on the following first down, getting between Highsmith and Heyward who was doubled, with Jack and Alualu combining for the tackle. On second and seven, New England was penalized for holding (forced by Heyward), negating a first down catch with Witherspoon in coverage setting up second and 17. Another run from Stevenson here, where Highsmith was sealed, and Heyward worked off his block late to track the runner and tackle the eight-yard gain. Third and nine now, and Mac Jones drops back behind good blocking and an ineffective twist rush, finding Meyers in good single coverage from Witherspoon, but allowing the catch and making the immediate tackle on the gain of 15.
The following first down was a screen to Agholor, stiff-arming Wallace and fighting for yards with Leal and Jack showing good pursuit combining for the tackle on the gain of five. On second and five, Mac Jones targeted the tight end deep and incomplete with great coverage from Edmunds. Third and five now, and Pittsburgh brought the heat with six men, and Highsmith getting close to Mac Jones on his deep target, underthrown to wide receiver DeVante Parker falling incomplete with Wallace providing good coverage. Great stand to force the punt and give the offense a shot, down by three.
With 9:40 left in regulation, the Patriots came out passing with Ogunjobi and Reed getting good puch on their pass rush, with the pass complete to Meyers against Wallace’s heavy cushion but making the tackle for six yards. On second and four, D.Harris got the toss with Ogunjobi blocked to the ground off the snap, Witherspoon working upfield to provide edge contain, Sutton getting close but unable to make the play as he was blocked to the ground, and Reed impressively ripping off his blocker, combining with Jack to make the tackle. Third and two now, and Mac Jones forced a throw into double coverage to the tight end (Edmunds deflection/Spillane), stepping up to provide a great three and out to give the offense a chance.
The defense returned quickly with 6:33 left, still down by three and the offense going three and out again. Stevenson rushed on first down for three yards, with Heyward tossing his blocker to the side and Reed good hand use to combine for the tackle. On second and seven, New England was dinged for a holding penalty, negating a toss run for four and setting up second and 13. To the air here, hitting the slant route in front of Spillane and Jack for the 11-yard gain and first down. Third and two now, Reed provided a good push from the backside on his pass rush, forcing Mac Jones to scramble and slide, but a gain of five and third down conversion.
The drive continued with 4:30 left, and New England plays the time of possession game with three straight runs. On first down, Stevenson was able to get six yards with Highsmith sealed, the lead blocker doing his job on Jack, and Wormley working hard through a double team to make the tackle on the gain of six. On second and four, Stevenson got the tough again, another healthy gain of eight yards where Reed committed way too far inside and Spillane shed the tight ends block to make the tackle. The following first down was a D.Harris run this time, with the blocking creating a gap between Scott and Wormley, along with Jack losing his footing and ending up on the ground on the big 16 yard run and first down with edge rusher Jamir Jones finally making the tackle! Frustrating knowing they were going to run and couldn’t stop it. Ugh.
This took the clock down to the two-minute warning. Staying on the ground on first down as expected, Pittsburgh provided a tackle for loss, with Highsmith and Jack combining for the impressive play for a loss of two. Timeout. On second and 12, Highsmith was sealed on the edge along with Adams blocked just enough for D.Harris to avoid his arm tackle attempt, with Reed finally making the tackle, back to another big gain of nine. Timeout. Third and three now in dire need of a stop with 1:51 left and no timeouts left, and you guessed another run, with Highsmith sealed on the edge again and Jack blocked to create yet another run lane for the five-yard gain and conversion to put the game away, unable to get the crucial stop. The Patriots imposed their will in the run game, able to dominate time of possession in the fourth quarter (12:19 to 2:41!) and kneel the rest of the game clock down. Also, no sacks from Pittsburgh, compared to three by the Patriots along with losing the explosive play and turnover battles. Disappointing following such a spectacular defensive performance last week, losing by three.
Last, let’s look at special teams:
PFF’s highest graded special teamer was Spillane (73.8) on six snaps, along with Marcus Allen (73.4) and Warren (69.7) landing with 70+ grade, with all three in on a tackle. Miles Boykin had another strong game with the highest grade (65.5) of players with 10+ snaps. Confusingly, Olszewski was appropriately given a low 31 punt grade for the muff, but his overall special teams grade was average at 60.1, think that should be much lower. I did think PFF did well with lower grades overall, especially Derek Watt (52.9) missing tackles in my notes along with a lack of playmaking from Benny Snell, and Maulet receiving the lowest grade of the game (42.9), which he also did on defense!
Punter Pressley Harvin was on duty again early, starting with a booming 69-yard punt, where the returner was backtracking and off his hands inside the five, also failing to field the ball twice in the end zone thanks to James Pierre staying free from blockers and running the field well to nearly come away with the challenged second recovery attempt, but the returner finally corralled the ball with Connor Heyward making the tackle in the end zone for the touchback. Unfortunate special teams couldn’t provide the early splash here early in the game.
Kicker Chris Boswell made his first field goal at 8:39 in the second quarter, capping of the long drive to tie the game. The following kickoff was returned from the end zone, with their blocking providing a big hole up the middle and Derek Watt get the angle on his diving tackle attempt, but good job by Pierre to get downfield quickly and not give up on his pursuit to chase him for the tackle on the 34-yard return. Harvin punted with 3:19 left before halftime, another long 55-yarder traveling to the 10-yard line, fielded along the sideline with Boykin blocked just enough to push him past the returner, with New England landing blocks on Jamir Jones and Derek Watt (arguably in the back), and Marcus Allen coming in with a solid tackle on the 16-yard return.
The Patriots missed a 52-yard field goal with 9:21 in the third, a play that would have increased the lead to ten. Boswell made his next field goal from 52, with 5:48 left in the third quarter. The following kickoff went to the end zone, where Boykin stayed free of blockers up the middle along with a great tackle to limit the return to the 17-yard line. With 4:06 left in the third quarter, Olszewski came up to field a short punt at the 20-yard line, instead of fair catching with a Patriot in his face, muffs the punt which is recovered by New England. Extremely costly decision, likely trying to twist the dagger into the heart of his former team, instead doing the same to his current one.
Boswell kicked off early in the fourth quarter with the deficit at three, traveling to the two with a return of 26 yards, with Derek Watt getting blocked to the ground, Maulet missing an opportunity, and Miles Killebrew and Warren combining for the tackle. New England played the field position game, electing the short field punt of 29 yards, downing it to pin Pittsburgh back at their own 11-yard line. Harvin had an untimely short punt with 9:49 left in the game, a 40-yarder, with Boykin taking on a block to contain the return for five yards with Spillane on the tackle. Harvin punted again with 6:41 left, a 43-yarder fielded at the 29, and another great play from Boykin to tackle it immediately for only one yard.
STEELERS VS. PATRIOTS WEEK 2 SNAPS & REGULAR SEASON TOTAL SNAPS:
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