Even down 21-3, the Steelers did not abandon their flexibility as far as packages go, utilizing multiple backs and tight ends. That is until Ben Roethlisberger was sacked on second down, making them go four-wide on third and 17.
Which Emmanuel Sanders converts. It figures that the first third down conversion of the day takes 17 yards to get.
The Steelers gave Jonathan Dwyer some solid, though not flawless blocking. David DeCastro pulled, but did not entirely lock his man, who made a weak arm tackle attempt. Meanwhile, Mike Adams’s man coerced Dwyer out of bounds after eight yards.
The next play is when Guy Whimper’s leg gave out underneath him. It looked like he just got blown off the ball until you see the replay. Of course it resulted in a two-yard loss.
It will never be a good thing if Cody Wallace is in the game. I still have my doubts as to the prudence of signing him and cutting John Malecki. But of course Malecki being in the game would not be a good thing either.
Le’Veon Bell’s best run of the day, for eight yards, came two plays later. He used Jerricho Cotchery as a shield to spin away from a tackler.
Bell does a nice job of converting on third and one later in the drive between guard and center, with Will Johnson leading the way. He still had to work to get that first down.
Just as it looked like Wallace was putting together a couple of competent plays, he gets blown off the line and his man tackles Bell for a five-yard loss.
And then two plays later, he picks up a stunt and puts the guy to the ground, nearly saving a third and nine play. However, Bell and others had already allowed pressure and forced Roethlisberger to heave a prayer to the back of the end zone.
As we all know, Shaun Suisham went on to miss the ensuing kick. There did not appear to be anything wrong with the snap on either occasion.
Troy Polamalu did a great job of keeping contain on Terrelle Pryor, ultimate forcing him to tuck in a run for a loss of one. He was lucky to gain anything on the next play as well, but Lawrence Timmons whiffed on the first attempt in the backfield.
Ike Taylor did an excellent job of breaking up the third down pass, but really, he did not have one of his better games. Most of the minimal damage that the Raiders got through the air was against Taylor.
No, the Steelers did not have their most effective wide receiver screens today, which was part execution and part discipline on the defense’s behalf. But that does not mean that the plays should not have been called.
It is hard to believe that the Steelers played over a quarter of this game with Wallace and Kelvin Beachum as their starting guards. Ironically, injuries saw fit to reinstate the tackles that they started out with: Adams at left tackle and Marcus Gilbert at right tackle.
If Zoltan Mesko deserves blame for all of his shortcomings, he also at least deserves praise for the one good punt that he had, although that it was able to just skirt the goal line was pure dumb luck.
As mentioned, Ike Taylor was beaten on third and eight from the three-yard line for a first down.
However, he came back on the next play to drop Pryor in the backfield for a five-yard loss.
Sanders really did just about everything he could to prevent an interception. But he couldn’t make himself run faster. Mike Jenkins was playing him very deep off the snap and made an excellent interception.
The interception turned out not to be too damaging, however, after Timmons put the hit on Jacoby Ford and made him fumble. Brett Keisel recovered on the Raiders’ own 11.
The review booth correctly overturned the apparent Heath Miller touchdown on the ensuing play. The defensive back got just enough of the ball to jar it loose.
The defensive end read the shovel pass to Bell perfectly on second down.
He could not finish the job on Roethlisberger on third down, however. He absorbed the hit, rolled away, and found Sanders leaking away from the defense with the left side of the field open to walk into the end zone untouched. Antonio Brown provided the legal pick to free him.
The sacks in this game really came at inopportune times, but Brown had the chance to make up for it if he held on to the third and 15 pass, which would have given the Steelers the ball at the Raiders’ 44.
He did somewhat make up for it with the punt return out to the 31 after the defense forced three-and-out, however.
From that point on, the Steelers wasted a lot of time, which ran out on them at the end. There was still eight minutes left by that point, but there was still reason to hurry. On first down, Sanders turned away from the sideline to gain no extra yardage instead of going out of bounds.
Tracy Porter’s interception was almost Polamalu-like in its scraping the ball off the ground quality.
The Raiders did everything they could for the Steelers by getting three-and-outs with runs up the gut, but the Steelers wanted no part of it.
The Steelers deserve credit for their work to get out of bounds on the final touchdown drive, namely: Jerricho Cotchery, Le’Veon Bell, and Heath Miller. They all fought for the sidelines to preserve the clock.
Roethlisberger nearly gave one away were it not for a defensive lineman dropping a ball in his arms.
He was also lucky that his sack on the drive came at the two-minute warning.
However, using that timeout on offense was huge. He should not have been waiting to see if there was going to be a penalty, but getting ready to run a play.
How fortunate that there is a holding penalty on the same play that Roethlisberger gives it away again. Although the interceptor was the one doing the holding, that was a horrible decision to throw that ball.
I did get the sense that the time was right for a handoff at the two, so I was not surprised that the Steelers took the risk of keeping the clock running by going to the ground. The defense was playing pass heavily.
Emmanuel Sanders’ two-point conversion was no doubt impressive, but he also had Cotchery open in the end zone to throw to. With a receiver, it is harder to say which option was the bigger risk to take.
That onside kick had no chance, and having only two timeouts basically sealed the deal.
However, Brown’s decision to field the punt at the nine was the final nail in the coffin. That is, were it not for there having already been a flag for a hold. I feel that the Steelers should have taken their chances of kicking it to the Raiders so that they would have a higher probability of decent field goal position.